Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP
NEW YORK — Republican frontrunner Donald Trump said Saturday that as president he warned NATO allies that he would “encourage” Russia “to do whatever it wants” to “delinquent” countries. , as he stepped up his attacks on foreign aid and long-standing international alliances.
Speaking at a rally in Conway, South Carolina, Trump recounted a story he has previously told about an unidentified NATO member who confronted him about his threat to failing to defend members who failed to meet the transatlantic alliance's defense spending targets.
But this time, Trump went further, saying he would actually “encourage” Russia to do what it wants in this case.
“'You didn't pay? Are you a delinquent?'” Trump said. “'No, I wouldn't protect you. In fact, I would encourage them to do what they want. You have to pay. You have to pay your bills.'”
NATO allies agreed in 2014, after Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula, to end their post-Cold War budget cuts and devote 2% of their GDP to defense by 2024.
White House spokesman Andrew Bates responded: “Encouraging invasions of our closest allies by murderous regimes is appalling and unbalanced – and it endangers American national security, global stability and our domestic economy . »
Trump's comments come as Ukraine remains mired in its efforts to stave off the 2022 Russian invasion and as congressional Republicans have become increasingly skeptical about providing additional aid to the country as he fights against blocked counter-offensives and a shortage of weapons.
They also come as Trump and his team become increasingly confident he will lock in the nomination in the coming weeks after resounding victories in the first votes of the 2024 Republican nominating calendar.
Earlier Saturday, Trump called for an end to foreign aid ” WITHOUT 'CONDITIONS' ATTACHED,” arguing that the United States should significantly reduce how it provides money.
“FROM THIS POINT, ARE YOU LISTENING TO US, SENATE(?), NO MONEY IN THE FORM OF FOREIGN AID SHOULD BE GIVEN TO ANY COUNTRY, UNLESS IT IS DONE AS A LOAN, NOT JUST A GIFT,” writes Trump on his social network. in capital letters.
Trump went on to say the money could be loaned “ON EXTRAORDINARILY GOOD TERMS,” with no interest or repayment date. But he added that “IF THE COUNTRY WE ARE HELPING TURNS AGAINST US OR BECOMES RICH IN THE FUTURE, THE LOAN WILL BE REPAID AND THE MONEY RETURNED TO THE UNITED STATES.”
During his 2016 campaign, Trump alarmed Western allies by warning that the United States, under his leadership, could abandon its NATO treaty commitments and only come to the defense of countries that follow NATO guidelines. the alliance by devoting 2% of their gross domestic product to the army. expenses.
Trump, as president, ultimately approved NATO's Article 5 mutual defense clause, which states that an armed attack on one or more of its members shall be considered an attack on all members. But he has often described NATO allies as leeches on the U.S. military and has openly questioned the value of the military alliance that has defined U.S. foreign policy for decades.
In 2022, NATO reported that seven of NATO's current 31 member countries met this obligation, up from three in 2014. Russia's invasion of Ukraine in 2022 led to additional military spending by NATO. some NATO members.
Trump has often tried to take credit for the increase and boasted again on Saturday that, as a result of his threats, “hundreds of billions of dollars have flowed into NATO” – even if countries don't pay directly NATO.