Former U.S. president Donald Trump pictured during a meeting with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg at Winfield House, London on Dec. 3, 2019.
NICHOLAS KAMM | AFP | Getty Images
Former U.S. head of state and presidential candidate Donald Trump stoked the ire of U.S. lawmakers and international leaders, after remarking he would not protect NATO countries from Russian attacks if they lag on their membership payments.
Speaking at a rally in South Carolina on Saturday, Trump said that, as president, he warned NATO allies that he “would encourage” Russia “to do whatever the hell they want” to a member country that didn’t meet its defense spending guidelines.
Trump, who has a long history of criticizing the trans-Atlantic military alliance, recounted a time when an unspecified president of a NATO member challenged him on his threat not to defend them from a potential Russian invasion if they failed to meet NATO’s target of spending at least 2% of their gross domestic product on the military.
“You didn’t pay, you’re delinquent. … No, I would not protect you. In fact, I would encourage them to do whatever the hell they want. You got to pay. You got to pay your bills,” Trump said.
The U.S. has historically had the largest number of military personnel out of all NATO countries, counting 1.35 million troops in 2023, according to Statista.
Trump has been accused of entertaining close ties with Russia during his first presidential mandate. The Kremlin declined to address Trump’s remarks.
“I am still [Russian President Vladimir] Putin‘s press secretary, but not Trump’s,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters, according to Reuters.
Top Western officials, as well as both Democratic and Republican lawmakers, sharply criticized Trump’s comments. U.S. President Joe Biden, who is running for a second term, described Trump’s remarks as “appalling and dangerous.”
“Sadly, they are also predictable coming from a man who is promising to rule as a dictator like the ones he praises on day one if he returns to the oval office,” Biden said Sunday in a statement.
Trump is vying to clinch the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, facing off against former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley.
In an interview with CBS, Haley said Sunday that “the last thing we ever want to do is side with Russia.”
She added that the NATO alliance “allows us to prevent war.”