Donald Trump’s NATO comment sparks furious backlash: “Unhinged”

Former President Donald Trump has sparked fierce backlash after he suggested he would “encourage” Russia to attack NATO countries falling short of guideline financial contributions to the alliance.

During a rally in South Carolina on Saturday, Trump appeared to recall a conversation with an unnamed politician he described as “one of the presidents of a big country.”

The Republican presidential nominee frontrunner said the anonymous leader had asked whether the U.S. would protect the NATO nation, if Russia attacked.

“I said, ‘You didn’t pay, you’re delinquent?'” Trump told the crowd on Saturday. “In fact, I would encourage them to do whatever the hell they want. You got to pay. You got to pay your bills.”

A bedrock principle of NATO is its Article 5, mandating that an armed attack on one alliance country is seen as an attack against all member states. Member countries have a defense-pending target of approximately 2 percent of their gross domestic product (GDP), although this is a guideline and many countries do not reach this threshold despite increases in spending since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The White House slammed the remarks, denouncing the former president’s comments as “appalling and unhinged.”

Donald Trump in South Carolina
Donald Trump on February 10, 2024, in Conway, South Carolina. The former president has sparked fierce backlash after he suggested he would “encourage” Russia to attack NATO countries falling short of guideline financial contributions to…

Win McNamee/Getty Images

“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,” said White House spokesperson, Andrew Bates.

The U.S. is a significant player in NATO, with Washington’s defense spending representing around two thirds of its military expenditure, according to statements by the alliance.

“However, this is not the amount that the United States contributes to the operational running of NATO, which is shared with all allies according to the principle of common funding,” the alliance said.

Newsweek has sent a written request for comment from Trump’s campaign team.

Trump has repeatedly criticized the alliance and had discussed withdrawing the U.S. from NATO while in office, senior administration officials told The New York Times in 2019.

Suggestions that the U.S. could pull out of the alliance, or that an attack on a NATO country would go unanswered, could undermine its credibility in the face of splintered relations with Russia after its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

NATO is “the largest and most vital it has ever been,” Bates said in a statement.

California Democrat Rep. Adam Schiff said Trump’s comments “would be enough to make [former Republican President Ronald] Reagan ill,” adding: “He’s more interested in aggrandizing himself and pleasing [Russian President Vladimir] Putin than protecting our allies.”

“Trump just doesn’t understand NATO or Russia, and he is endangering all of Europe with this incredibly dumb statement,” retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, who served as the head of U.S. Army Europe, said in a post to social media platform X, formerly Twitter.

“Trump still doesn’t understand how NATO works,” wrote prominent journalist and historian, Anne Applebaum. “An invitation to broaden the war.”

Russia launched its all-out invasion of Ukraine after Trump left office, but he has been critical of Washington’s support for Kyiv against Moscow’s forces. Those supporting Ukraine’s war effort have becoming increasingly anxious over what a second Trump presidency could mean for Kyiv if he emerges victorious in the presidential elections later this year.

The U.S. has sent more than $44 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since February 2022, according to Department of Defense documents. More aid for Ukraine has stalled in Congress as Republicans lobby for tighter border control in the southern U.S.