Donald Trump’s suggestion that the United States would not protect NATO allies that do not spend enough on defense “undermines our entire security”, the head of the Western military alliance has said.
Jens Stoltenberg also suggested it would put US and European troops at greater risk.
The Republican said he told allies he would “encourage” Russia to attack any NATO member that failed to meet the alliance’s goal of 2% of GDP.
NATO members pledge to defend any nation in the bloc that is attacked.
President Joe Biden called Mr. Trump’s remarks “appalling and dangerous,” suggesting his predecessor intended to give Russian President Vladimir Putin “the green light for more war and violence.”
The former president recalled that the leader of a “great country” presented a hypothetical situation in which he would not meet his financial obligations within NATO and would have been attacked by Moscow.
He said the leader asked whether the United States would come to his country’s aid in this scenario, prompting him to issue a rebuke.
“I said, ‘You haven’t paid? Are you a delinquent?’… ‘No, I wouldn’t protect you, in fact I would encourage them to do what they want. You have to pay.’ “
The front-runner for the Republican nomination in this year’s presidential election did not specify which nation or leader he was talking about, or even when that conversation took place.
According to NATO’s own figures for 2023, 19 of its 30 member countries are spending below the target of 2% of their annual GDP on defense, including Germany, Norway and France.
But most countries bordering Ukraine, Russia or its neighbor and ally Belarus exceed this directive.
With more than 3.9% of its annual GDP, Poland spends even more than the United States. Romania, Hungary, Finland and the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia fall between 2.3 and 2.7 percent for their defense spending.
In a statement released on Sunday, Stoltenberg stressed that the alliance remained “ready and able” to defend its members and that any attack “would be met with a united and forceful response.”
But he said any suggestion that “allies will not defend themselves would undermine our security as a whole”, and suggested Mr Trump’s remarks “put American and European soldiers at increased risk”.
“I expect that whoever wins the presidential election, the United States will remain a strong and committed ally in NATO,” he added.
Following Mr Stoltenberg’s comments, US President Joe Biden said: “Donald Trump’s admission of his intention to give Putin the green light for more war and violence, to continue his brutal assault on a free Ukraine and to extend its aggression to the Polish people. and the Baltic countries, [is] terrible and dangerous. »
Nikki Haley, Mr Trump’s only rival for the Republican nomination, warned against siding with Russia and Mr Putin – who she described as a ‘thug who kills his opponents’ in an interview with CBS News, the BBC’s American partner.
Mr. Trump has long criticized NATO and what he sees as an excessive financial burden on the United States to guarantee the defense of 30 other nations.
Dr Patrick Bury, a defense and security expert and former NATO analyst, told the BBC that Mr Trump reflected US anger that some European NATO countries were not devoting 2%. of their budget to the army, as NATO wishes.
“It’s okay to play hardball with NATO allies, but it all depends how far you go. These comments really go too far,” he said.
But he added that such statements had an impact at a time when Russia had put its economy on a war footing and its military spending was outpacing that of European countries.
“If Trump is in the White House and there is a split within NATO, either over Ukraine… or over how it would respond to a small incursion that should in theory trigger the “Article Five. This is where the NATO alliance is concerned. If,” he said.
Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, after Mr. Trump leaves office. He has since lamented the amount of American money sent to Ukraine, which is not a NATO member.
The US has provided Ukraine with more financial support than any other country – totaling more than $44bn (£34bn) since the 2022 invasion, according to White House figures from December.
However, congressional Republicans have blocked any new funding since the start of the year – demanding tough measures to restrict immigration to the U.S. southern border, then refusing the amended bill when it was introduced earlier this week.
Mr. Trump celebrated the rejection at Saturday’s rally, saying the proposals made by President Biden had been “disastrous.”