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Trump says he wouldn't defend NATO allies from Russia if they're 'delinquent'

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at a Get Out The Vote rally at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, S.C., Saturday, Feb. 10, 2024.
Manuel Balce Ceneta
Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at a Get Out The Vote rally at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, S.C., Saturday, Feb. 10, 2024.

Updated February 11, 2024 at 12:25 PM ET

CONWAY, S.C. — Former President Donald Trump said America would not defend NATO allies against Russia if they did not meet his definition of contributing enough defense spending, threatening to upend the alliance if elected president again in 2024.

Trump has long criticized defense spending by other NATO member countries and has long falsely suggested there are unpaid balances owed by allies, but Saturday's remarks during a campaign rally in Conway, S.C., went a step further as he suggested Russia should attack allies that are "delinquent" with contributions.

"If we don't pay and we're attacked by Russia, will you protect us?" Trump recalled another country's leader asking while him while he was president. "No, I would not protect you. In fact, I would encourage them to do whatever the hell they want."

He also suggested that "hundreds of billions" came into NATO after his threats, though NATO spending was on the rise before he took office in 2016.

After Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in 2014, NATO countries pledged to move toward spending 2% of their gross domestic product on defense by 2024. According to data released in July 2023, only 11 of the 31 member countries have hit that target, with the United States contributing 3.49% of its GDP. France, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Albania, Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, Germany, Czechia, Portugal, Italy, Canada, Slovenia, Turkey, Spain, Belgium and Luxembourg have not met the target. Finland, NATO's newest member, spends over 2% of its GDP on defense, as does Sweden, which is expected to join shortly.

In response, the White House called Trump's remarks "unhinged" and said under President Biden, NATO is "the largest and most vital it has ever been."

"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," White House spokesman Andrew Bates said in a statement. "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."

In a statement Sunday, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said: "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."

Trump's comments about NATO came during a nearly two-hour speech at a campaign rally in South Carolina just two weeks before that state's Republican presidential primary that could effectively cement the pathway to his third straight nomination as the party's nominee.

At the campaign rally, the former president also reiterated hardline immigration policies he would support if elected again, vowing to "terminate every open border policy of the Biden administration" and implement "the largest domestic deportation operation" his first day in office.

He also said there would be "no revenge" against Biden if he is sent back to the White House, and attacked the 91 criminal indictments he faces for an array of alleged crimes, including trying to overturn his 2020 election defeat, but told a roaring crowd that the charges help his poll numbers.

Trump's remarks on his likely foreign policy stance come as Congress has failed to advance aid packages for Israel and Ukraine, both conflicts that he claims would not have occurred if he were in office.

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Stephen Fowler
Stephen Fowler is a political reporter with NPR's Washington Desk and will be covering the 2024 election based in the South. Before joining NPR, he spent more than seven years at Georgia Public Broadcasting as its political reporter and host of the Battleground: Ballot Box podcast, which covered voting rights and legal fallout from the 2020 presidential election, the evolution of the Republican Party and other changes driving Georgia's growing prominence in American politics. His reporting has appeared everywhere from the Center for Public Integrity and the Columbia Journalism Review to the PBS NewsHour and ProPublica.