MUNICH, Germany, Feb 17 (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump's defense secretary warned of an "arc of instability" on Europe's periphery and told nervous allies that the United States would stand with NATO partners to confront shared threats.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis' remarks to the Munich Security Conference came as Europe fears Trump could retreat from traditional U.S. leadership as the continent grapples with an assertive Russia, wars in eastern and southern Mediterranean countries, and attacks by Islamist militants.
Mattis said the United States and its European allies had a shared understanding of the challenges ahead.
"We all see our community of nations under threat on multiple fronts as the arc of instability builds on NATO's periphery and beyond," said Mattis, a retired Marine general.
19 memorable quotes from James 'Mad Dog' Mattis
19 memorable quotes from James 'Mad Dog' Mattis
"You cannot allow any of your people to avoid the brutal facts. If they start living in a dream world, it's going to be bad."
Mattis has often talked to Marine leaders about staying sharp.
The "dream world" he mentioned is a reference to a complacent attitude, and it's one that can cost lives if troops aren't vigilant.
(Photo by Allison Shelley/Getty Images)
"If in order to kill the enemy you have to kill an innocent, don't take the shot. Don't create more enemies than you take out by some immoral act."
As a coauthor of the military's counterinsurgency manual (with retired Army Gen. David Petraeus), Mattis has often spoken about following the rules of engagement and being disciplined against a ruthless enemy.
"I come in peace. I didn't bring artillery. But I'm pleading with you, with tears in my eyes: If you f*** with me, I'll kill you all."
After the initial Iraq invasion, "Chaos" (his radio call sign) sent home his tanks and artillery and used the "carrot and the stick" with Iraqi tribal leaders.
(Photo by Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
"The first time you blow someone away is not an insignificant event. That said, there are some a--holes in the world that just need to be shot. There are hunters and there are victims. By your discipline, you will decide if you are a hunter or a victim."
Addressing his Marines at an air base in Iraq, he tried to motivate them to stay sharp and continue the mission.
He ended the speech, telling them in Patton-esque fashion, "I feel sorry for every son of a b**** that doesn't get to serve with you."
(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
"Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet."
One of his "words to live by" for his Marines in Iraq, which was a call for his troops to remain vigilant and never let their guard down even in the company of those who seem friendly.
In a country where insurgents would blend into the local populace with ease, it was good advice.
(Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
"We've backed off in good faith to try and give you a chance to straighten this problem out. But I am going to beg with you for a minute. I'm going to plead with you, do not cross us. Because if you do, the survivors will write about what we do here for 10,000 years."
Mattis demonstrates that he is willing to extend an olive branch to those on the fence — while carrying the weight of Marine firepower if that doesn't work out.
This quote is often shared among Mattis fans for its almost Spartan-like delivery.
( CHRIS KLEPONIS/AFP/Getty Images)
"I don't lose any sleep at night over the potential for failure. I cannot even spell the word."
The general has always been confident in his abilities and that of his Marines.
He led the 1st Marine Expeditionary Brigade into Afghanistan in 2001 and the 1st Marine Division into Iraq in 2003, and he led an operation into Fallujah in 2004 dubbed "Operation Vigilant Resolve." He also helped to plan the later "Operation Phantom Fury."
His success in battle and strategic genius has earned him an almost godlike status among Marines.
(Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
"A country that armed Stalin to defeat Hitler can certainly work alongside enemies of Al Qaeda to defeat Al Qaeda."
The general is a student of history and an avid reader.
He often stresses the importance of education and training on building effective future leaders.
(Photo by Bryan Steffy/Getty Images for DIRECTV)
"You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn't wear a veil. You know, guys like that ain't got no manhood left anyway. So it's a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them. Actually it's quite fun to fight them, you know. It's a hell of a hoot. It's fun to shoot some people. I'll be right up there with you. I like brawling."
Some Mattis quotes don't come without a degree of controversy, including this one.
Mattis said this while speaking about his time on the ground in Afghanistan, but he was later counseled by his boss, Marine Commandant Gen. Michael Hagee, who said "he should have chosen his words more carefully."
"In this age, I don't care how tactically or operationally brilliant you are, if you cannot create harmony — even vicious harmony — on the battlefield based on trust across service lines, across coalition and national lines, and across civilian/military lines, you need to go home, because your leadership is obsolete. We have got to have officers who can create harmony across all those lines."
Mattis wants educated leaders who can both be book smart and be able to get the job done.
REUTERS/Jim Hollander CLH/
"Find the enemy that wants to end this experiment (in American democracy) and kill every one of them until they're so sick of the killing that they leave us and our freedoms intact."
Mattis believes the battlefield is better off being far from American shores.
(Photo by Rick Loomis/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
"Treachery has existed as long as there's been warfare, and there's always been a few people that you couldn't trust."
In places such as Iraq and Afghanistan, alliances can often shift quickly.
Mattis spoke with Congress on this point after a series of so-called green-on-blue attacks that left military leaders struggling to find a solution.
(Photo credit should read ANTONIO SCORZA/AFP/Getty Images)
"Fight with a happy heart."
Before heading into Iraq in 2003, all Marines of the 1st Marine Division received a letter from General Mattis.
In the letter, he spoke candidly to his troops, telling them "we will move swiftly and aggressively against those who resist, we will treat others with decency, demonstrating chivalry and soldierly compassion for people who have endured a lifetime under Saddam's oppression."
AFP PHOTO/ Chris KLEPONIS (Photo credit should read CHRIS KLEPONIS/AFP/Getty Images)
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British Defence Minister Michael Fallon and Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite singled out Russia as the main threat, although they also said the West needed to talk to Moscow.
In that vein, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg held talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Munich, seeing progress on encouraging Moscow to be more open about its military exercises that the alliance says are unpredictable.
Russia says it is the Western alliance, not Moscow, that is destabilizing Europe by sending troops to its western borders.
"We have different views," Stoltenberg said of the crisis in Ukraine, where the West accuses the Kremlin of arming separatist rebels in a conflict that has killed 10,000 people since April 2014. Russia says the conflict is a civil war.
Trump alarmed allies during his campaign for office by breaking with traditional Republican views on the transatlantic relationship, even expressing admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Mattis, however, has spoken out strongly against Russia on his first European visit. After talks with NATO allies in Brussels on Thursday, he said that he did not believe it would be possible to collaborate militarily with Moscow, at least for now.
European intelligence agencies have warned that Russia is also seeking to destabilize governments and influence elections across Europe with cyber attacks, fake news and propaganda and by funding far-right political parties.
"We should be under no illusions about the step-change in Russian behavior over the last couple of years, even after Crimea," Fallon said, referring to Moscow's 2014 annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula.
"We have seen a step-change in Russian military aggression, but also in propaganda, in misinformation and a succession of persistent attacks on Western democracies, interference in a whole series of elections including ... the United States."
MUNICH AWAITS PENCE
In the latest incident, Lithuanian prosecutors have opened a criminal investigation into a false report of rape by German soldiers stationed there on a NATO mission to deter Russia .
Mattis, without explicitly citing the case, rallied to the defense of German forces as he spoke in the German city of Munich. "I have great respect for Germany's leadership in Europe – and for the ethical performance of your troops on the battlefield," he said.
U.S. intelligence agencies concluded last year that Russia hacked and leaked Democratic emails during the election campaign as part of an effort to tilt the vote in Trump's favor.
Trump is wrestling with a growing controversy at home about potential ties between his aides and Russia, which he dismissed on Thursday as a "ruse" and "scam" perpetrated by a hostile news media.
Mattis spoke a day before U.S. Vice President Mike Pence will address the Munich conference, also seeking to soothe allies unnerved by his boss's statements on Russia and NATO.
Pence will say that Europe is an "indispensable partner" for the United States, a senior White House foreign policy adviser told reporters.
Mattis told a crowd that included heads of state and more than 70 defense ministers that Trump backed NATO -- but also saw the need for change.
The Pentagon chief warned NATO allies on Wednesday they must honor military spending pledges to ensure the United States does not "moderate" support for the alliance .
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, a veteran of Chancellor Angela Merkel's government and committed European, said there was "no doubt" Germany would increase spending.
Europe's low defense expenditure has long been a sore point for the United States, which puts up 70 percent of alliance funds. But Trump has made change a priority, saying allies have "been very unfair to us" for not spending more.
"President Trump came into office and has thrown now his full support to NATO. He too espouses NATO's need to adapt to today's strategic situation for it to remain credible, capable, and relevant," Mattis said. (Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Larry King)