WASHINGTON, Feb. 17, 2017 —
The bond between the United States and its NATO allies is a critical component in regional and global security, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said at an international security conference in Germany today.
"As guardians for our nations and as sentinels for new threats we all see our community of nations under threat on multiple fronts as the arc of instability builds on NATO’s periphery and beyond," Mattis said at the Munich Security Conference.
Mattis, who as a Marine Corps general served as NATO's supreme allied commander for transformation, said the "transatlantic bond remains our strongest bulwark against instability and violence."
NATO exists, he said, to protect the way of life of its members, to include the exchange of free ideas that characterizes the annual Munich Security Conference.
The conference, which brings together more than 450 senior decision-makers from across the globe, is now in its 53rd iteration.
"I’m grateful to be among so many leaders in our democracies as we forge our path ahead," Mattis said, adding, "This is how we build approaches to working together for a peaceful and prosperous future."
Vice President Mike Pence and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly are also attending the multi-day conference.
The threats to the alliance are numerous, Mattis pointed out. The best approach to protecting oneself is in tandem with others, he said, as "security is always best when provided by a team."
Full U.S. Support for Alliance
Mattis underscored U.S. support for the alliance, saying President Donald J. Trump has thrown his full support to NATO and believes in NATO’s need to adapt to today’s strategic situation for it to remain credible, capable and relevant.
As the NATO-European Union Joint Declaration signed in Warsaw reflects, American security is permanently tied to the security of Europe, Mattis said.
The U.S. defense chief, who met in Brussels earlier this week with his NATO counterparts, said the transatlantic bonds are strong and fellow defense ministers are under "no illusions about the threats our nations face together."
Unity in Recognizing Threats
NATO allies recognize 2014 was a "watershed year and we can no longer deny reality," Mattis said.
"Unified by these growing threats to our democracies, we possess strong resolve," he said, noting the alliance will adapt to the challenges.
Adapting, according to Mattis, is the hard part, as the alliance moves forward together, reinforcing deterrence and defense, and more directly addressing terrorist threats along NATO’s southern flank from the Mediterranean to the Turkish border.
In a speech in Brussels earlier this week, Mattis noted that 2014 included Russia using force to alter the borders of one of its sovereign neighbors, and the emergence of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
(Follow Lisa Ferdinando on Twitter: @FerdinandoDoD)