Articles

Trump widens potential rift with Mattis over NATO

President-elect Donald Trump's renewed criticism of NATO widened a potential rift with Defense Secretary-designate James Mattis on the need to shore up the alliance against the threats of Russian President Vladimir Putin.


In a joint interview Sunday with The London Times and Germany's Bild publication, Trump recycled charges from his campaign that NATO is "obsolete," questioned the worth of the European Union and said that Germany was wrong to admit refugees fleeing Syria's civil war.

Also read: 6 new changes to expect at the Pentagon with Mattis as SECDEF

In his Senate confirmation hearing last week, retired Marine Gen. Mattis said, "If we didn't have NATO today, we'd need to create it. NATO is vital to our interests."

"I think right now the most important thing is that we recognize the reality of what we deal with [in] Mr. Putin," Mattis said. "We recognize that he is trying to break the North Atlantic alliance, and that we take the steps -- the integrated steps, diplomatic, economic, military and the alliance steps -- working with our allies to defend ourselves where we must."

"There's a decreasing number of areas where we can engage cooperatively and an increasing number of areas where we're going to have to confront Russia," he said.

Mattis also suggested that Trump is willing to hear opposing arguments on NATO. "I have had discussions with him on this issue," he said. "He has shown himself open, even to the point of asking more questions, going deeper into the issue."

Retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, the former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency and Trump's choice to become national security adviser, also supports bolstering NATO and other U.S. global commitments.

In a speech last week at the U.S. Institute of peace, Flynn said, "Alliances are one of the great tools that we have, and the strength of those alliances magnifies our own strengths.

"As we examine and potentially re-baseline our relationships around the globe, we will keep in mind the sacrifices and deep commitments that many of our allies have made on behalf of our security and our prosperity," Flynn said.

'It's Obsolete'

After meetings at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Monday, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Trump's criticism of NATO is "in contradiction" of Mattis' vision of a strengthened alliance and U.S. support of NATO's Article 5, which considers an attack on any member as an attack against all.

"Obviously, the comments from President-elect Trump that he views NATO as obsolete were viewed with anxiety," Steinmeier said.

In his remarks to The London Times and Bild, Trump said of NATO: "It's obsolete, first because it was designed many, many years ago." He renewed his charges that most members of the 28-nation alliance are not living up to their responsibilities under the treaty.

The U.S. provides about 70 percent of the funding for NATO while other nations "aren't paying their fair share, so we're supposed to protect countries," Trump said. "There's five countries that are paying what they're supposed to -- five. It's not much."

Under agreements reached in 2014, when Russian-backed separatists launched attacks in eastern Ukraine, NATO members pledged to devote at least two percent of their budgets to defense and outlined steps to reach that goal.

Despite the criticism of NATO, Trump's remarks could also be seen as a prod to get members to pay their dues. "NATO is very important to me," he said.

However, Trump's views that NATO is obsolete are in line with those of Putin, who has for years denounced NATO's expansion to Russia's borders. In response to Trump's remarks, Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said that "NATO is indeed a vestige of the past and we agree with that."

A Deal With Putin

Trump also expressed interest in a deal with Putin that would lift sanctions against Russia in return for a mutual reduction of nuclear arsenals.

"They have sanctions on Russia -- let's see if we can make some good deals with Russia,'' Trump said, according to the Times. "For one thing, I think nuclear weapons should be way down and reduced very substantially; that's part of it.''

The Trump interview came as U.S. troops and tanks were arriving in the Polish town of Zagan in a historic move to shore up NATO's eastern flank that has infuriated Putin. In addition, 300 U.S. Marines landed in Norway on Monday to join in training exercises.

In a ceremony as snow fell over the weekend, Polish Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz told the first contingents of the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team out of Fort Carson, Colorado, "We have waited for you for a very long time."

"We waited for decades, sometimes feeling we had been left alone, sometimes almost losing hope, sometimes feeling that we were the only one who protected civilization from aggression that came from the east," Macierewicz said.

Reassuring Europe

To counter Russia, the Obama administration, with the support of Congress in the recently passed National Defense Authorization Act, recommended boosting the budget for the European Reassurance Initiative from $789 million to $3.4 billion.

ERI was established in the fiscal 2015 budget to "reassure allies of the U.S. commitment to their security and territorial integrity as members of the NATO alliance." It supported increased U.S. investment across five categories: presence, training and exercises, infrastructure, pre-positioned equipment, and building partner capacity.

To expand presence across the region, the U.S. Army began periodic rotations of armored and airborne brigades to Poland and the Baltic states; the Air Force added additional F-15 Eagles to NATO's Baltic Air Policing mission; and the Navy cycled ships through the Black Sea. The U.S. also spent $250 million to improve bases in Europe.

In a welcoming ceremony in Germany earlier this month for the 4,000 troops of the 3rd ABCT, Air Force Lt. Gen. Tim Ray, the deputy commander of U.S. European Command, said that its presence showed that the U.S. commitment to NATO is "rock solid."

"I can assure you, this [ABCT] does not stand alone -- it is integrated and combined with forces and other equipment in space, cyberspace, the air, land and sea, with our allies and partners," Ray said. "A joint persistent rotational presence of American land, sea and air is in the region as a show of support to our allies and in response to Russia's actions in Ukraine."

"Let me be very clear -- this is one part of our efforts to deter Russian aggression, ensure the territorial integrity of our allies, and maintain a Europe that is whole, free, prosperous and at peace."

Humor

The truth about cell phones in Basic Training

Thank god you got out when you did! The moment you received your DD-214, it was officially an end of an era. Hopefully, your branch won't fall victim like all those other, weaker branches did. It's Lord of the Flies in here.

New recruits are arriving in droves and they're pulling out their cell phones to record themselves talking back to their drill sergeants. If the drill sergeants have a problem with it, they whip out their stress cards, go back to eating their Tide Pods, and continue listening to their music (which, coincidentally, has gotten progressively worse since your generation, too).

Keep reading... Show less
Articles

How R. Lee Ermey's Hollywood break is an inspiration to us all

While there have been many outstanding actors and celebrities who have raised their right hand, there has never been a veteran who could finger point his way to the top of Hollywood stardom quite like the late great Gunnery Sergeant R. Lee Ermey.

Keep reading... Show less
Military Life

5 reasons your troops are more important than promotion

If there's one complaint common across the military, it's that commanders too often care more about their careers than the well-being of their troops. It's problematic when higher-ups are willing to put lower enlisted through hell if it means they look good at the end of the day.

Keep reading... Show less
Military Life

'Operation Cure Boredom' is a funny, unrepentant look back at life in the 1990s Air Force

The following is an excerpt from the first book by Air Force veteran and Hollywood writer Dan Martin. Titled Operation Cure Boredom, it's a hilarious collection of short stories chronicling the adventures of Martin's 1990-1994 enlistment in the world's best Air Force.

This chapter, called "Guest on the Range," is about the extraordinary lengths Martin went to in order to qualify on the firing range as a junior enlisted Crew Chief.

Keep reading... Show less
Military Life

The top 6 reasons people decide to join the infantry

Deciding to join the military is a huge step for anyone looking to make a life-altering change. One of the most appealing aspects of becoming a member of the armed forces is the vast array of professional opportunities the service offers.

You can sign up, ship out, and, within a few short months, be guarding a military installation as your newfound brothers- and sisters-in-arms sleep.

Keep reading... Show less
GEAR & TECH

These high-tech glasses could change how sailors train

Training has evolved over the years but the core elements have always remained the same. There's an instructor and a bunch of students. They go over material, both in theory and in practice, mastering the skills required by the job. But no matter how good the teacher, students will always need a refresher from time to time. So, that means it's time to go back to school — or does it?

Now, mixed-reality technology — including smart glasses — could change the way sailors learn the skills they need to serve.

Keep reading... Show less
Entertainment

6 US conflicts that would (probably) make terrible video games

When developers set out to make video games, their focus should always primarily be on crafting a fun and engaging experience. Oftentimes, you'll see video games set far in the future so that developers can place an arsenal of advanced, sci-fi weaponry in the hands of the player — because it's fun. Other times, they'll take cues from real wars and toss the player directly into the heat of a historical battle — because that's fun, too.

Keep reading... Show less
Tactical

How to start a fire with only one hand

Heading out into the wilderness for a camping trip is exhilarating and refreshing. Starting a campfire and roasting some marshmallows under the stars is a great way to get in touch with Mother Nature. Although the idea of spending a night in the great outdoors sounds incredible, campers should always remember to bring specific tools and learn important survival skills in the event they sustain an injury and help is far, far away.

It gets cold out there at night, so it's important to know the basics of starting a fire to keep warm — even in the dire circumstance that you've been injured. Do you know how to start a fire with just one hand? You never know — this skill might just save your life.

Keep reading... Show less