The head of NATO has warned that Donald Trump is putting the lives of US troops and their allies at risk by saying Russia should do “whatever the hell they want” to members of the military alliance who don’t spend enough on defence.
Mr Trump is the Republican front-runner in the 2024 US presidential election.
“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,” NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg said in a statement.
“Any attack on NATO will be met with a united and forceful response.”
Speaking at a rally in South Carolina on Saturday, Mr Trump recalled how he previously told an unidentified NATO member that he would “encourage” Russia to do as it wishes in cases of NATO allies who are “delinquent”.
“‘You didn’t pay? You’re delinquent?'” Mr Trump recounted saying.
“‘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.”
White House spokesperson Andrew Bates responded, calling Mr Trump’s latest comments “unhinged”.
“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,” he said.
US President Joe Biden also commented 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,” he said.
“[His] admission that he intends to give Putin a green-light for more war and violence, to continue his brutal assault against a free Ukraine, and to expand his aggression to the people of Poland and the Baltic states are appalling and dangerous.”
European officials criticise Trump’s comments
EU Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton was asked in an LCI television interview about Mr Trump’s remarks on Saturday.
“We cannot flip a coin about our security every four years depending on this or that election, namely the US presidential election,” he said, adding EU leaders understood the bloc needed to boost its military spending and capacities.
Mr Trump’s remarks also caused deep concern in Poland, which has been under Russian control before, and where anxieties are high over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“We have a hot war at our border,” Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said, voicing concerns about whether the US will show “full solidarity with other NATO countries in this confrontation that promises to last for a long time with Russia”.
“We must realise that the EU cannot be an economic and civilisational giant and a dwarf when it comes to defence, because the world has changed,” he argued in a town hall speech marking the start of his party’s campaign for local elections.
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.”
In 2014, NATO allies pledged to move toward spending 2 per cent of GDP on defence by 2024.
According to NATO estimates in early 2023, 10 of its 30 member states at the time were close to or above the 2 per cent mark, while 13 were spending 1.5 per cent or less.
No country is in debt to any other, or to NATO.
Under NATO’s mutual defence clause, Article 5 of its founding treaty, all allies commit to help any member who comes under attack.
The article has only ever been activated once — by the US in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001.