By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — The White House, European leaders, and NATO condemned remarks by former U.S. President Donald Trump, who said that if he is reelected the United States might not defend alliance members from a potential Russian invasion if they don’t pay enough of their own defense and would in fact “encourage” the Russians to do “whatever the hell” they want.
“Donald Trump’s admission that he intends to give [Russian President Vladimir] Putin a greenlight for more war and violence, to continue his brutal assault against a free Ukraine, and to expand his aggression to the people of Poland and the Baltic States are appalling and dangerous,” Biden said in a statement on February 11.
Hours earlier, White House spokesman Andrew Bates said that “encouraging invasions of our closest allies by murderous regimes is appalling and unhinged — and it endangers American national security, global stability, and our economy at home.”
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, in a written statement on February 11, said that “any suggestion that allies will not defend each other undermines all of our security, including that of the U.S., and puts American and European soldiers at increased risk.”
“Any attack on NATO will be met with a united and forceful response,” Stoltenberg added.
Trump made the remarks as he campaigns to become the Republican nominee to face Democratic President Joe Biden in the November presidential election.
During his presidential term, Trump – who was defeated by Biden in the 2020 election – often expressed doubts about the need for NATO and repeatedly threatened to pull out of the alliance if members did not pay what he considered their fair share for their defense.
NATO allies in 2014 agreed to set a goal toward spending 2 percent of their national GDPs on defense by 2024, a target only a few European members have so far met but which they vow to do so in the near future.
Article 5 is considered the hallmark of the NATO alliance, stating that an armed attack against one member would be considered an attack against all and would trigger collective self-defense action.
At a campaign rally in in South Carolina on February 10, Trump said that at a meeting with NATO leaders during his presidency, the president of a country he didn’t identify asked him: “Well, sir, if we don’t pay, and we’re attacked by Russia — will you protect us?”
“I said: ‘You didn’t pay? You’re delinquent?’ He said: ‘Yes, let’s say that happened.’ No, I would not protect you. In fact, I would encourage them to do whatever the hell they want. You gotta pay.”
Polish Defense Minister Wladyslaw Kosiniak-Kamysz on February 11 wrote on the social media platform X that “NATO’s motto ‘one for all, all for one’ is a concrete commitment. Undermining the credibility of allied countries means weakening the entire North Atlantic Treaty Organization.”
“No election campaign is an excuse for playing with the Alliances’ security,” he added.
The German Foreign Ministry posted a message on X stating: “’One for all and all for one.’ This NATO creed keeps more than 950 million people safe — from Anchorage to Erzurum.”
EU Council President Charles Michel called Trump’s statements “reckless” and said that such attacks on “NATO’s security and [Article] 5 solidarity serve only Putin’s interest.”
“[Such remarks] do not bring more security or peace to the world.”
U.S. Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, a vocal Trump supporter, defended the ex-president’s remarks, saying Trump was simply “telling a story” about a past event.
“He doesn’t talk like a traditional politician,” Rubio told CNN.
However, Nikki Haley, Trump’s former UN ambassador and now a rival for the Republican nomination, criticized the remarks, saying the ex-president was taking Putin’s side.
“What bothers me about this is: Don’t take the side of a thug who kills his opponents. Don’t take the side of someone who has gone in and invaded a country and half a million people have died or been wounded,” Haley told CBS.
“Now, we do want NATO allies to pull their weight. But there are ways you can do that without sitting there and telling Russia, have your way with these countries. That’s not what we want,” she said.