EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and other European defense and foreign ministers on February 12 joined a torrent of criticism over former U.S. President Donald Trump’s comment downplaying the U.S. commitment to NATO’s security umbrella in Europe.
“Let’s be serious. NATO cannot be an a la carte military alliance, it cannot be a military alliance that works depending on the humor of the president of the U.S.” day to day, Borrell said after Trump suggested that under his administration the United States might not defend NATO allies that failed to spend enough on defense.
Borrell added that he would not keep commenting on “any silly idea” emerging from the U.S. presidential election campaign.
Trump, the Republican front-runner in the 2024 race, sent a chill through European allies when he said at a campaign rally on February 10 he would “encourage” Russia to attack any NATO country that does not meet financial obligations.
U.S. President Joe Biden called Trump’s comments “appalling and dangerous” in a statement on February 11, joining several European defense and foreign ministers responding over the weekend.
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The reactions continued on February 12, with Dutch Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren saying Trump’s comment was “exactly what Putin loves to hear.”
Ollongren called the comment “worrying” and said it was not the first time that Trump has made a comment along these lines.
While in office, Trump — who was defeated by Biden in the 2020 election — often expressed doubts about the need for NATO and repeatedly threatened to pull out of the alliance if members did not pay what he considered their fair share for their defense.
Ollongren rebuffed Trump, stressing that NATO’s strength is in its unity.
“If we’re not united, it makes us weaker. And we know that that is what Putin is looking for,” he told Reuters on February 12.
The principle of collective defense — the idea that an attack on one member is considered an attack on all and would trigger collective self-defense action — is enshrined in Article 5 of NATO’s founding treaty. It is considered the hallmark of the NATO alliance.
Ollongren also noted that most NATO allies were close to or had reached the target budget spending on defense of 2 percent of gross domestic product by 2024. NATO allies agreed to the goal in 2014.
German Finance Minister Christian Lindner also reacted to Trump’s comment. Speaking in London on February 12, Lindner said the transatlantic partnership will continue.
“Regardless of who is in the White House, we have an overriding interest in continuing to cooperate across the Atlantic, economically, politically, and also in matters of security,” he said.
Lindner said Britain and Germany shared similar challenges when it came to strengthening free-trade capabilities.
The dialogue “is of particular importance” after Trump’s statements, Lindner said before going into a meeting with British counterpart Jeremy Hunt.
“We are facing major challenges as European members of NATO,” Lindner said, adding that Europe’s peace and free-trade order had been put at risk by Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier echoed other EU leaders, saying the statements “are irresponsible and even play into Russia’s hands.”
Meanwhile, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk on February 12 discussed ramping up security cooperation in Europe with the leaders of Germany and France as fears grow that Trump’s possible return to the White House might threaten Western solidarity against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Tusk said the philosophy at the heart of relations between the European Union and NATO was based on “one for all, all for one.”
Speaking in Paris, he said Poland was “ready to fight for this security.” Later in Berlin, Tusk hailed a “clear declaration that we are ready to cooperate” on Europe’s defense.