U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said on Monday (February 20) that President Donald Trump expects European allies to make “real progress” by the end of the year towards a NATO pledge to spend more on defense.
Speaking at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Pence said that although some NATO members respected their commitment to reach 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense spending, others failed to do so.
“The truth is many others (NATO members) including some of our largest allies still lack a clear and credible path to meet this minimum goal. So let me say again what I said last weekend in Munich. The President of United States (Donald Trump) and the American people expect our allies to keep their word and to do more in our common defense, and the president expects real progress (from NATO members to reach 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense spending) by the end of 2017,” Pence said.
NATO allies agreed at a summit in 2014 to reverse years of military cuts and meet a goal to spend 2 percent of economic output on defense by 2024. The steps were spurred by Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, and the rise of Islamic militancy on Europe’s borders.
But of European NATO countries, only Britain, Greece, Estonia and Poland have reached that target. Italy and Spain spend around 1 percent of economic output.
Germany has promised to add 2 billion euros to its defense budget for this year, while Latvia, Lithuania and Romania are soon to reach the 2 percent level.
Trump made NATO Europe’s defense spending, which is low by historical standards, an issue in his campaign and warned that U.S. military support may be conditional on allies paying more towards their own security.
Speaking alongside NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Pence said he was “disappointed” the former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn had misled him on his contacts with Russia, and supported the decision by President Donald Trump to dismiss him.
“I was disappointed to learn that the facts that have been conveyed to me by General (Michael) Flynn were inaccurate, but we honour General Flynn’s long service to the United States of America and I fully support the president’s decision to ask for his resignation. It was a proper decision. It was handled properly and in a timely way and I have great confidence in the national security team of this administration going forward,” Pence said.
Flynn’s resignation came hours after it was reported that the Justice Department had warned the White House weeks ago that Flynn could be vulnerable to blackmail for contacts with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak before Trump took power on Jan. 20.
Flynn had promised Pence he had not discussed U.S. sanctions with the Russians, but transcripts of intercepted communications, described by U.S. officials, showed that the subject had come up in conversations between Flynn and the Russian ambassador.
Such contacts could potentially be in violation of a law banning private citizens from engaging in foreign policy, known as the Logan Act.
Pence also said Trump believes in a free and independent press but he will not hesitate to point out flawed reporting.
“Rest assured the president and I both strongly support a free and independent press but you can anticipate that the president and all of us will continue to call out the media when they play fast and loose with the facts. The truth is, we have in President Trump someone who has a unique ability to speak directly to the Americans people. And when the media gets it wrong, I promise you President Trump will take his case straight to the American people to set the record straight,” Pence said.