The NATO leader warns against Trump’s comments about Russia endangering its allies

Republican presidential candidate, former President Donald Trump, speaks at a Get Out The Vote rally at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, S.C., Saturday, Feb. 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

(Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press)

The NATO leader warns against Trump’s comments about Russia endangering its allies

VANESSA GERA and LORNE KOK

February 11, 2024

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NATO’s leader warned on Sunday that former President Trump was endangering the security of US troops and their allies after the Republican presidential candidate said Russia should be able to do “whatever they want” to alliance members who don’t meet their defense targets -expenditure.

Trump’s comments caused deep concern in Poland, a country in Central Europe that has more often than not been under Russian control since the late 18th century. Defense Minister Wadysaw Kosiniak-Kamysz said no election campaign should be an excuse to play with the alliance’s security.

During a speech Saturday in Conway, S.C., Trump recalled how as president he told an unidentified NATO member that he would encourage Russia to do what it wants in cases of delinquent NATO allies.

You haven’t paid? Are you delinquent? Trump said the saying. No, I wouldn’t protect you. In fact, I would encourage them to do whatever they want. You have to pay. You have to pay your bills.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the 31 allies are determined to defend each other.

NATO remains ready and able to defend all allies. Any attack on NATO will be met with a united and strong response, Stoltenberg said. Any suggestion that allies will not defend each other undermines all our security, including that of the US, and puts American and European soldiers in greater danger.

Stoltenberg added in his statement that he expects that regardless of who wins the presidential election, the US will remain a strong and committed NATO ally.

The German government did not officially comment on Trump’s remarks, but the country’s Foreign Ministry published a statement on Sunday morning pointing to NATO’s principle of solidarity.

One for all and all for one. “This NATO credo protects more than 950 million people from Anchorage to Erzurum,” the State Department said on X, formerly Twitter.

The German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung wrote in an editorial that if Trump becomes US president again, such statements will increase the risk that Putin will expand his war. Europeans can only do one thing to counter this: finally invest in their military security, commensurate with the severity of the situation.

Trump’s comments were of particular importance to NATO’s frontline countries, such as Poland and the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, which were either under Moscow’s control or entirely in the Soviet Union during the Cold War included. Fears are especially high there given the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

During his time in office, Trump had already threatened not to help any country under attack because he said it was in debt to NATO and the US and was not spending enough on defense. His position destabilized the alliance, especially countries with borders close to Russia.

Under NATO’s mutual defense clause, Article 5 of its founding treaty, all allies provide assistance to any member under attack. Article 5 has been activated only once by the US in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

After Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014, NATO leaders agreed to end defense spending cuts after the end of the Cold War and begin allocating 2% of gross domestic product to their military budgets to spend. No country owes debt to another country, or to NATO.

NATO has undertaken its largest military build-up since the Cold War since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022.

Cook reported from Brussels. Associated Press writer Kirsten Grieshaber in Berlin contributed to this report.

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