Wicker Advocates for NATO Reform Agenda on Senate Floor

July 10, 2024

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, R-Miss., the highest-ranking Republican on the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), spoke yesterday on the U.S. Senate floor to promote a stronger path forward for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) alliance amid its 75th anniversary celebration this week in Washington.

Nine NATO countries still do not satisfy the treaty commitment to spend two percent of GDP on defense. In his remarks, Senator Wicker challenged them to step up, especially as the new “axis of aggressors” increases cooperation against the free world. He also welcomed the soon-to-be NATO Secretary General Mark Rutte to his new position, asking him to partner on moving transatlantic industrial base investment beyond even the two percent benchmark.

Read Senator Wicker’s remarks as delivered below or watch them here.

Mr. President, I would note, as members have seen and as the public is reading and hearing about, that this week, 32 nations are gathering in Washington for NATO’s 75th Anniversary Summit. Our alliance has reached this remarkable milestone – 75 years. Its longevity reaffirms its past success and its enduring value.

And our bond must remain strong, particularly at this hour. We are in the most dangerous global security threat since World War II. Almost all of our witnesses before the Armed Services Committee tell us that we are in the most dangerous global threat security [environment in] generations. As we navigate today’s new challenges, NATO still stands as an indispensable alliance.

I this consequential moment, NATO is receiving a new leader. I congratulate the outgoing Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, and I welcome our new Secretary-General, Mark Rutte.

NATO’s 75th anniversary and its leadership transition provide Senators an opportunity. We have a chance to remember why NATO matters – and we have a chance to call upon every member – every nation member – to recommit to our alliance. I call upon my colleagues in both Houses, and in the administration – our friends – to recommit to this important and vital alliance.

As Mr. Rutte takes office, he has a significant challenge to confront. And frankly, we all do, as I have pointed out from this desk numerous times.

NATO faces a new “axis of aggressors.” China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea are banding together. They’re banding together to help Russia in its illegal invasion of Ukraine, and they’re banding together to pursue their designs on the free nations of this world.

This new axis poses a set of growing, interlocking strategic threats to the United States and our allies. In their own way, they’ve all been supporting Russia’s illegal and unprovoked war on Ukraine.

And, Mr. President, at this moment, I would have to pause and note the shameless and vicious Russian attack just earlier this week on a children’s hospital in Kyiv, Ukraine.

This act, by one of the most brutal dictators that has ever walked on the face of the earth, must go answered. It cannot go unanswered. And the very idea that the free nations of this world would seek to negotiate as peers with such a brutal war criminal as Vladimir Putin, to me, is unthinkable. What in the world makes anyone think that this person who has violated every single principle of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe would negotiate in good faith and agree to that negotiation?

So, we have a bleak situation. And it highlights NATO’s importance. NATO was built for such a time as this. And in meeting with the leaders yesterday afternoon, on the other end of this magnificent Capitol, I was heartened to hear that principle underscored.

After the devastation of two world wars, NATO kept the peace by deterring the Soviet Union, and thank God we did. In the post-Cold War era, the alliance’s support for Ukraine has demonstrated why NATO continues to be relevant. Most NATO members have provided substantial military, economic, and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine. In short, the alliance celebrates its 75th birthday from a position of strength.

But we should not interpret NATO’s accomplishments in the past as a license to let down our guard now. NATO’s collective strength is only as strong as its members’ individual commitments.

The truth is that our allies need to spend more on defense. We need, in the United States, to spend more on defense. It’s a necessity. We need to build modern, capable militaries that can stand shoulder-to-shoulder together in a fight against this axis of aggressors. We need the industrial might to match that force strength.

In fact, most allies are meeting their obligations: This year, 23 of 32 NATO countries will spend at least two percent of their gross domestic product on defense – up from only seven out of 32 at the time of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. We all learned a lesson at that moment two and a half years ago.

The world has grown too dangerous for the remaining NATO members not to meet the two percent mark. We all must make it a priority to increase defense spending.

It’s shocking and unacceptable that some allies – especially some capable ones – have yet to reach the two percent requirement that they agreed to.

Friends can speak candidly to one another, and so I will: Our neighbor to the north, Canada, is among this group, which has not – and for several years in the future will not – reach its need.

I was able to meet with Prime Minister Trudeau just a few moments ago and was glad to hear him say that an announcement will be made from our friends in Canada, perhaps later this week, about a new plan to more quickly reach that two percent goal. And I call on him to fulfill that statement that he made to us in private. We look forward to that, and we congratulate him on that effort. NATO allies shouldn’t outsource security to others.

But this challenge presents an opportunity, one that adds to the mandate we give the incoming Secretary-General. The transatlantic industrial base has withered, and we also need to attend to that. And that should be a part of Secretary-General Rutte’s new platform.

In the past, our friends of freedom have had to follow our lead as we pursue a “peace through strength” agenda. Today, Europe has not kept pace as it should.

The United States has begun to invest heavily to rebuild its arsenal of democracy, and we need to continue doing so. But we’re still waiting for the dramatic increase in European 155mm artillery production. We have yet to see the expanded lines of long-range cruise missiles, such as the Storm Shadow and the SCALP. We have heard promises of a reinvigorated defense industrial base in Europe, but those assurances have yet to be fulfilled.

So, as he assumes office, Secretary-General Rutte should join us in recognizing the two percent commitment is, in truth, insufficient in light of Russia’s newly mobilized war economy.

There are additional issues standing in NATO’s way. Its members remain – they remain mired in their own domestic issues. They must of course attend to these domestic concerns. But they also remain tangled up in an alliance bureaucracy that struggles with basic expansions in munitions production capacity.

These challenges are significant, but Mr. Rutte and the elected governments of our alliance must not abide the status quo. We should consider this situation unsustainable, and we should say so.

NATO asks its members for two percent. In my 21st Century Peace Through Strength report, I have recommended that we in the United States spend five percent of GDP on national defense, as did President Reagan. My plan is primarily designed to deter the Chinese Communist Party, but it also calls for the United States to deepen commitments to Europe.

For a few examples: I recommend permanently stationing an armored Brigade Combat Team in Poland. My plan proposes increasing our rotational deployments in Eastern Europe. We should also improve intelligence sharing and communication among allied forces.

Time and again, the United States has learned – sometimes the hard way – we cannot walk away from Europe. Together, the transatlantic alliance represents half of the world’s economy. There’s simply no way to contain Beijing’s economic aggression without working together closely. Likewise, a stagnant U.S. military budget and half-hearted European defense spending cannot contain Russia’s antagonism.

So thank you, Mr. President, for your indulgence, and I yield the floor.