U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis spoke at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany on Wednesday, emphasizing the importance of U.S. and European cooperation.  He also used his speech to honor the 70th anniversary of the Marshal Plan that saved millions of Europeans from starvation and what he called, “Soviet domination.”

“The U.S. commitment to our NATO Article 5 security guarantee is ironclad,” Mattis told the gathering of U.S. and German officials.

Article 5 of the NATO charter states that an attack on any one NATO member nation will be considered an attack on all members.  Because of this, it is often referred to as the “mutual defense” article.  President Trump raised eyebrows during his campaign by suggesting the United States may not honor this facet of the agreement because other NATO states have failed to honor articles requiring financial support of the alliance, though he and his administration have worked to counter the concerns that statement raised in the international community since taking office.

Longing for a safer future, the Greatest Generation saw their own security in the security of others,” the secretary said. “They had the courage to recognize all collective efforts had to be taken to avoid repeating mistakes that open the door to war.”

He added, “And, should freedom be threatened and war truly unavoidable, then all efforts must be taken to bring war to a decisive end as swiftly as possible.”

The Marshal Plan, named for George C. Marshall, the U.S. soldier turned Secretary of State that proposed it, led to the U.S. investing over $13 billion into feeding and developing war-ravaged European states in the years following World War II.

“Marshall knew history swings on a hinge,” the defense secretary said. “The Marshall Plan permitted hundreds of millions to keep their humanity, confident of basic social order: food, security, rule of law and essential political freedom.”

Mattis went on to credit the work carried out by European state leaders, claiming the per capita gross domestic product of nations like Britain, France, Italy and Germany had more than doubled by 1967 thanks to American investment and European leadership.  Over time, Mattis explained, Europe was able to begin the transition away from depending on America; a transition that continues to this day.

Europe transformed from a security consumer into a security provider, something Marshall ardently desired, for he never envisioned that America would carry this burden alone,” Mattis said. “He knew from experience it had to be shared, both its benefits and its burdens.”

American and European leaders, however, can’t rest on their laurels, Mattis seemed to warn.  He credited the investments made by allied nations in the sixteen year war on terror that remains ongoing, but tempered those congratulations with an emphasis on how important it is that we continue to hone our abilities to work together.

At peak contributions, 39,000 allies fought with the United States in Afghanistan, and 59,000 allies fought with us in Iraq,” Mattis said. “We must not allow the years passed since 1947 to blind us to reality. For those of us who grew up with freedom from fear, starvation and the burden of world war, we cannot turn away from our responsibility to pass these same freedoms intact to the next generation.”

Mattis also seemed to directly address a growing negative perception of the United States in allied nations.

“Beyond any words in the newspapers, you can judge America by such actions,” he said. “This is who we are. We — America, Germany, Europe, the West — we risk life so a child in Berlin can eat; we hunt terrorists in the dark so they cannot murder innocents at concerts. Our nations stand together, democratic islands of stability in a world awash with change.”

Finally, Mattis finished his speech by addressing growing concerns about Russian aggression in Europe.  NATO has continued to bolster defenses along Russia’s Western borders since Russia’s military annexation of Crimea in 2014.

“The United States seeks to engage with Russia. So does the NATO alliance,” he said. “But Russia must know both what we stand for and, equally, what we will not tolerate: we stand for freedom and we will never surrender the freedom of our people or the values of our alliance that we hold dear.”

“Our hands rest purposefully on history’s door and it depends on us to push it in the right direction,” he said.


Image courtesy of the Department of Defense