Trump suggests he would refuse to honor NATO treaty, encouraged Russian attacks on U.S. allies

CONWAY, S.C. — Former President Donald Trump stepped up his attacks on NATO on Saturday, saying he suggested to a foreign leader that he would encourage Russia to do “whatever it wants” to member countries. he believes they don't spend enough on their own defense.

“One of the presidents of a great country stood up and said, 'Well, sir, if we don't pay and we're attacked by Russia, will you protect us?'” Trump said during a rally at Coastal Carolina University. . “I said, ‘You didn’t pay. You are a delinquent. He said, “Yes, let’s say that happened.” » No, I won't protect you. In fact, I would encourage them to do whatever they want.

Trump's remarks come as the Republican Party debates whether to provide additional foreign aid to Ukraine, which is waging a war against Russia after being invaded by Moscow in 2022. The Senate is considering legislation that would give 60 billion dollars to Ukraine. House Republicans, however, echoed Trump's skepticism on the matter.

Trump has long criticized U.S. participation in the alliance, frequently hammering European countries over their share of defense spending, and appearing to reference indirect funding as part of participating in the alliance.

Since 2006, each NATO member has aimed to devote at least 2% of its gross domestic product to defense spending by 2024. NATO countries were already significantly increasing their funding before the Trump presidency, after Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. more than half have achieved or are approaching this goal from 2023and many member countries increased spending in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Trump has previously suggested he threatened not to protect NATO allies from a Russian attack. At an event in 2022 At the Heritage Foundation, the former president recounted a meeting in which he told fellow foreign leaders that he could not meet NATO's Article 5 collective defense clause if others countries were not spending more on their own defense.

The anecdote appears to be a reference to the 2018 NATO summit, during which leaders suggested that Trump's threats were not as explicit as the Washington Post previously reported. But Saturday's remarks constitute an escalation from previous statements.

Below Section 5, if a NATO ally is attacked, other NATO member countries consider it “an armed attack against all members and will take such measures as they deem necessary to assist the ally attack “. Since the creation of NATO in 1949, this clause has only been invoked once: on September 12, 2001, after the terrorist attacks the day before in the United States.

Several experts on the NATO partnership called Trump's understanding of NATO member countries' financial obligations inaccurate and argued that his opposition to collective security as a member country was misplaced.

“NATO is not a paying organization, as Trump seems to think. This is an Alliance that defends, above all, the national security interests of the United States to prevent another world war originating in Europe,” said Alina Polyakova, President and CEO of the Center for Analysis of European politics, in an email to the Post. “US investment in NATO is worth every dollar – the only time the Article 5 collective defense clause was introduced was in response to 9/11. Our allies then came to our aid, and it would be shameful and ill-advised not to do the same. »

In May 2017, Trump did not initially affirm the United States' commitment to Article 5, but then reversed course two weeks later. Trump has widely expressed skepticism about NATO. His campaign website states: “We must complete the process we began under my administration of fundamentally reassessing NATO's purpose and mission.”

The New York Times reported In 2019, Trump discussed withdrawing from NATO. While in office, Trump repeatedly attempted to take credit for making NATO countries pay more, claiming that “hundreds of billions” of dollars came to NATO in following its complaints about other countries being “delinquent” members.

Daniel Fried, former assistant secretary of state for European Affairs and member of the Atlantic Council, said of Trump: “He seems to prefer a world based on pure power, where other countries, where [U.S.] intimidates or threatens other countries. The problem is that when we need them, these other countries won’t be there.”

“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,” said White House spokesman Andrew Bates , in a press release.

Trump has also often suggested that Russian President Vladimir Putin would not have invaded Ukraine if he had remained in power.

Saturday's speech marked Trump's first visit to South Carolina this year, where he will face former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley in the Feb. 24 primary. Trump is currently leading the polls in South Carolina and has the support of several key state officials, including Governor Henry McMaster. A recent Washington Post and Monmouth University poll found that Trump had 58 percent support among likely Republican primary voters, compared to Haley's 32 percent.

In a sign of Trump's focus on the general election, he didn't spend as much time attacking Haley. Yet at one point in the speech, he attacked Haley's husband, a military man currently deployed overseas.

“Where is her husband?” Oh, he’s out,” Trump said. “He left. He knew, he knew.

Haley responded to Trump's attack on her husband at an evening rally in Gilbert, South Carolina, defending his service and again challenging Trump to debate.

“I'll say this: Donald, if you have something to say, don't say it behind my back. Get on the debate stage and say it to my face,” Haley said. “If you make fun of a veteran’s service, you don’t deserve a driver’s license, let alone be president of the United States.”

Haley continued to hammer Trump at his statewide events on Saturday. His staff has vanished mock mental skills tests to reporters, daring Trump and Biden to take one, and attendees sported stickers depicting a drawing of a chicken with Trump-like features reading “Trump is too chicken to debate.” A mobile billboard surrounding Trump's event read “grumpy old men.”

Dylan Wells and Glenn Kessler contributed to this report.

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