US defence chief urges Nato allies to pay fair share in military spending
New US defence secretary General James Mattis has delivered a sharp warning to Nato allies they must increase their military spending or Washington will "moderate its commitment" to the Western alliance.
Attending his first meeting of Nato defence ministers in Brussels, Gen Mattis said the new US administration still regarded the alliance as the "fundamental bedrock" of the transatlantic community.
But he made clear President Donald Trump was determined other member states must take on a greater share of the burden of common defence.
"No longer can the American taxpayer carry a disproportionate share of the defence of Western values. Americans cannot care more for your children's future security than you do," he said, according to a text of his intervention in the meeting.
"America will meet its responsibilities but if your nations don't want to see America moderate its commitment to this alliance each of your capitals needs to show support for our common defence."
UK Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon said the words are a "very sharp warning" to European countries to meet their target of spending 2% of GDP on defence.
But he played down concerns that America's support for the alliance is qualified and hinges on members spending more.
Speaking to Sky News after what he described as a "very constructive" meeting with the general, Sir Michael said the US commitment to Nato "is absolute".
He said: "But this today was a very timely reminder by the American defence secretary that he expects European countries to step up to the commitments they made two years ago to increase their defence spending, and we agree with him."
Sir Michael said the UK also wants to ensure that other Nato allies "shoulder a fairer share of the burden" and meet the 2% target.
He added: "Now we meet that commitment, other countries, many of them have not increased their defence spending, and this was a very sharp warning to the rest of them that we all need to meet our commitments. We're doing so in Britain."
He said he had urged those countries which were not meeting the target to at least commit to annual increases to their defence budgets.
Gen Mattis's appearance at Nato headquarters had been anxiously anticipated after Mr Trump appeared to question his support for the alliance during the US election campaign, describing it as "obsolete".
While the president has since said he is committed to the alliance, his defence secretary's hardline comments will be seen as a clear sign of his determination to secure reform.
Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg insisted Gen Mattis had voiced a "very strong commitment" to the alliance during the meeting, but acknowledged that more needed to be done when it came to burden-sharing.
Although the alliance as a whole had halted the cuts in defence spending in 2015 and expenditure had risen last year, he said some individual member states were still "struggling" to increase resources for their armed forces.
"We all understand that we are safer and stronger together. Especially in times of turmoil and uncertainty, we need a strong transatlantic partnership and a strong Nato," Mr Stoltenberg said.
"Step by step, we are moving in the right direction but there is still a very long way to go."
Sir Michael told Sky News that while Britain and the US should talk to Moscow, the policy should be "engage with Russia, but beware".
He said alleged interference by the Kremlin in elections in Europe and the US is "unacceptable" and "we need to call Russia out each time".
And Nato needs to be "prepared, as an alliance, to stand together to defend the democratic freedoms that we enjoy together", he added.
Asked directly if there is evidence suggesting Russia interfered in the EU referendum in Britain, Sir Michael said: "Well you see soft propaganda now from Russia through the television channel that it operates in the United Kingdom, through news agencies that it has influence over in the United Kingdom.
"We need to be very wary of what Russia is up to.
"Russia is trying to destabilise the West, it is trying to divide the alliance, and one of the key things today is that the alliance understands that it has to be united in dealing with all these threats, whether it is terrorism, whether it is Russian aggression, whether it is cyber threats, the alliance has to stand together."