Trump May Not Be NATO’s Biggest Challenge

Trump May Not Be NATO’s Biggest Challenge
Then-U.S. President Donald Trump arrives for a news conference during a leaders summit at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, July 12, 2018 (AP photo by Markus Schreiber).

Donald Trump is pulling the rug out from under the United States’ alliance commitments. The former U.S. president and leading 2024 Republican presidential candidate reportedly told European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen back in 2020, “You need to understand that if Europe is under attack, we will never come to help you.” He followed that up with, “By the way, NATO is dead, and we will leave. We will quit NATO.”

More recently, at a campaign rally earlier this month, Trump claimed that, while still in office, he told the leader of a NATO member state that the U.S. would not come to its defense against a Russian attack if that country was not meeting its defense spending targets, in line with NATO commitments. “In fact,” he claimed he told his counterpart, “I would encourage [the Russians] to do whatever the hell they want. You got to pay. You got to pay your bills.” He defended those comments a few days later, stating, “Look, if they’re not going to pay, we’re not going to protect. OK?”

Trump’s consistent hostility to NATO is concerning for countries around the world that rely for their security on the promise of protection from the United States. Though many of his Republican allies point out that his actions toward NATO as president bely his harsh words, there are worries that a second Trump presidency will be different. These worries explain why Congress recently passed legislation prohibiting a president from unilaterally withdrawing the U.S. from NATO. They have also fueled discussions in Europe about the need to step up European defense capabilities, something that, on paper at least, might happen.

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