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The EU’s chief diplomat and Germany’s chancellor joined other western leaders in condemning former US president Donald Trump’s suggestion that he would allow Russia to attack any Nato member that failed to spend enough on defence.
Trump shocked European partners on Saturday when he said on the campaign trail that Moscow could do “whatever the hell they want” with Nato members that failed to meet the military alliance’s defence spending target of 2 per cent of gross domestic product.
On Monday, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell described the remarks as a “silly idea that comes during this electoral campaign in the United States”.
“Nato cannot be an à la carte military alliance,” Borrell told reporters. “Nato cannot be an alliance that works depending on the humour of the president of the United States . . . No, come on, let’s be serious.”
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz suggested any watering down of Nato’s mutual defence commitment, which lies at the heart of the military alliance, was dangerous and only benefited Russia.
“Nato’s promise of protection applies unreservedly. All for one, one for all,” he said at a joint press conference with Polish prime minister Donald Tusk in Berlin.
“Let me be clear on this occasion: any relativisation of Nato’s guarantee of assistance is irresponsible and dangerous and is solely in Russia’s interests. Nobody is allowed to play with Europe’s security.”
Tusk said the principle of “one for all and all for one” should continue to play a leading role in Nato.
“We in Europe should clearly expect our partners, including those on the other side of the [Atlantic] ocean, to honour this principle,” he added.
A White House spokesperson on Sunday described Trump’s remarks as “appalling and unhinged”, while European Council president Charles Michel said they were “reckless” and served only the interests of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg warned such comments undermined “all of our security, including that of the US” and put American and European soldiers at risk.
“I expect that regardless of who wins the presidential election, the US will remain a strong and committed Nato ally,” he said.
Stoltenberg added that the alliance remained “ready and able to defend all allies”. He managed to keep Trump within the Nato fold during his presidency from 2017 to 2021, despite the Republican politician threatening to leave the military alliance and scolding Germany for not meeting the 2 per cent spending target.
While Germany and other major European economies, including France, are still below that target, they have increased spending on defence following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine almost two years ago, and are expected to meet the goal in the coming years.
Estonia’s Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said Trump’s remarks were “something to maybe wake up some of the allies who haven’t done that much”.
In his speech on Saturday, Trump seemed to persist in his misconception that Nato allies had unpaid defence “bills”, rather than defence spending targets.
Speaking in South Carolina, Trump said he had told a Nato leader he would “not protect” them from Russia if they “didn’t pay” and were “delinquent”.
“I would not protect you,” Trump said. “In fact, I would encourage them to do whatever the hell they want. You’ve got to pay. You’ve got to pay your bills.”
Christoph Heusgen, chair of the Munich Security Conference, a European defence policy forum that begins on Friday, noted that Trump had made such “erratic remarks” in the past, adding: “He is how he is.”
In Brussels, the European Commission said: “We are setting up a structural internal process to prepare for all possible outcomes of the United States’ presidential elections.”
Additional reporting by Raphael Minder in Warsaw