Western officials criticize Trump’s NATO comments

PARIS (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden and top western officials criticized former president Donald Trump on Sunday after he suggested the United States might not protect NATO allies who aren’t spending enough on defence from a potential Russian invasion.

“America’s leadership on the world stage and support for our allies is critical to keeping the American people safe here at home,” said Biden in a statement.

“If my opponent, Donald Trump, is able to regain power, he is making it clear as day that he will abandon our NATO allies if Russia attacks and allow Russia to ‘do whatever the hell they want’ with them.”

Trump, speaking during a political rally in South Carolina and appearing to recount a meeting with NATO leaders, quoted the president of “a big country” that he did not name as asking, “Well sir, if we don’t pay, and we’re attacked by Russia – will you protect us?”

“I said: ‘You didn’t pay? You’re delinquent?’ He said: ‘Yes, let’s say that happened.’ No I would not protect you. In fact I would encourage them to do whatever the hell they want. You gotta pay.”

NATO’s 31 members have agreed on a target of spending at least 2% of gross domestic product on defence, but NATO estimates have shown that only 11 are spending that much.

His comments drew a swift rebuke from NATO and U.S. allies.

“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”, said NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in a written statement.

“Any attack on NATO will be met with a united and forceful response,” he added, reacting to remarks on Saturday by Trump, who is likely to be the Republican nominee in this year’s U.S. presidential election.

Polish Defence Minister Wladyslaw Kosiniak-Kamysz also weighed in.

“NATO’s motto ‘one for all, all for one’ is a concrete commitment. Undermining the credibility of allied countries means weakening the entire NATO,” he wrote on social media platform X.

“No election campaign is an excuse for playing with the security of the Alliance.”

Germany’s foreign ministry posted the message ‘One for all and all for one’ with the hashtag #StrongerTogether on its English language X account following Trump’s comments.

EU Council President Charles Michel said: “Reckless statements on #NATO’s security and Art 5 solidarity serve only (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s interest.”

Article 5 of the NATO treaty says that an armed attack against an alliance member will be considered an attack against them all, triggering collective self-defence.

Referring to Trump’s comments, EU Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton in an interview with France’s LCI television said, “We have heard that before … Nothing new under the sun.”

“He maybe has issues with his memory, it was actually a female president, not of a country, but of the European Union,” Breton added, referring to European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen and a conversation she had with Trump in 2020.

“We cannot flip a coin about our security every four years depending on this or that election, namely the U.S. presidential election,” Breton said, adding European Union leaders understood the bloc needed to boost its own military spending and capacities.

“President Trump got our allies to increase their NATO spending by demanding they pay up, but Joe Biden went back to letting them take advantage of the American taxpayer,” said Jason Miller, Trump’s senior campaign advisor.

“When you don’t pay your defense spending you can’t be surprised that you get more war.”

(Reporting by Tassilo Hummel, Victoria Waldersee, Sabine Siebold and Foo Yun Chee,; Additional reporting by Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk and Nathan Layne; Editing by Frances Kerry, Giles Elgood and Diane Craft)