Former U.S. President Donald Trump said at a rally Saturday that, while in office, he told the leader of an unidentified NATO member that the U.S. would not protect that country from Russia because it had not met the alliance’s defense spending targets. “In fact, I would encourage them to do whatever the hell they want,” the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination claimed he told his counterpart. “You gotta pay.” (AP)
Although more inflammatory than previous iterations, Trump’s remarks are to some extent familiar. After all, he has made his hostility to U.S. alliances, and specifically NATO, well-known. During his term as president, he often openly questioned the value of the trans-Atlantic alliance and portrayed NATO allies as over-reliant on U.S. security guarantees. In 2018, Trump even pressed his aides to withdraw from the alliance, though he was prevented from doing so by his national security team.
In fact, Trump has told this exact story before to illustrate his repeated gripe that many alliance members are not, in his view, paying their fair share. This time, though, his comments went much further, setting off a flurry of responses and rebukes across Europe and among supporters of NATO in the U.S., a reflection of the growing anxiety in European capitals—and in Washington—about Trump’s potential return to the White House.