Donald Trump threatens NATO, says he would 'encourage' Russia to 'do whatever the hell they want'

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Former President Donald Trump again stirred fears about the future of NATO by suggesting he might not come to the aid of European nations if they're attacked by Russia − and might even "encourage" Russians "to do whatever the hell they want."

Trump, during a campaign rally in Conway, South Carolina, on Saturday said his decision, if he's elected again, would be based on whether NATO members are contributing enough to the foundational alliance. The former president said he made that very point during an international meeting that took place during his presidency.

“One of the presidents of a big country stood up and said, ‘Well sir, if we don’t pay and we’re 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."

Trump then added: "In fact, I would encourage them to do whatever the hell they want."

In a statement put out by his campaign, President Joe Biden said: “If my opponent, Donald Trump, is able to regain power, he is making it clear as day that he will abandon our NATO allies if Russia attacks and allow Russia to ‘do whatever the hell they want’ with them.” He added that Trump’s comments are “predictable coming from a man who is promising to rule as a dictator like the ones he praises on day one if he returns to the Oval Office."

Biden said "freedom and democracy itself are on the ballot in November.”

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Trump's comments could endanger lives.

“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," Stoltenberg said in a statement. "I expect that regardless of who wins the presidential election, the US will remain a strong and committed NATO ally.”

Donald Trump at a NATO meeting in 2019
Donald Trump at a NATO meeting in 2019

Trump's periodic threats have outraged foreign policy analysts who believe that Trump will destroy NATO if he's elected to a second term. The former president's critics say Trump bashes NATO as a sign of support for Russia President Vladimir Putin, another longtime rival of the European military alliance.

The NATO charter requires members to come to the aid of others if they are attacked. NATO invoked this article to help the United States after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Members of the international organization, formed in the wake of World War II, do not pay dues as such. They use a budget formula that Trump has repeatedly mischaracterized during his years in public life.

NATO members are asked to spend at least 2% of their GDP on defense. Not all members have reached this goal, fueling Trump's criticism of the alliance.

The Biden administration immediately denounced Trump's latest comments about NATO. White House spokesperson Andrew Bates said that “encouraging invasions of our closest allies by murderous regimes is appalling and unhinged.”

He said “it endangers American national security, global stability, and our economy at home.”

Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, Trump's opponent in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, described NATO as "a success story for the last 75 years."

Speaking on CBS' "Face The Nation,' Haley criticized Trump for again taking the side of Putin, describing the Russian president as "a thug who kills his opponents."

"Now, we do want NATO allies to pull their weight," Haley told CBS. "But there are ways you can do that without sitting there and telling Russia, have your way with these countries."

Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., appearing on ABC's "This Week," said that "NATO isn't a protection racket. It's a security alliance."

Meanwhile, a Republican senator, Marco Rubio of Florida, said on CNN's "State of the Union" that Trump was telling "a story" about something that "happened in the past." Rubio noted that Trump has already been president and did not pull the U.S. out of NATO.

"He doesn't talk like a traditional politician," Rubio said. "And we have already been through this now."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Donald Trump threatens NATO, says he might 'encourage' Russian attack