Remarks by Vice President at NATO Engages: The Alliance at 70
Well, thank you all. Thank you for that warm welcome. And Ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchison has been saying “yes” to America for a long time. Would you join me in thanking the permanent representative to NATO for her extraordinary service to the United States of America and those overly generous words? (Applause.)
To the Ambassador, to General Jones, your excellences, to all of you who support and uphold the transatlantic alliance every day.
It’s a great privilege for me to be here on behalf of the 45th President of the United States of America, President Donald Trump, to join the Atlantic Council, the German Marshall Fund, and the Munich Security Conference as we mark the 70th anniversary of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The alliance at 70 has never been stronger. (Applause.)
We gather today at a historic time. Tomorrow marks 70 years since the United States and 11 of our allies, in this very city, signed the North Atlantic Treaty and committed ourselves to “safeguard the freedom, common heritage and civilisation of [our] peoples.” A heritage “founded on the principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law.”
In the 70 years since, the United States has kept our commitments and we’ve urged European allies to do the same all along the way. And as President Trump said yesterday when he met Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in the Oval Office, in the last two years, in his words, “Tremendous progress has been made, and NATO is much stronger” because of the progress we have made together. (Applause.)
With the support of strong bipartisan majorities in the United States Congress, President Trump has taken decisive action to make the strongest military in the history of the world stronger still. We’ve enacted the largest investment in our national defense since the days of Ronald Reagan. We released a National Security Strategy advancing peace through strength. At the President’s direction, we initiated the modernization of our nuclear arsenal and, in January of this year, unveiled our nation’s new strategy for missile defense.
A strong military, of course, depends on a strong economy in all the nations of this alliance. And under this President, in the United States we’ve taken decisive action to strengthen the American economy. We’ve enacted the largest tax cuts and tax reform in American history, rolled back regulation at a record pace, forged reciprocal trade deals, and unleashed American energy as never before.
The results in our country have truly been remarkable. In just two years, I’m proud to report, the United States has seen businesses large and small create 5.3 million new jobs. Our unemployment rate has reached its lowest level in nearly 50 years. Our stock market is soaring. We’re the largest producer of oil and natural gas in the world. And there’s more Americans working today than ever before in our nation’s history.
With that renewed American strength, our transatlantic alliance is being defended and being renewed every day. (Applause.)
Together with our NATO partners, we created the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force to prepare combat-ready battlegroups to be able to move into the Baltics and Poland within days.
We began the Four Thirties initiative, which, by 2020, aims to ready 30 mechanized battalions, 30 air squadrons, 30 warships for deployment within 30 days.
To ensure the swift movement of our troops, we are creating new NATO commands in Virginia and Ulm, Germany. And Norfolk, Virginia, is the proud new home of NATO’s focus on the future, the Allied Command Transformation Center, which is tasked with assessing the latest global trends and devising the ability to meet them and match them.
And just last fall, NATO conducted its biggest joint exercise since the end of the Cold War: Trident Juncture.
You know, NATO is stronger today because of the support of all of our allies. As he was leaving the podium just a few short minutes ago, Secretary General Stoltenberg reached up to me at the end of his speech, took my hand, and said, “I said NATO was stronger.” And I said, “Yes, you did.” And the truth is, NATO today — because of the commitment of our allies but also because of the resolute American leadership of President Donald Trump and our transatlantic alliance — has made remarkable progress for our collective security under that leadership.
Think about it: We’ve taken the fight to radical Islamist terrorists on our terms, on their soil. In Iraq and Syria, President Trump gave American commanders in the field the authority they needed to hit ISIS and drive them back. And thanks to the courage of our armed forces and the efforts of our 78 coalition partners, the ISIS caliphate is no more. (Applause.)
Beyond the Middle East, in the fall of 2017, President Trump announced our South Asia strategy. And with a renewed commitment of United States Armed Forces and our NATO Allies, we’ve taken the fight with renewed vigor to the Taliban, al Qaeda, ISIS Khorasan, and other Islamist extremist groups in Afghanistan.
And thanks to their courageous efforts and sacrifice, we are now talking to the Taliban about a future settlement that will ensure that Afghanistan is never again used by terrorists to launch an attack against the United States, our allies, or any sovereign nation in the world.
Under President Donald Trump, I promise you, the United States will seize every opportunity to achieve peace. But we will approach every challenge to our transatlantic alliance with strength.
Under President Trump’s leadership, we’ve been holding Russia accountable for its attempts to redraw international borders by force, approving the largest provision of defense weapons to Ukraine in years.
The United States also expelled 60 diplomats following a chemical weapons attack on a Russian exile on British soil, and most of our allies did the same in a clear statement of resolve against such violence.
And after years of Russian violations of our decades-old treaty, the United States, with the unanimous support of our NATO Allies, announced plans to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.
Last December, NATO declared that Russia had developed and fielded a missile system that poses significant risks to NATO members and was in direct violation of its commitments under the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.
At the urging of our NATO Allies, America remained open to an ongoing dialogue with Russia in the hopes that she could see her way clear to full INF compliance. But Russia refused to live up to its own treaty obligations — refused to respond to the concerns of the United States and our Allies in NATO. And today, Russia continues to refuse to dismantle its non-compliant new missile systems.
In response to Russia’s material breach, President Trump made the decision — in fact, had no choice but to provide the requisite six-month written notice to treaty parties of our intention to withdraw under Article XV of the INF Treaty. The United States was forced to take this action due to the significant risk posed to NATO member states by Russia’s covert testing, production, and deployment of non-INF compliant ground-launched cruise missile systems.
Unless Russia honors its INF Treaty obligations and agrees to the verifiable destruction of all the violating missile systems, Russia will bear the sole responsibility for America’s withdrawal within the next six months. (Applause.)
Now, while President Trump remains open to effective international arms control, disarmament, non-proliferation, the United States will no longer agree to any measure or any treaties that force unilateral disarmament on us or our allies. (Applause.)
Now, the United States is grateful for NATO’s readiness to take all necessary steps to ensure the credibility and effectiveness of our great alliance’s deterrence and defense posture. And so we’ve been making historic investments in our national defense and in NATO.
The truth is, America is leading on the world stage once again. But, you know, part of leadership is being as good as your word and holding your friends to their word.
In 2014, at the NATO summit in Wales, all of our allies agreed, of their own accord, to spend at least 2 percent of their GDP on defense. The United States has done all that and more — well more than our fair share. We make up more than two-thirds of NATO members’ combined defense budgets.
In 2017, at the NATO Summit, President Trump was very direct with members of our alliance when he called on NATO members to, in his words, “contribute their fair share and meet their financial obligations.” He pointed out, at the time, that “23 of the 28 member nations [were] still not paying what they should be paying and what they’re supposed to be paying for [our common] defense.”
As the President said then, this is not fair to the American people or the United States of America.
In fact, President Trump was hardly the first American President to make this point. In 1963, President John F. Kennedy said, and I quote, “We cannot continue to pay for the military protection of Europe while NATO states are not paying their fair share.” President Kennedy went on to say, “We have been very generous to Europe and it is now time for us to look out for ourselves.”
Now, we’re aware that the President’s strong leadership has caused consternation among some in our alliance. I recall meeting with the prime minister of one of our member nations, during our first year in office. He expressed his concern, and he told me how important it was that America remained the leader of the free world. And I told him what I tell you now: That when President Donald Trump calls on our NATO Allies to live up to their word, to live up to the commitments that they’ve made to our common defense, that’s what we call being “leader of the free world.” (Applause.)
Even two of NATO’s strongest defenders — both former ambassadors to NATO under the last two administrations — wrote in today’s Washington Post, and I quote, “Low European defense spending is indeed a problem for NATO’s future.” And they’re right.
The good news is, at President Trump’s urging, our NATO Allies have stepped up, have already promised $100 billion more in additional defense spending, and more of our NATO Allies are meeting the 2 percent commitment. The majority of NATO members now have plans in place to meet their financial obligations by 2024. As the Secretary General said just hours ago before Congress, President Trump’s leadership on burden sharing is “having a real impact” to the benefit of NATO and the free world. (Applause.)
And so, more of our allies are now meeting their commitments, but still too many others are falling short. And as we all acknowledge, Germany is chief among them. Germany is Europe’s largest and healthiest economy. It’s a leading global exporter and has benefitted from U.S. protection of Europe for generations. But last year’s annual report to parliament on the state of the German armed forces revealed glaring deficiencies in Germany’s military readiness.
And yet, as we stand here today, Germany still refuses to make the necessary investment of 2 percent of its GDP to our common defense. After great prodding, it agreed to spend only 1.5 percent of its GDP on defense by 2024. But the draft budget for 2019 just presented to the German parliament actually falls short of even that commitment, promising only 1.3 percent. Germany must do more.
And we cannot ensure the defense of the West if our allies grow dependent on the Russia. If Germany persists in building the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, as President Trump has said, it could turn Germany’s economy into literally a “captive of Russia.” It is simply unacceptable for Europe’s largest economy to continue to ignore the threat of Russian aggression and neglect its own self-defense and our common defense at such a level. And it’s also wrong for Germany to allow itself to become energy dependent on Russia.
NATO is a mutual defense pact, not a unilateral security agreement. We need all allies to contribute to this joint endeavor, and we honor their commitments and we’ll keep ours.
The United States expects every NATO member to fulfill their own commitments and to meet the 2 percent threshold no later than 2024. And we expect all our allies to invest 20 percent of defense spending on major new equipment. And we’re greatly encouraged at the progress that’s being made among many of our allies to do just that.
We’ve also made it clear that we’ll not stand idly by while NATO Allies purchase weapons from our adversaries — weapons that threaten the very cohesion of this alliance.
Turkey’s purchase of a $2.5 billion S-400 anti-aircraft missile system from Russia poses great danger to NATO and to the strength of this alliance. The fact that Turkey is moving ahead with these plans even after the United States has made available the Patriot air defense system is deeply troubling.
The Pentagon made clear, earlier this week, and I repeat today: If Turkey completes its purchase of the Russian S-400 missile system, Turkey risks expulsion from the joint F-35 program, which will harm not just Turkey’s defense capacity, but it may cripple many of the Turkish component manufacturers that supply that program.
In the meantime, this week we formally notified the Turkish government that the United States is immediately suspending shipments of all F-35 Joint Strike Fighter related equipment and materiel to Turkey. Turkey must choose: Does it want to remain a critical partner in the most successful military alliance in history of the world? Or does it want to risk the security of that partnership by making reckless decisions that undermine our alliance?
Perhaps the greatest challenge NATO will face in the coming decades is how we must all adjust to the rise of the People’s Republic of China. And adjust we must. For determining how to meet the challenge of Chinese 5G technology, meet the challenge of the easy money offered by China’s Belt and Road Initiative, is a challenge European allies must contend with every day.
Whether we like it or not, the implications of China’s rise will profoundly affect the choices NATO members will face, individually and collectively.
China’s expanding influence will necessarily demand more of America’s attention and resources. And as we meet that challenge, our European allies must do more to maintain the strength and deterrence of our transatlantic alliance with their resources.
Toward that end, we are grateful that NATO members are opening their own diplomatic dialogues with like-minded Indo-Pacific countries like Australia, Japan, Singapore, and Korea. And we welcome recent steps by NATO partners, France and Great Britain, to increase freedom-of-navigation and overflight operations in the Indo-Pacific.
By working together, we can maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific where independent nations boldly pursue their own interests; respect their neighbors as equals; and where societies, beliefs, and traditions flourish side by side; and where all their citizens are able to exercise their God-given liberties and pursue their dreams.
NATO’s 29 member states encompass almost a billion people, who together produce almost half of the world’s GDP. This extraordinary alliance is facing the next 70 years with 70 years of hard-won experience, success, and strong relationships.
And so while the challenges before us loom large, with renewed American leadership on the world stage, together we’re demonstrating every day that we can make the future of the free world brighter than ever before.
And as we rise to meet these challenges in the days ahead, we should never underestimate our power to change the world for the better. It’s what we’ve proven over the last 70 years, and what I believe with all my heart we’ll prove for the next 70. When we’re strong, when we’re united, we’ve proven there’s nothing that freedom-loving nations can’t achieve.
Our strength, and that of this alliance, is derived not solely from a strength of arms, though. It is ultimately born of our shared principles, the principles and ideals that we cherish: freedom, democracy, justice, and the rule of law. Every member nation understands these are the wellsprings of our strength and they are the wellspring of theirs.
And they come from that timeless notion of unalienable rights, of life and liberty, and a notion that they’re not granted to us by sovereigns or governments or kings, but they are, as the America’s Founders observed, endowed by our Creator.
Marshaling the will to confront the challenges of the 21st century will require faith in these timeless ideals. This then is our cause. It’s why NATO exists. It’s why, after so many centuries of strife and division, Europe is whole and free.
For seven decades, the United States has stood with our European allies to defend our way of life against an array of threats large and small.
When the ravages of war left a continent in ruins, we worked together to rebuild Europe. When the specter of communism was at Europe’s door, we stood arm-in-arm against the Soviet menace.
When the Berlin Wall fell and the old Soviet empire crumbled, we welcomed new democracies of Eastern Europe into our ranks.
And of the eight countries that once made up the Warsaw Pact, seven now belong to NATO. And the eighth, the Soviet Union, doesn’t even exist.
Over the past five centuries, it’s extraordinary to think that the average alliance among nations lasted no more than 15 years. But for 40 years, NATO stood strong against the communist threat of the Soviet Union. And through the strength of our resolve and by the grace of God, we prevailed against it through those 40, and now we stand for freedom to tomorrow’s day of 70.
The United States has been faithful to Europe for generations, and we’ll keep the faith. We’ll keep the faith that drove our forefathers to sacrifice so much in the defense of freedom.
We share a past. We built it together. And we share a future. Today, tomorrow, and every day, you can be confident the United States of America is now and will always be Europe’s greatest ally. (Applause.)
As President Trump said in Poland two years ago, in his words, “Our freedom, our civilization, and our survival depend on these bonds of history, culture, and memory.” And they also depend on a foundation of faith. And on that faith, I know, as the President said that day, “The West will never ever be broken. Our values will prevail. Our people will thrive. And our civilization will triumph.”
I have faith in our people and in freedom-loving people everywhere. And I also have faith that, as we advance the principles of freedom, as freedom takes hold, that where the spirit of the Lord is, there’s liberty. That means freedom always wins.
So thank you. Thank you for the honor of joining you on the eve of this extraordinary anniversary. God bless you all. God bless all of our allies. And may God bless the United States of America.