Two days after the Pentagon’s new chief Jim Mattis appeared before a full conference room in Brussels, and issued an ultimatum to NATO to boost spending or risk a cut in US support, Germany’s Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen “fired a salvo of warnings” back at Washington, cautioning it against hurting European cohesion, abandoning core Western values and seeking a rapprochement with Russia behind the backs of its allies. In a hard-hitting speech at the Munich Security Conference against President Donald Trump’s administration, German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen urged the United States not to take transatlantic ties for granted.
“Our American friends know well that your tone on Europe and NATO has a direct impact on the cohesion of our continent,” the German minister told the Munich Security Conference. “A stable European Union is also in America’s interest, as is a strong and unified NATO,” she said quoted by AFP.
Germany – together with NATO, and the rest of Europe – has been spooked by Trump’s praise for Britain’s decision to quit the EU, his criticism of NATO, and his softer approach towards Russia have rattled allies, prompting them to seek assurances from his lieutenants on whether long-standing American policies have indeed been scrapped.
In a bid to calm jittery partners, the White House has dispatched top generals to Europe this week.
As the AFP adds, Vice President Mike Pence is due to address the Munich conference Saturday, a day after US Defense Secretary James Mattis affirmed to the same forum that the bond between Europe and America is the “strongest bulwark” against instability and violence. “I am confident that we will strengthen our partnerships, confronting those who choose to attack innocent people or our democratic processes and freedoms,” he told the gathering of security and defence experts.
At the same time in Bonn, where foreign ministers of G20 nations closed a two-day meeting, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made “short, brief statements in which he stuck close to conventional foreign policy, including on North Korea and Russia.” With the White House embroiled in controversy over its ties to the Kremlin, Tillerson was cautious in his dealings with Moscow, despite Trump’s pledges to take for closer ties.
Following his first sitdown with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Thursday, Tillerson said the US sought cooperation with Moscow only when doing so “will benefit the American people”.
That assurance, however, was not nearly enough to placate the fiery German defense minister.
In Munich, Ursula von der Leyen cautioned the US against taking transatlantic ties for granted, pointing out that its allies should not be put on the same footing as Russia. “There cannot be a policy of equi-distance to allies and to those who openly question our values, our borders and international law,” she said.
While pursuing a reliable relationship with Russia as a whole, allied nations must not be “going above partners’ heads in bilateral negotiations,” she added.
Von der Leyen reminded Washington of core values that all NATO members have signed up to. “That never leaves any room for torture. It requires us to prevent causing any civilian victims and it means giving protection to those who are in need.”
The German also unloaded on Trump’s decision to ban migrants from majority-Muslim nations. “We should be careful that this fight (against terror) does not become a front against Islam and Muslims. Otherwise we run the risk of digging ourselves into a deeper grave in which violence and terror only grow further. Rather, it is right to seek partnership with like-minded Muslim and Arab nations,” she said.
Such criticism is odd coming from a country which in 2015 admitted over 1 million middle-eastern, mostly-Syrian refugees, with sometimes deadly consequences, leading to a drop in Angela Merkel’s popularity and concerns that the recent resurgence for the CDU’s opponent, the SPD, may end up costing Angela Merkel the Chancellor post in the coming elections.