Donald Trump has despised NATO since the 1980s, and when he was president, his aides believed he wanted to pull the United States out of the alliance completely. At a rally this weekend, Trump went even further, stating that he would encourage Russia to invade NATO allies who “didn’t pay.”

Trump’s threat took the form of a story that is likely exaggerated or made up completely (one obvious sign of Trump’s fake stories is that he is always being called “sir” in them), but what he said nonetheless reveals his attitude toward the United States’ most important alliance:

The president of a big country stood up and said, “Well, sir, if we don’t pay, and are 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.”

Trump has long depicted NATO as a protection racket, in which America’s allies pay up or else they get invaded by Russia. His defenders have sought to sanewash this disturbing idea by treating it as just Trump’s way of encouraging NATO allies to spend more on defense — see, Trump isn’t a Russia simp, they say, but a kind of hawk.

During his presidency, many allies did implement an (already-planned) increase in military expenditures, and NATO supporters tried to sell this to him as a Trump “win” forcing the allies to pay their “dues.” But Trump has refused to take this win, because his goal isn’t actually a stronger NATO, but a weaker one.

Trump has claimed that Russia never would have invaded Ukraine if he were still president. He has also insisted his presidency would put an end to wars. But it’s clear a second Trump term would create incentives for Vladimir Putin to undertake even more risky military adventures.

The risk of a second Trump presidency bringing a destabilizing war in Europe is now enormous. Whether or not Trump actually would directly urge Russia to attack allied countries he considers to be deadbeats — or perhaps whose leaders merely fail to flatter him sufficiently — the fact that he has already publicly suggested this is provocation enough. He has now floated the idea that the United States would abandon its NATO allies. That bell can’t be unrung.




Jonathan Chait

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