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On NATO, Mattis is right

By Georgia Logothetis, Managing Director

European leaders are responding to comments by President-elect regarding the North Atlantic Trade Alliance (NATO). In an interview with the Times of London and Bild, Trump called NATO was “obsolete.”

Trump’s Defense Secretary nominee, retired Marine Gen. James N. Mattis, who is also a former Supreme Allied Commander for NATO’s transformation command, testified at his confirmation hearing about the vital importance of NATO to stability and security:

“NATO from my perspective is the most successful military alliance in modern world history — maybe ever…If we did not have NATO today, we would need to create it…[NATO] is vital to our national interests, and it’s vital to the security of the United States.”

It wasn’t just the Defense Secretary nominee who stressed the importance of NATO during his confirmation hearings. Rex Tillerson, nominee for Secretary of State, also emphasized the value of NATO, testifying that the defense “commitment is inviolable and the US is going to stand behind that commitment.”

Greece joined NATO in 1952, and since then, both Greece and NATO have benefitted greatly. As former Alternate Minister of National Defense of Greece, Yiannis Ragoussis has explained:

Membership to NATO is a fundamental pillar of Greece’s defence and security architecture together with its EU membership. Since its accession in 1952, Greece has contributed to Euro-Atlantic security and at the same time has been protected by the security umbrella the Alliance offers its members. […]

Greece’s participation proved beneficial for the security and stability of both Greece and its Allies in NATO. Its significant geostrategic location broadened the Alliance’s perimeter and the stability zone of Europe. It is worth mentioning that Greece actively contributes to all NATO operations, including the Libyan crisis when it participated in Operation Unified Protector from the very beginning, using its air and naval assets and providing its main bases in Crete and Peloponnesus to the Allied forces.

Integration into NATO has definitely had a positive impact in Greece as it has enhanced significantly the opportunities to redevelop defence capabilities and establish the necessary stability and security for development in the political, financial and civil sector. Greek accession broadened and reinforced the armed forces’ outreach opportunities to all aspects of defence reform including concept development, organizational improvements, enhancing operational capabilities, infrastructure, standardization and training.

Greece has consistently been one of a handful of nations spending 2% or more of its GDP on NATO’s agreed cost-share formula, ranking just behind the United States in terms of the percentage of GDP spent on defense:


Greece’s defense budget is dramatically lower than it was in the 1980s (when Greece spent some 6% of its GDP on defense) and POLITICO reports that “[s]ince the start of the crisis in 2009, the Greek government has reduced defense expenditures by 54 percent, to €4 billion last year.” Still, as Greece has suffered through an unprecedented economic crisis, it has steadfastly maintained its commitment to NATO — even when its balance sheets have given it the financial cover to dip below the 2% suggested marker for its NATO contributions.

During an era of fake news and fungible history, people tend to forget what Europe was like before NATO. Europe saw a century’s worth of wars, the falls of empires, the rise of Germany, Great Powers deciding how to carve up territory, create new states and even temporarily cease the existence of Poland. That century was capped off by two World Wars that dragged American across the Atlantic. History shows that miscalculations, lack of resolve among allies, and lack of preparedness to deal with states intent on upending international order was what allowed the two World Wars to be so catastrophic. It is tragedies such as these that NATO helped prevent over the last 60+ years.

NATO defended Western Europe during the Cold War, and helped consolidate democracy in former eastern bloc states when the Cold War ended. NATO membership has for over two decades been one of the great motivating factors (EU accession the other) for consolidating democracy in former Communist countries. Just being part of the club mean enough to countries that they push forward democratic reforms that make them more reliable contributors to international peace and security.

Naturally, NATO doesn’t have a perfect record. It hasn’t prevented Turkey from risking war with another NATO member (Greece) by invading Cyprus and continuously challenging Greece’s sovereignty in the Aegean Sea. It mishandled the break-up of Yugoslavia. And in recent years, instead of seeing a consolidation of democratic reforms, there has been an assault on democracy both in states that are members and states that are aspirants. The new President has not yet detailed what he would prefer to NATO: should Europe return to the days of the Concert of Europe or the Peace of Westphalia? Would he like to return to the day of multiple, shifting alliances? Should the U.S. carve out a Russian sphere of influence in Europe?

It is not time to declare NATO “obsolete”, it is time to reinvigorate it. Greece recognizes the vital importance of NATO, as do America’s top defense experts. It should be US policy to strengthen the alliance and build upon its work.

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