NewsTrump's threat to 'encourage Russia' if NATO fails to pay up stirs unease in the Alliance

Trump's threat to 'encourage Russia' if NATO fails to pay up stirs unease in the Alliance

Donald Trump shocked NATO members with his words.
Donald Trump shocked NATO members with his words.
Images source: © Getty Images

8:22 PM EST, February 12, 2024

There are increasing chances of Donald Trump being re-elected as the President of the United States. At his election rally in Conway, South Carolina, he emphasized that all NATO countries should "pay" 2 percent of their GDP for defense.

However, the Republican candidate shared something more. When asked if he would defend NATO countries attacked by Russia that do not spend the required 2 percent of their GDP on defense, Donald Trump's answer was shocking.

No, I wouldn't defend you. Essentially, I would encourage them (the Russians) to do whatever they like. You have to pay. You have to pay your bills - responded Donald Trump.

A Purely Business Tactic?

NATO has divided opinions about Trump’s statement, according to Paradoxically, countries from the eastern flank of the North Atlantic Alliance perceive this as Trump's strategy to pressure allies into increasing their defense spending, especially targeting Germany.

As our sources indicate, not everyone finds Donald Trump's words disturbing, though one admission was that "it is simply inappropriate." NATO headquarters in Brussels holds the stance that Trump's words shouldn't be ignored, but neither should they incite paranoia.

With his departure from office, the pressure to increase defense spending in member countries lessened.

The real concern within NATO is that Trump's return may provoke more pro-Russian countries, like Hungary, to resist the Alliance more. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban remains a swing vote on NATO's decision to include Sweden in the Alliance. In this context, a subdued Orban will keep an eye out for retaliation opportunities.

Such a stance may weaken the chances of Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte succeeding Jens Stoltenberg for the NATO Secretary General position.

Stoltenberg, for his part, resisted Trump’s words. The Secretary General made it clear that an attack on any member of the Alliance will meet "a unified and decisive reaction" by all NATO members.

There are countries that could realistically be alarmed by Trump's announcement.

Germany, in particular, may have valid concerns. Notably, in his book "Trump in the White House. Secrets of the Oval Office", published four years ago, former U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton maintained that Trump was genuinely ready to leave NATO as president.

And we've heard from our sources at NATO Headquarters, this is still a vivid memory.

Commander Wiesław Goździewicz: Outrageous

NATO operational planning expert, Commander Wiesław Goździewicz, labels Trump's statement "outrageous." He opines that such words from a presidential candidate undermine the foundations of the North Atlantic Alliance.

Especially Article 5, the commitment to collective defense in case of an attack on any NATO member and siding with the aggressor -- namely, the Russian Federation.

Pressuring allies to fulfill the obligations of Article 3 and possibly enforcing defense expenditures is one thing, but threatening them with a "racketeer" if "they do not pay" is entirely different

He also cautions that Article 5 does not guarantee absolute obligation for military support. However, the term eFP was developed to provide such guarantees. The so-called "enhanced Forward Presence" translates to a reinforced, advanced presence formed by the battalion battle groups of NATO countries.

The combat value of eFP is relatively small, but the political dimension - especially in terms of deterrence policy (so-called "deterrence") - is significant, adds Cmdr. Wiesław Goździewicz.

Tomasz Chłoń: This is a Signal Sent to Moscow

The former head of the NATO Information Office in Moscow, Tomasz Chłoń, has a different view. Chłoń interprets Donald Trump's statement as an escalation of his past rhetoric against his statements as president. He believes this also applies pressure on allies, reads voter moods, and aligns with the notion that America will not underwrite the interests of its allies.

I wouldn't categorize this as a plea to the Kremlin, but it could be interpreted as a signal sent to Moscow: "Help!". This also connects to Tucker Carlson's recent trip to Moscow

Chłoń also argues that, irrespective of what Trump says, this is a significant alarm for the EU, urging European countries to enhance their own defense capabilities. In other words, Europe - or more accurately, the European Union - should be prepared to vouch for its own security when necessary.

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