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11 Feb, 2024 21:56

NATO chief condemns Trump threat

The former US president said he would refuse to defend members of the alliance who fail to pay their defense bills
NATO chief condemns Trump threat

Former US President Donald Trump’s disparaging comments about NATO members’ failure to meet their military spending commitments put the whole alliance at risk, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg warned in a statement on Sunday. 

Speaking at a rally in South Carolina on Saturday, Trump suggested that such countries should not receive US protection in the event of an attack. 

Stoltenberg responded: “Any suggestion that allies will not defend each other undermines all of our security, including that of the US, and puts American and European soldiers at increased risk,” reiterating that the bloc remained “ready and able to defend all allies.” 

Any attack on a NATO member country would trigger a “united and forceful response,” Stoltenberg pledged.

“I expect that regardless of who wins the presidential election, the US will remain a strong and committed NATO ally,” he added.

During his rally speech, Trump recalled a past conversation with the leader of an unnamed NATO state who supposedly asked what would happen if defense spending targets were not being met, and an external attack occurred. 

“‘You didn’t pay? You’re delinquent?’” the former president said, recalling his response. “‘No, I would not protect you. In fact, I would encourage [Russia] to do whatever the hell they want. You gotta pay. You gotta pay your bills.’”

NATO members pledged in 2014 to spend 2% of their GDP on defense by 2025. Just 10 of the bloc’s 30 countries had met those obligations as of 2023, with 13 spending 1.5% of GDP or less, according to the alliance's own estimates. 

While much of the media discussion on Trump’s supposed threat framed it as a challenge to the Baltic states and Poland, Warsaw in fact led the bloc in defense contributions relative to the size of its economy last year, spending 3.9% of its GDP – more than Washington’s 3.49%. Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia all spent over 2% last year as well, placing them well out of reach of any threatened lapse in mutual defense under another Trump presidency. 

Following the former US leader's remarks, however, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk expressed concern about the “hot war” at his country’s border with Ukraine, questioning whether the US would show “full solidarity with other NATO countries in this confrontation that promises to last for a long time with Russia.”

His words echoed Stoltenberg’s own in an interview with the German media outlet Die Welt on Sunday, in which the NATO chief urged members to ramp up arms production to wartime levels in order to prepare for a “confrontation” with Moscow “that could last decades.” 

Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly denied his country is interested in attacking any NATO country, including Poland and the Baltics. Last week, he told journalist Tucker Carlson it was instead Western governments “trying to intimidate their own population with an imaginary Russian threat.”

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