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Why Trump’s Criticism of NATO Demands a Closer Look

A lengthy history of controversy accompanies former President Trump's contentious tweets and remarks. More recently, his suggestion that he’d encourage Russia to "do whatever the hell they want" against NATO members who did not meet their spending targets has sparked backlash from the White House, top Democrats, and European leaders. Nevertheless, several Republicans and Trump allies have taken to downplaying his comments, saying that he should once more be taken seriously but not literally. They argue that confusion over his position on NATO has prompted countries to increase their military spending to gain his support. Despite these flippant dismissals, it is crucial to consider Trump’s remarks with the utmost severity. To do otherwise would be irresponsible, particularly given their implications for continued US involvement in Ukraine and perhaps even in NATO.

The transatlantic alliance is no stranger to criticism from the former President. While in office, he frequently harangued fellow allies for not meeting the 2% defense spending target and downplayed threats from foreign adversaries, even going so far as to publicly toy with the idea of unilaterally withdrawing the US from NATO entirely. Of Europeans, he once wrote that “their conflicts are not worth American lives. Pulling back from Europe would save this country millions of dollars annually.” Indeed, Trump has made clear his feelings toward the perceived value of the transatlantic alliance. But during his time in office, the withdrawal never happened. Yet, many former advisers who once prevented such action have either signed statements opposing the President in 2016 or criticized him after he departed from office in 2020. In a second Trump term, the possibility of withdrawal is all too real. As former adviser John Bolton puts it, “The damage he did in his first term was reparable. The damage in the second term would be irreparable.”

For 74 years, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has been America’s most important military alliance. Presidents on both sides of the aisle have seen the value of NATO as an institution capable of enhancing the influence of the United States by uniting democratic countries in a pact of mutual defense. Abandoning Europe to defend itself at such a critical time in international security would be reckless, severely undermining the alliance that it would cease to exist in its present form. So why aren't we taking his comments more seriously?


Charlotte Naudie is a student at Queen's University and an Outreach Coordinator for WIIS-Queen's. The opinions of this blog post are reflective of the author and are separate from the organization, Women in International Security Queen's Unviersity (WIIS-Queen's).


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