All Eyes on Mattis at NATO, Munich Meetings for Clues to Future US Policies

© REUTERS / Mike BlakeU.S. Marine Corps four-star general James Mattis arrives to address at the pre-trial hearing of Marine Corps Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich at Camp Pendleton, California U.S in a March 22, 2010 file photo
U.S. Marine Corps four-star general James Mattis arrives to address at the pre-trial hearing of Marine Corps Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich at Camp Pendleton, California U.S in a March 22, 2010 file photo - Sputnik International
US Defense Secretary James Mattis flies out to Europe on Tuesday for the first time since taking office to attend a NATO defense ministers’ meeting in Brussels, Belgium, the Department of Defense said.

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WASHINGTON (Sputnik) — Mattis will then fly on to Germany to attend the annual Munich Security Conference from February 17 to February 19 where he will hold meetings with defense ministers with other major nations from around the world, the Defense Department release stated on Friday.

While in Brussels, Mattis will also host a meeting of ministers from the coalition to combat Daesh, the Defense Department noted.

Mattis plans to emphasize the continued commitment of the US government to the NATO alliance and to defeating Daesh, the release said.

US President Donald Trump repeatedly emphasized his determination to destroy Daesh during his year-and-a-half-long election campaign, so the stance of the new administration on that issue is not in doubt in general terms.


During his campaign, Trump also repeatedly criticized NATO as obsolete and left the US overall commitment to it in some doubt.

Retired Marine Corps general James Mattis testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee on his nomination to be the next secretary of defense in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on January 12, 2017 - Sputnik International
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He insisted that major US allies such as Germany needed to pay a much large proportion of the costs of defending Europe and needed to take greater military roles in the defense of their continent than they have been willing to do in the 28 years since the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

European leaders have been trying to reassure Trump and Mattis they are willing to carry more of NATO’s financial burdens, but so far without offering any concrete commitments.

On Friday, German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen met with Mattis at the US Defense Department and afterwards acknowledged that the US calls for NATO members to increase their defense spending were legitimate.

"I think it’s a fair demand," she said, as quoted by Handelsblatt newspaper.


Since becoming US president on January 20, Trump has on numerous occasions reaffirmed Washington’s commitment to NATO, but he has also continued to urge member countries to make proper financial contributions to the alliance.

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Mattis’ public comments in both Brussels and Munich will be closely watched for all signs as to whether he remains fully committed to NATO, including to the defense of the former Soviet republics of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia that were added to the alliance under President George W. Bush.

Bush and his successor Barack Obama also steadily increased US and NATO military support to the non-NATO members and former Soviet republics of Ukraine and Georgia.

These moves increased concern in Russia that NATO, which was founded in 1949 allegedly as a defense alliance, was now engaged in a policy of endless expansion and absorption of other nations across Eurasia. This policy reached its peak at the NATO’s summit in Warsaw, Poland in July 2016.

Mattis’ remarks on his trip will be scrutinized to see whether he intends to implement the decisions reached in Warsaw, including record alliance military buildups in eastern Europe or whether he proposes to slow, freeze or reverse therm.


NATO hawks hope that Mattis will either persuade Trump to continue the expansionist policies in Europe that he inherited from his three predecessors as US president: Bill Clinton, Bush and Obama.

U.S. Marine Corps four-star general James Mattis arrives to address at the pre-trial hearing of Marine Corps Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich at Camp Pendleton, California U.S in a March 22, 2010 file photo - Sputnik International
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In his confirmation hearings before the US Senate Armed Services Committee and in later comments, Mattis appeared to be much more conventionally hawkish, especially against Russia than Trump.

However, Mattis serves at Trump’s discretion and is charged with implementing the president’s policies.

It remains to be seen if he is willing or able to lead any attempt backed by neoconservatives and liberal interventionists in Congress to try and derail or block efforts by Trump to reduce tensions in the heart of Europe.

The Munich Security Conference was founded in 1963 as the Wehrkunde, or military science conference to be a talking shop for NATO defense ministers. It rapidly expanded in the 21st century to become the leading global forum to discuss international military problems and conflicts.


In 2007, Russian President Vladimir Putin used the conference as his platform to give a prescient warning on the dangers of US and allied attempts to try and relentless impose their political systems and standards on other nations around the world.

This year, Moscow does not rule out that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov could meet NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on the sidelines of the conference, Russian Envoy to NATO Alexander Grushko said on Friday.

Trump’s new secretary of state, former Exxon-Mobil Chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson is also scheduled to attend the conference.

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