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"Trump suggests he would abandon NATO allies who do not spend enough on defense."

At a rally on Saturday, former president Donald Trump claimed that he’d told allies he would “encourage” attacks on NATO members who don’t contribute enough to defense.

“A president of a big country stood up and asked, ‘Well, sir, will you protect us if we don't pay and Russia attacks us?” Trump claimed. “I said, ‘You didn’t pay. You’re delinquent.’ He said, ‘Yes, let’s say that happened.’ No, I would not protect you. I would encourage them to do whatever the hell they want.”

This has provoked alarm and anger from leaders, including NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who suggested that such language “undermines all of our security” and puts American and European troops at greater risk.

When asked about Trump’s remarks, White House spokesperson Andrew Bates said, “Encouraging invasions of our closest allies by murderous regimes is appalling and unhinged. – and it endangers American national security, global stability, and our economy at home.”

Trump's controversial remarks come at a time of great international instability, with Europe under increasing threat from a revanchist Russia. Meanwhile, in the US, Republicans are debating whether to support legislation providing $60 billion in aid to Ukraine.

Since 2006, NATO countries agreed to a guideline of spending at least 2 percent of GDP on defense spending by 2024. Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, many NATO countries have increased their defense spending, but not enough to satisfy Trump who has repeatedly criticized European countries for not contributing enough.

During a 2022 event at the Heritage Foundation, for example, Mr. Trump disclosed that he had told foreign leaders he may not follow the NATO Article 5 defense clause unless other countries spent more on their militaries.

According to NATO, Article 5 provides that an armed attack on one NATO state will be considered an attack on all other NATO states.

Trump claimed in a campaign rally last month that he does not believe NATO allies would defend the US if it were attacked. This is even though many NATO countries gave their support to America following the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center. To date, this is the only time NATO’s Article 5 defense clause has been activated.

According to NATO’s figures, only 11 of NATO’s 30 member states are spending 2 percent or more of their annual GDP on defense spending. Trump’s isolationist rhetoric will likely appeal to anti-war voters who feel it is unfair that the US, which spends 3.49 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on defense, is obligated to protect Turkey, which spends just 1.31 percent in comparison.

Trump’s rival for the Republican nomination, Nikki Haley, takes a more traditional Republican stance towards the alliance. In an interview with BBC News, Haley argued, “I dealt with Russia every day. The last thing we ever want to do is side with Russia. What we always need to remember is America needs to have friends.”

Haley’s stance comes as a reminder that NATO skepticism is still a minority view among Americans. According to the Pew Research Center, 62 percent of Americans have a positive opinion of NATO, 64 percent have a positive opinion of Ukraine, and only 7 percent have a positive opinion of Russia.

Nevertheless, Pew Research shows a shift towards isolationism in the US, with 55 percent of Americans saying that the US should pay less attention to problems overseas and concentrate on problems at home. In comparison, 43 percent say the future of the country should be active in world affairs.

This shift is particularly large among Republican voters, with roughly seven in ten believing the US should pay less attention to issues abroad. Republicans also have a less positive view of NATO than before the Russian invasion of Ukraine and are also more likely to say the US should follow its interests.

So, while Haley’s pro-NATO position may be dominant in the US, among Republican voters only half have a positive view of the alliance.

However, although Republicans are more isolationist and NATO-sceptic than most Americans, most of them (63 percent) still see Russia as an enemy. A lot of them could therefore feel uncomfortable with Trump’s seemingly pro-Russia comments, especially those older voters who remember the threat Russia posed to the US during the Cold War.

With Republican voters and Americans split over NATO and foreign policy, finding the right balance will be a challenge for whoever wins the primary and goes on to challenge Biden in this year’s election.


Right now, it seems like Donald Trump is winning the argument within the Republican party. Nikki Haley is currently lacking support and looks unlikely to win the Republican nomination. However, whether or not Trump’s anti-NATO comments will gain or lose him support remains to be seen.

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