The leading contender for the GOP nomination, Donald Trump, heightened his inflammatory rhetoric against NATO on Saturday, asserting that during his presidency, he conveyed to a foreign leader his inclination to support Russia in attacking any NATO member failing to meet its financial commitments to the alliance.
These remarks were delivered during a campaign rally in South Carolina, the home state of Trump’s primary Republican competitor, former Governor Nikki Haley. South Carolina is set to hold its Republican primary on February 24.
Throughout the current election cycle, Trump’s campaign has consistently criticized Haley, whom he appointed as UN Secretary, labeling her a “warmonger” due to her advocacy for interventionist foreign policies.
During his speech, Trump recounted an exchange with an unnamed NATO country leader who queried whether the US would defend them if they were attacked by Russia despite not fulfilling their financial obligations.
Trump asserted his stance, stating, “You didn’t pay? You’re delinquent? No, I would not protect you. In fact, I would encourage them to do whatever the hell they want. You gotta pay. You gotta pay your bills.”
The White House swiftly condemned Trump’s statements as “appalling and unhinged.” Andrew Bates, a spokesperson, emphasized President Biden’s commitment to bolstering American leadership and defending national security interests.
Senator Marco Rubio, who endorsed Trump in January and serves on key Senate committees, defended the former president’s remarks on CNN, stating he had “zero concern” about their implications. Rubio highlighted that Trump’s sentiments echoed previous frustrations expressed by many US presidents regarding NATO members’ defense spending.
Trump has long criticized NATO and urged member countries to increase their defense expenditures, aligning with his broader disengagement from US alliances. Since 2022, Trump has also voiced strong opposition to US support for Ukraine, as evidenced by his recent social media post calling for foreign aid to be provided as loans rather than grants.
Trump’s comments drew swift criticism from Western officials, with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg emphasizing the importance of unity and mutual defense within the alliance. Several Democratic leaders also condemned Trump’s remarks, accusing him of prioritizing personal interests over safeguarding allies and invoking the legacy of former President Reagan to underscore their disapproval.