Why Trump's comments on NATO are drawing international backlash

Former President Donald Trump is drawing international criticism for his comments on Saturday about the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Here's what he said and why it's making U.S allies nervous.

📢Trump’s NATO comments

While speaking at a rally in Conway, S.C., on Saturday night, Trump suggested the U.S. shouldn’t help NATO allies that don’t contribute enough to defense spending from a potential Russian attack.

Trump claimed that during his presidency he spoke with the president of "a big country" and said he would "encourage" Russia to do whatever it wants to NATO allies that don’t pull their weight.

"You didn’t pay? You’re delinquent?" Trump recalled saying to the unnamed NATO ally. "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."

There aren't any membership fees for those in NATO. However, NATO nations have agreed to spend at least 2% of national GDP on defense, and many of them do not.

🛡️Why it matters

The head of NATO’s military alliance and the White House argue that Trump’s comments about NATO are a threat to the security of the alliance.

“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,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in a written statement.

The White House also issued a statement on Saturday in response to Trump’s comments. “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 comments have added to uncertainty about what Trump might do if he's elected to the White House in November. During his presidency, he expressed that he thought NATO allies take advantage of U.S. strength without giving anything in return, and while campaigning in 2016 he threatened to pull out of the NATO alliance if elected.

🤝What NATO is

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was founded in 1949 by 12 countries, including the United States, to counter the Soviet Union amid rising Cold War tensions.

"NATO's purpose is to guarantee the freedom and security of its members through political and military means," according to the NATO website.

One of the most notable parts of the founding treaty is Article 5, known as its mutual defense clause, which means all allies commit to help any member who comes under attack.

In a reassurance to NATO allies, White House national security spokesman John Kirby reiterated President Biden’s serious commitment to Article 5 during Monday’s White House Press briefing. “We will defend, if needed, every inch of NATO territory. That’s what the commander in chief of the United States ought to be saying when it comes to NATO,” Kirby said.

Article 5 has only been activated once, which was by the United States following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

🌎 NATO member countries

NATO currently has 31 member countries, including the United States, Canada and European nations. The newest NATO member is Finland, which joined in April 2023 after Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine. Sweden is waiting for its membership to be approved.

💰NATO defense contributions by country

NATO allies are committed to spend at least 2% of their Gross Domestic Product on defense in order to ensure their military readiness. The goal is voluntary, and there is no debt or “delinquency” indicated, despite what Trump stated in his comments.

According to official NATO estimates for 2023, Poland, the United States and Greece are the top three defense spending contributors, exceeding the 2% GDP target. A number of NATO nations near Russia, such as Finland and Poland, are also exceeding those targets amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Most NATO allies, however, fall well short of the benchmark. Some of the members that spend below the 2% goal on defense include France, Germany and Canada. It's also notable that Iceland, a founding NATO member, doesn’t have any armed forces, which is why it doesn't appear on the graph below.

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