Mattis: If NATO didn't exist, Trump would want to create it

James Mattis said in an interview broadcast Sunday that he defended the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) during his earliest talks with President Trump about serving as secretary of Defense.

“In my initial job interview with the president, he brought up his questions about NATO. And my response was — that I thought that if we didn't have NATO that he would want to create it because it's a defense of our values, it's a defense of democracy,” Mattis told host John Dickerson on CBS News's "Face the Nation."

The Defense secretary added that Trump was “open” at the time to the idea of supporting the international organization.

“Obviously, he had to make a decision about whether or not he was going to nominate me to be the secretary of Defense,” he said.  

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“And although I immediately showed him that my view on that was rather profoundly in support of NATO, he at that point nominated me.”

Mattis, who has said Russia is trying to break NATO apart, stressed that the alliance is "clearly not a threat" to Russia, and that Russia's future depends on Europe and NATO.

"Right now, Russia's future should be wedded to Europe. Why they see NATO as a threat is beyond me," he said. 

Mattis’s comments come just days after Trump scolded his fellow NATO allies at a summit in Brussels, saying member nations “must finally contribute their fair share and meet their financial obligations.

Trump claimed that his stance on NATO had improved the financial state of the organization, tweeting that “money was beginning to pour” into NATO. Member nations fund their own defense spending under the NATO umbrella, however, instead of paying the alliance.

The president during the summit noticeably did not address Article 5 of the NATO treaty, which states if one member nation is attacked, NATO’s other member nations would come to its defense.

But Mattis said Trump’s presence in Brussels was a strong affirmation of his administration’s support of the alliance.

“I think when President Trump chooses to go to NATO personally and stand there alongside the other more than two dozen nations in NATO, that was his statement, not words, actions,” he told CBS News.