Trump’s NATO non-commitment comments give European members chills

U.S. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump © Jim Young
Eastern European NATO members, long in the habit of accusing Russia of aggressive plans to target them, were apparently given a cold shower by US presidential hopeful Donald Trump, who cast doubt over Washington’s commitment to defend them.

"NATO is the basis for our security," Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said Thursday at a news conference in Poland, commenting on Trump’s remarks. "I expect that also in the United States, whoever wins the presidential election, I hope the United States will remain a solid NATO partner.”

The core of the North Atlantic Treaty is collective defense. Every member is bound to declare war on any nation attacking a NATO member. In a recent interview with The New York Times, Trump said America’s obligation to do so was undermined by other NATO members who are not keeping their end of the bargain.

“They have an obligation to make payments. Many NATO nations are not making payments, are not making what they’re supposed to make,” he said in reference to the 2 percent GDP benchmark for defense spending, which is routinely not observed by most of the bloc’s members.

Pressured by NYT reporter David E. Sanger about whether Trump, if elected president, would rescue the Baltic states from a possible Russian invasion, the Republican said: “If they fulfill their obligations to us, the answer is yes.”

“I’m not saying if not. I’m saying, right now there are many countries that have not fulfilled their obligations to us,” he added.

After Trump’s interview was published, alliance chief Jens Stoltenberg rebuffed Trump for setting conditions on its underlying principle.

"This is good for European security and good for US security. The US has always stood by its European allies," the NATO chief said in a statement, adding that he would not interfere in the American election campaign.

Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves tweeted that his country is one of five currently meeting NATO’s military spending requirements.

Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton's campaign said Trump’s stance on NATO shows that he is “temperamentally unfit and fundamentally unprepared to be our commander-in-chief."

"It is fair to assume that Vladimir Putin is rooting for a Trump presidency," said Clinton foreign policy adviser Jake Sullivan.

Trump’s campaign platform is based on the notion that America should focus on its own problems and cut its spending on foreign allies. His disdain for NATO may parallel that of Russia, but for quite different reasons.

Moscow believes that the alliance is obsolete and was hijacked by its Russophobe members. The Baltic states and Poland are the most vocal proponents of the idea that Russia threatens them and that NATO should deploy more troops in their territories to deter an attack.

Trump believes Europeans should pay more for their own defense.