Pentagon chief Jim Mattis accused Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday of making international “mischief” and said America’s commitment to NATO remains unwavering.
Speaking to students in Germany to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Marshall Plan to rebuild World War II-ravaged Europe, Mattis said Russia had chosen to challenge the “secure and peaceful” post-war order.
The Russian people’s “leader making mischief beyond Russian borders will not restore their fortunes or rekindle their hope,” he said, in an apparent reference to the Ukraine conflict and Moscow’s alleged meddling in the US electoral process.
Mattis’ visit to Germany is his fourth to Europe since becoming US defence secretary in January.
Jittery European partners have looked to him for reassurance about America’s international intentions after President Donald Trump on the campaign trail repeatedly questioned long-established alliances.
Matters haven’t improved much since Trump entered the White House, with his administration embroiled in a simmering scandal about alleged ties to Russia.
The US president further stoked concerns when he visited NATO and the G7 summit in Europe last month, where he upbraided allies over their levels of military spending.
Any message of reassurance his presence was intended to provide was overshadowed by images of the billionaire tycoon shoving his way to the front of a NATO summit “family photo” shoot in Brussels.
– ‘Iron-clad’ commitment –
But Mattis stressed that America and Trump should be judged by their actions.
He pointed to continued US support through 2020 for NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence in the alliance’s east to counter Russia.
And he said Trump had requested a huge increase for the European Reassurance Initiative, up from $3.4 billion last year to $4.8 billion this year.
“Beyond any words in the newspapers, you can judge America by such actions,” Mattis said.
Speaking at the same event, German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen credited the transatlantic bond for bringing peace and stability to Europe, but also said it was time for the continent to do more to ensure its own security.
“As Europeans, we do want to take on more responsibility, but without ever forgetting where we have come from,” she said, noting Europe needed to “pool its resources” as it works towards building a greater defence union.
She also spoke in favour of Germany spending two percent of GDP to meet NATO pledges.
“Being partners, we need to have a fair burden sharing within NATO. That means we Germans need to do more for our security,” she said.
Mattis also pointed to Article 5, NATO’s mutual defence guarantee, calling US commitment to the measure “iron-clad”.
Mattis is a former four-star Marine Corps general who fought with NATO and Western allies in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The Marshall Plan was named after General George Marshall, who was chief of staff of the US Army during World War II.
He was secretary of state from 1947 to 1949 and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1953 for his post-war rebuilding efforts.