Donald Trump once warned a NATO ally that he "would encourage" Russia "to do whatever the hell they want" to countries that don’t meet their NATO defense spending targets, he claimed on Saturday.
The former president and presumptive 2024 Republican presidential nominee made the menacing remarks at a campaign rally in Conway, South Carolina:
One of the presidents of a big country stood up and said, "Well, sir, if we don't pay and we’re attacked by Russia, will you protect us?" 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 to do whatever the hell they want. You gotta pay. You gotta pay your bills."
Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump gestures to members of the audience as he leaves a Get Out The Vote rally at Coastal Carolina University on February 10, 2024 in Conway, South Carolina. South Carolina holds its Repu
NATO’s 31 allied countries agreed in 2014, after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, to halt the spending cuts they had made after the Cold War and move toward spending 2% of their GDPs on defense by 2024. Trump has said in the past that the U.S. should only help NATO countries that meet the 2% target.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg denounced Trump's comments on Sunday and said all NATO allies are committed to defending each other.
"NATO remains ready and able to defend all allies. Any attack on NATO will be met with a united and forceful response," Stoltenberg said. "Any suggestion that allies will not defend each other undermines all of our security, including that of the U.S., and puts American and European soldiers at increased risk."
Stoltenberg added in his statement that he expects that, "regardless of who wins the presidential election, the U.S. will remain a strong and committed NATO ally."
The White House called Trump’s 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," spokesperson Andrew Bates said in a statement.
The comments come as Trump moves toward securing the Republican nomination for the 2024 election. It’s been widely reported that Trump would consider withdrawing from NATO – the military alliance that has defined American foreign policy for decades – if he’s reelected.
"You need to understand that if Europe is under attack we will never come to help you and to support you," Trump reportedly told European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in 2020, according to a top European politician who recalled the tense meeting at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump speaks during a Get Out The Vote rally at Coastal Carolina University on February 10, 2024 in Conway, South Carolina. South Carolina holds its Republican primary on February 24. (Pho
"By the way, NATO is dead, and we will leave, we will quit NATO," Trump also reportedly said, according to Politico. "’And by the way, you owe me $400 billion, because you didn’t pay, you Germans, what you had to pay for defense.’"
As of 2022, NATO said seven member countries were meeting their defense spending obligation. Russia’s 2022 invasion and ongoing war in Ukraine has spurred additional military spending by some NATO members.
Trump has often tried to take credit for that increase, and bragged again Saturday that, as a results of his threats, "hundreds of billions of dollars came into NATO"— even though countries do not pay NATO directly.
Trump’s comments could fuel more skepticism among Republicans in Congress who are increasingly reluctant to provide more aid to Ukraine as it struggles with stalled counteroffensives and weapons shortfalls.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.