Moscow could ‘do whatever the hell they want’ with members of the US military alliance that didn’t meet spending targets, warned the Republican front-runner.
Donald Trump said on Saturday that he would “encourage” Russia to attack NATO members that failed to pay their bills as part of the US-led military alliance.
Speaking at a rally, the Republican front-runner said that during his presidency he told a leader the US would not protect a NATO member that failed to meet the NATO defence spending target.
In a hypothetical scenario where they were attacked by Moscow, Trump warned he “would encourage” Russia “to do whatever the hell they want”.
“‘You didn’t pay? You’re delinquent?’” Trump recounted saying. “‘No I would not protect you. In fact, I would encourage them to do whatever the hell they want. You gotta pay. You gotta pay your bills.’”
NATO states are obligated to come to the aid of other member states. Many experts argue NATO is a key defence alliance that has helped reduce war and conflict.
White House spokesperson Andrew Bates called Trump’s comments “appalling and unhinged”, saying that “encouraging invasions of our closest allies… endangers American national security, global stability, and our economy at home.”
After Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014, NATO states agreed to spend 2% of their GDP on defence by 2024 – reversing decades of cuts since the Cold War.
Worries of US support in Europe
Trump’s comments come as Ukraine struggles to combat Russia’s 2022 invasion, with its counteroffensive having failed and weapon deliveries lacking.
Efforts by President Joe Biden to send Kyiv more much-needed US support have stalled in Congress amid far-right opposition.
Trump’s comments will also likely ruffle feathers in European capitals, as the chances rise of a Biden-Trump showdown in the 2024 US Presidential election.
Many US allies worry that a second term for Trump would be an earthquake, but concerns are rising Washington could become less dependable whoever wins.
With a divided electorate and gridlock in Congress, the next US president could easily be occupied with challenges at home — before even facing the multiple flashpoints around the world from Ukraine to the Middle East.
French President Emmanuel Macron’s recent verdict was blunt: America’s “first priority is itself.”
The first Trump administration stress-tested the bonds between the US and its allies, particularly in Europe.
He derided leaders of some friendly nations, including Germany’s Angela Merkel and Britain’s Theresa May, while praising authoritarians such as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
In campaign speeches, Trump repeatedly attacks international organisations such as NATO, blasting the billions Washington spends on their upkeep.
He alarmed Western allies by warning that the US could ditch its NATO commitments and only come to the defence of countries that met its 2% military spending target.
As president, Trump eventually endorsed NATO’s Article 5, which states that an armed attack against one or more of its members shall be considered an attack against all members.
But he often depicted NATO allies as leeches on Washington and openly questioned the value of the military alliance that has defined US foreign policy for decades.
As of 2022, NATO reported that seven of what are now 31 NATO member countries were meeting that obligation — up from three in 2014.
Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine has spurred additional military spending by some NATO members.