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'I'm not going to protect you': Trump threatens to undermine NATO again sparking row

Last week, Trump shocked major European countries when he said he won't defend NATO allies who failed in defence-spending and would even encourage Russia to attack them. European countries pledged to bolster their defence power to back Ukraine in fears of an expansion of Russia's offensive.

Aveek Banerjee Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee North Charleston (South Carolina) Published on: February 15, 2024 22:21 IST
US, Donald Trump, NATO
Image Source : AP Former US President Donald Trump

Columbia: After sparking a major row by mentioning that he would encourage Russia to attack NATO countries, former US President Donald Trump once again threatened to undermine the 31-member alliance by asserting that "we're not going to protect" allied countries he believes are not paying enough if he returns to the White House next year, according to the Guardian.

"I’ve been saying, ‘Look, if they’re not going to pay, we’re not going to protect, OK?’ And [Joe] Biden who said, ‘Oh, this is so bad. This is so terrible that he would say that.’ No … nobody’s paying their bills," Trump said while speaking at a rally in South Carolina on late Wednesday. "One of the heads of the countries said, ‘Does that mean that if we don’t pay the bills, that you’re not going to protect us?’ That’s exactly what it means. I’m not going to protect you.”

Trump raised a storm of criticism from the White House and top Western officials for suggesting he would not defend NATO allies who failed to spend enough on defence and would even encourage Russia to attack them. Biden expressed outrage at his predecessor's remarks, and further urged funding for Ukraine.

"Can you imagine a former president of the United States saying that? The whole world heard it. The worst thing is, he means it. No other president in our history has ever bowed down to a Russian dictator. Let me say this as clearly as I can: I never will. For God’s sake, it’s dumb, it’s shameful, it’s dangerous. It’s un-American," Biden said on Tuesday, underscoring that NATO is a "sacred commitment".

Trump's stance on NATO

As US president from 2017-21, Trump often lambasted NATO and its members such as Germany, accusing them of not paying enough for their own defence and relying on Washington to protect them. He openly questioned the collective defence principle.

Other US administrations have also accused Europeans of not spending enough on defence but in less strident terms. Trump took his criticism to a new level at a campaign rally on Saturday in Conway, South Carolina, when he recounted what he said was a conversation with the "president of a big country". "Well sir, if we don't pay, and we're attacked by Russia - will you protect us?" Trump quoted the unnamed leader as saying.

"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 (Russia) to do whatever the hell they want. You gotta pay," Trump said. Meanwhile, his allies preparing for a second term have discussed "essentially a two-tiered NATO alliance, where Article Five, requiring common defence of any member under attack - would only apply to those nations who meet their defence-spending goals.

NATO's response to Trump's remarks

Shocked by Trump's earlier remarks on NATO, the governments of Poland, France and Germany vowed to make Europe a security and defense power with a greater ability to back Ukraine, amid concerns that the ex-US President might allow Moscow to expand its aggression. David Cameron, the UK foreign secretary, said Trump’s remarks were unhelpful.

"I think what the presidential candidate in America said is also something to maybe wake up some of the allies who haven’t done that much," said Estonia's Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, in a sympathetic tone to his remarks. Polish PM Donald Tusk said the European Union, France and Poland must become strong enough to defend their own borders.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Trump was putting the safety of US troops and their allies at risk and undermining the security of the alliance. "First, it is in the national security interest of the United States to have a strong NATO. Second, there is actually broad bipartisan support for NATO in the United States. And thirdly, the criticism in the United States is not primarily against NATO, it’s against Nato allies not spending enough money on NATO," said Stoltenberg.

How many members meet their defence-spending goals?

In Article 5 of the founding treaty, NATO members declared that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America "shall be considered an attack against them all". However, Article 5 stops short of a commitment to an automatic military response to help an ally under attack. That means the strength of Article 5 depends on clear statements from political leaders that it will be backed up by action.

According to NATO estimates from July last year, 11 members were expected to meet the 2 per cent target in 2023. Those members were Poland, the United States, Greece, Estonia, Lithuania, Finland, Romania, Hungary, Latvia, Britain and Slovakia. Germany, Europe's economic heavyweight, was estimated at 1.57 per cent. But German officials have said they expect to meet the 2 per cent target this year, partly thanks to a special 1-billion-euro fund established in response to Russia's war in Ukraine.

The lowest spenders as a share of national GDP were Spain, Belgium and Luxembourg, according to the NATO figures. NATO is expected to release updated figures in the coming days that will show more allies meeting the 2% target, according to people familiar with the data.

(with inputs from agencies)

ALSO READ | What did Trump say about NATO funding that sparks row and what is Article 5? EXPLAINED

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