WASHINGTON — Two leaders of the Senate — Sens. John McCain and Christopher Murphy — Monday called for a greater financial commitment from European allies to NATO, saying the U.S. should not have to underwrite so much of the organization’s costs.
The Arizona Republican and the Connecticut Democrat spoke at an event hosted at the Center for Strategic Development and International Studies on the same day that the NATO secretary general laid out plans for a future NATO when the allies convene in Wales in September.
McCain called NATO one of the greatest achievements of the 20th century but said he is greatly concerned about the future of the organization while the U.S. bears much of NATO’s financial costs.
“I think there’s good will towards NATO,” McCain said. However, he said sequestration has greatly limited the financial commitment the United States can make to its transatlantic allies.
He said inaction from NATO countries to intervene in unstable regions raises concerns about the organization’s viability. Although he did not advocate for NATO intervention in Syria, McCain criticized the organization’s lack of response to the humanitarian crisis in the war-torn country. He attacked the NATO allies for not even acknowledging reports released Tuesday that the Syrian government has tortured and executed 11,000 detainees since the start of the uprising.
“It’s very disturbing to me,” McCain said.
In addition to the military spending concerns McCain raised, Murphy said international concerns about American national security policies abroad have forced needed conversations about “integrating our counterterrorism” approach. He called on President Barack Obama to address the concerns of European allies during the State of the Union about the NSA data collection practices revealed by Edward Snowden last summer.
Murphy’s recommendation for a focus on counterterrorism fell in line with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen ‘s suggestions Monday. In addition to addressing terrorism, Rasmussen said NATO must invest in improving responses to piracy, regional instability, missile and cyber attacks.
In regard to NATO’s military commitment, McCain stressed the importance of explaining to constituents why the United States needs to maintain military presence in the Middle East. He called withdrawing from Iraq “an abject failure of American foreign policy.”
“We may want to leave the Middle East, but the Middle East isn’t going to leave us,” McCain said.
Murphy said disillusionment about military costs associated with Afghanistan and Iraq have contributed to public skepticism over NATO spending.
Throughout the bipartisan discussion, both McCain and Murphy maintained a polite tone, noting they had gained respect for each other after traveling to the Ukraine in December and working to pass bipartisan legislation calling for a peaceful end to the violent protests that began in Kiev in November.
McCain even joked with Murphy after a brief question and answer period.
“If I looked like Sen. Murphy, I would be president of the United States right now,” the 2008 Republican nominee said, drawing roars of laughter from the audience.
Looking forward to the State of the Union address Tuesday, McCain said he hoped Obama would address trade agreements and his “vision for America’s place in the world.” He said the United States can continue to intervene abroad without necessarily putting boots on the ground.
“There are so many ways we can be involved and engaged, and we should exercise all of those options,” McCain said.