Obama Warns NATO Allies to Share Defense Burden: ‘We Can’t Do It Alone’

President Barack Obama in Warsaw, June 3, 2014Part of what I discussed with Secretary General of NATO Rasmussen and now with the new Secretary General Stoltenberg is the need to make sure that the collective defense effort is robust, it is ready, it is properly equipped.

That does mean that every NATO member has to do its fair share. Obviously, we all have different capacities. The United States is going to have different capacities than Poland; Poland is going to have a different capacity than Latvia. But everyone has the capacity to do their fair share, to do a proportional amount to make sure that we have the resources, the planning, the integration, the training in order to be effective. . . .

I think it’s important to recognize that the effectiveness of our defenses against any threat is not just going to be dependent on how many troops we have in any particular country — it has to do with how we are working collectively together to make sure that when any NATO member is threatened, all of us can respond rapidly — whether it’s through air, sea, or land.

And that’s going to require some flexibility. It’s going to require some additional planning. It’s going to require some joint capabilities that right now we don’t have. But frankly, NATO is very reliant on U.S. capabilities but has not always invested in some joint capabilities that would be important as well. And it’s going to require every NATO member to step up. We have seen a decline steadily in European defense spending generally. There are exceptions — like Poland, like Estonia — but for the most part, we have seen a steady decline. That has to change.

The United States is proud to bear its share of the defense of the Transatlantic Alliance. It is the cornerstone of our security. But we can’t do it alone. And we’re going to need to make sure that everybody who is a member of NATO has full membership. They expect full membership when it comes to their defense; then that means that they’ve also got to make a contribution that is commensurate with full membership.

Excerpt from remarks by President Barack Obama and President Bronislaw Komorowski of Poland in a joint press conference, June 3, 2014.

Image: President Barack Obama in Warsaw, June 3, 2014 (photo: Department of State)