Jens Stoltenberg, the head of NATO, accused Donald Trump of putting lives at risk by suggesting that Russia should invade member countries that don’t “pay up.”
While speaking at a campaign rally in South Carolina, Trump said that he would “encourage” Russia to “do whatever the hell they want” if they attacked a country not paying the required two percent of national income, leading to significant pushback from the White House, who called the words “appalling and unhinged.”
Stoltenberg added his own comments on Sunday, writing in a statement, “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 remains ready and able to defend all allies. Any attack on NATO will be met with a united and forceful response,” he continued. “I expect that regardless of who wins the presidential election the US will remain a strong and committed NATO ally.”
Trump’s comments came during his rally in Conway, South Carolina, on Saturday and was met with cheers from the crowd.
“The president of a big country stood up and said ‘if we don’t pay, and we’re attacked by Russia, will you protect us?’” he told the crowd. ‘I said ‘you didn’t pay, you’re delinquent?’ He said, ‘yes, let’s say that happened’. No, I would not protect you, in fact I would encourage them (Russia) to do whatever the hell they want, you gotta pay! You gotta pay your bills.”
That evening, Trump flew back to his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, where he walked through a ballroom of cheering supporters and embraced his wife Melania.
The comments drew pushback from the White House, who claimed Trump’s words “promoted dangerous chaos,” and would embolden Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president.
“President Biden has restored our alliances and made us stronger in the world because he knows every commander in chief’s first responsibility is to keep the American people safe and hold true to the values that unite us,” it said. “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.”
“Rather than calling for wars and promoting deranged chaos, President Biden will continue to bolster American leadership and stand up for our national security interests – not against them,” The comments added.
Some of Trump’s own allies pushed back on the comments as well. Trump’s former communications director, Alyssa Farah Griffin, wrote on Twitter that his declaration that he would not help NATO allies was “music to Putin’s ears.”
Others, meanwhile, supported the former president, including Richard Grenell, Trump’s ambassador to Germany from 2018-2020, and acting director of National Intelligence in the last months of the Trump administration. Grenell also suggested that the former president was referring to a conversation between himself and a German chancellor.
“Germany, the largest economy in Europe and a country that has budget surpluses most every year, started increasing its NATO obligation only after Trump pressured them,” he said. “Biden no longer pressures Germany and so they aren’t increasing anymore. Today, the Germans still aren’t paying the required 2 percent for NATO members.”
“The only lesson for the US taxpayer is that we must have a US president who exerts big pressure on Germany,” he continued.
In 2014, NATO set a goal for members to spend 2 percent of their GDP on defense, shortly after Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine. Trump has repeatedly claimed that while president, he pushed European allies into fulfilling their 2 percent goal.
“NATO was busted until I came along. I said, ‘everybody’s going to pay’. They said, ‘well, if we don’t pay are you still going to protect us?’ I said, ‘absolutely not’. They couldn’t believe the answer,” he said.
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