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7 Dec, 2023 16:26

Trump will leave NATO – ex Pentagon chief

Without the US to hold it up, the bloc would “collapse,” Mark Esper has told MSNBC
Trump will leave NATO – ex Pentagon chief

Former US President Donald Trump will pull American support for Ukraine if elected next year, setting in motion a chain of events that would lead to the collapse of NATO, his former defense secretary, Mark Esper, has claimed.

In an interview with MSNBC on Thursday, Esper, who headed the Pentagon from July 2019 to November 2020, was asked what the prospects of a second Trump presidency would mean for the future of NATO.

“I think one of the first things that would happen is he would withdraw support for Ukraine,” Esper replied. “And of course if that were to happen, the whole effort to support Ukraine in its war with Russia would eventually crumble. The United States is like the big block in the Jenga tower; you pull us out and everything collapses.”

Trump has repeatedly promised that he would end the conflict in Ukraine “within 24 hours” of his inauguration, should he defeat President Joe Biden in next year’s election. The former president has hinted that he would use military aid as leverage to achieve this by cutting off the flow of weapons to force Kiev to the negotiating table. 

“His next move would be to begin pulling us out of NATO, certainly troops out of NATO countries,” Esper told MSNBC. “And eventually that could cause the collapse of the alliance ... and the next – does he start looking, as he would discuss with me and others at the time – does he look to pull troops out of Korea, out of Japan, out of other countries that are allied with us?” 

Throughout his presidency, Trump railed against NATO’s European members, accusing them of freeloading off the US’ massive military presence on the continent while failing to meet the bloc’s target of spending 2% of GDP on defense. Trump used NATO's annual summits to berate European leaders into boosting their military spending, and according to former National Security Adviser John Bolton, was ready to announce the US’ withdrawal from the alliance in 2018.

According to media reports, Trump also demanded that South Korea and Japan pay the US more to keep its forces stationed in both countries. While Trump carried out military strikes on Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, he attempted to pull American troops from all three countries and declared that he did not want US troops “to be the policemen of the world.”

Two months prior to Esper’s interview, anonymous sources told Rolling Stone magazine that Trump and his advisors have discussed pulling the US out of NATO or dramatically scaling back Washington’s commitment to the pact if he defeats Biden. According to the magazine, Trump told his team that his second administration would not be staffed by “NATO lovers.”

With the 2024 election less than a year away and Trump leading Biden in most polls, a flurry of newspaper articles and op-eds have been published in recent days claiming – often without evidence – that the former president would abandon NATO, sic the military on protesters, and attempt to install himself as “president for life” if successful in 2024. All of the articles’ authors were prominent critics of Trump during his presidency.