Trump alarms allies by questioning NATO’s solidarity

Trump alarms allies by questioning NATO’s solidarity

In a few rambling but chilling sentences on Saturday, February 10, Trump reminded the world what a possible second term for him as president would mean for the global balance of power. At a rally in Conway, South Carolina, the next stage of the Republican party primaries, he implied that he would let Russia attack any NATO member that did not sufficiently contribute to the alliance’s budget. Trump, claiming to be retelling a conversation with a major foreign leader who had allegedly asked him whether the United States would protect his country in the event of an offensive from Moscow, said: “I said, ‘You didn’t pay, you’ re delinquent […] No, I wouldn’t protect you. In fact, I would encourage [the Russians] to do whatever the hell they want.”

With a blend of contempt for America’s traditional allies, isolationist inclinations and the latest sign of complacency toward Vladimir Putin, Trump’s statement drew reactions from both sides of the Atlantic. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg denounced these remarks. “Any suggestion that allies will not defend each other undermines all of our security, including that of the US, and puts American and European soldiers at increased risk,” he wrote.

The White House adopted a similar tone. “Encouraging invasions of our closest allies by murderous regimes is appalling and unhinged.” Andrew Bates, deputy press secretary, reacted, adding: “And it endangers American national security, global stability, and our economy at home.” The Biden administration has also seized on Trump’s comments as an opportunity to refocus the spotlight on him and remind the world of the danger he represents. It had been a very difficult end to the week for Biden, who was confronted with a growing debate about his physical and cognitive capacities.

Purely transactional approach

It comes as no surprise that Trump would regard NATO as something akin to a mother homeowners association, in which the expenses are unevenly distributed. Back in 2000, he had this to say about “animosities” between “factions” in Eastern Europe, in his book America We Deserve: “Their conflicts are not worth American lives. Pulling back from Europe would save [the US] millions of dollars annually.”

Under his presidency, this purely transactional approach – in contempt of the US’s history – had already fueled speculation about an American withdrawal from the alliance. It would seem that Trump, the frontrunner in the Republican primaries, has been taking things a step further. As the war in Ukraine rages on, he has attacked one of the foundational pillars of the North Atlantic Treaty: Article 5, which sets out the terms of its members’ solidarity should one of them come under attack.

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