During a rally at Coastal Carolina University in South Carolina on Saturday, ex-President Donald Trump said he would support Russia acting unimpeded against the NATO countries that do not live up to their responsibilities to spend a certain percentage of their gross domestic product on defense.
The comment was a distinct departure from the U.S. foreign policy norms, and came as the spike of tensions between Russia and Ukraine continued to escalate. Trump recounted a conversation with a leader of a major NATO member, noting it questioned the right to defense under the alliance if attacked by Russia.
He implied those countries not paying their fair share in defense would not only lose U.S. support but might face U.S. encouragement to Russian aggression. This comes as Russian President Vladimir Putin wages war in Ukraine, raising alarms within NATO about potential Russian ambitions on other member states.
Formed in 1949 as a response to the threat from the Soviet Union, NATO has a principle of collective defense (Article 5), meaning an attack on one is an attack on all. His presidency was marked by sustained criticism of NATO and threats to U.S.
withdrawal over financial disputes.
Biden Counters Trump's Stance
In contrast, President Joe Biden has recommitted the U.S. to NATO. Just in the past few days, Biden signed into law a major defense bill including a provision to prohibit the U.S.
from unilateral withdrawal from NATO, apparently scuttling any effort by a future Trump administration in 2024 to reconsider “NATO’s purpose and mission”. The White House termed Trump's comments "appalling and unhinged." Spokesman Andrew Bates pointed out that such statements represent a threat to American security, world stability, and the American economy.
Bates added that Biden is working to enhance American leadership and national security interests. A recent report showed that only 11 out of the 30 member countries meet the 2% GDP defense spending guideline. Though not obligatory, Russia's invasion of Ukraine has prompted many members to hike their defense budgets.
The fact that Finland joined NATO and Sweden applied stands as a manifestation of the changed dynamics within the alliance. He also celebrated a bipartisan border deal collapsing, going out of his way to thank Republican House leader Mike Johnson for his efforts in scuttling what he deemed a "disastrous border deal of Joe Biden's." What Trump's insouciance toward Russian aggression is not is a reassurance of what a second Trump term would look like.
A senior EU official disclosed that Trump had briefed European leaders before the U.S.' s promise not to defend Europe from an attack. Edward Hunter Christie, who was a one-time NATO official, wondered whether Trump's approach means a decline in the U.S.-European relationship or whether it is a strategic calibration.