In a foreign policy interview with the New York Times on Wednesday, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump said that NATO members should not depend on the United States for defense from Russian aggression unless they have “fulfilled their obligation to us.”
Asked specifically whether the United States would come to the aid of Baltic states if Russia intervened, Trump responded, “Have they fulfilled their obligations to us? If they fulfill their obligations to us, the answer is yes.”
Trump didn’t clarify what would happen if NATO members seeking U.S. support had not fulfilled their “obligations” to the United States, instead choosing to view the alliance in simple economic terms.
“You can’t forget the bills,” he said in the interview. “They have an obligation to make payments. Many NATO nations are not making payments, are not making what they’re supposed to make. That’s a big thing. You can’t say forget that.”
Collective defense is a key component of NATO’s treaty, interpreting an attack on one member state as an attack on all of them. This notion — embodied in Article 5 of the treaty — has only been used once before, after the 9/11 attacks on the United States. Trump’s refusal to offer unconditional support directly contradicts this, and has already worried many.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg responded to Trump’s comments in a statement Thursday. “I will not interfere in the US election campaign but what I can do is say what matters for NATO,” the statement read. “Solidarity among Allies is a key value for NATO. This is good for European security and good for US security. We defend one another.”
In an interview with Fox & Friends also on Thursday, Trump running mate Gov. Mike Pence (R-IN) claimed he hadn’t seen the “exact context” of Trump’s comments, but he maintained that Trump would continue to support U.S. allies.
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“I’m very confident that Donald Trump will stand by our allies, and stop apologizing to our enemies,” Pence said. “We’re gonna stand strongly for our allies… but at the same time, we’re gonna begin to say to allies around the world that the time has come for them and for their citizen to begin to carry the financial costs of these international obligations.”
It’s unclear how Pence reconciles Trump’s conditional support for NATO with standing by U.S. allies, but this isn’t the first foreign policy difference between the running mates. Trump has repeatedly said he was against the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq from the beginning — an unabashedly false claim — whereas Pence supported the invasion at the time and continues to justify it.
Trump has repeatedly criticized NATO throughout his campaign. In an interview with 60 Minutes earlier this week, he said, “We support NATO far more than we should, frankly, because you have a lot of countries that aren’t doing what they’re supposed to be doing.” He has repeatedly said the United States pays too much to be part of NATO, called NATO “obsolete,” and said the United States should “reconsider” remaining part of the organization.