Speaking at NATO headquarters in Brussels Monday, Vice President Mike Pence reassured allies that America would uphold its commitments to the organization, but added that President Trump expected “real progress” among NATO allies in stepping up their defense spending.
“The world needs NATO’s strength and leadership now more than ever before,” Pence said, calling for “immediate and steady progress” in defense spending among member countries. NATO has set a goal that nations should spend the equivalent of 2 percent of their GDP on defense, but many don’t — a fact that Trump brought up repeatedly on the campaign trail.
The vice president insisted that his statements were not in conflict with the president’s, adding, “The United States is expressing strong support for NATO even as we challenge NATO and challenge our allies to evolve to the new and widening challenges and further meet their responsibilities.”
Pence seemed to be trying to quell fears by saying that “the United States’ commitment to NATO is clear.” But Trump has repeatedly criticized NATO, calling the organization “obsolete,” and indicating the the U.S. might not uphold its commitment to defend fellow NATO countries if they did not pay their fair share. As NPR’s Frank Langfitt reported in November, many U.S. allies were rattled by Trump’s campaign rhetoric, but hopeful that it might be just that — rhetoric.
Pence also addressed the resignation of Michael Flynn as national security adviser, saying he was “disappointed” to learn that he had been misled about Flynn’s contact with Russia, and fully supported the decision by Trump to dismiss him.
Pence also attempted to assuage fears from the European Union — another institution that Trump has also been highly critical of — stating that he was acting on behalf of Trump to “express the desire of the United States to continue cooperation and partnership with the European Union.” Pence met with many leaders from the EU earlier Monday morning.
These statements seem at odds with others from Trump, who last month called the EU “basically a vehicle for Germany” and praised Britain’s vote to leave it. “I think Brexit is going to end up being a great thing,” he told the Times of London.