- President Donald Trump on Tuesday morning undercut one of the founding principles of NATO by suggesting the US may not defend a fellow member if it came under attack.
- Article 5 of the organization’s founding treaty — which has only been invoked once, after the US was attacked on September 11, 2001 — requires members to “protect each other” if under attack.
- “I’m going to be discussing that today, and it’s a very interesting question, isn’t it?” Trump told reporters.
- “This is a very rough way to play with NATO’s fundamental commitment,” retired US Army Gen. Wesley Clark, a former NATO commander, told Business Insider. “It undercuts deterrence, encourages potential adversaries, and erodes NATO itself.”
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President Donald Trump on Tuesday morning threw cold water on one of the founding principles of the NATO by suggesting the US may not defend a fellow member if it came under attack.
During his meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the NATO summit in London, Trump was asked by reporters if he would adhere to Article 5 — a principle described as being “at the very heart of NATO’s founding treaty.”
“I’m going to be discussing that today, and it’s a very interesting question, isn’t it?” Trump told reporters. He made the remarks in light of his assertions that some NATO members are “delinquent” in meeting a goal to each spend 2% of GDP on defense by 2024.
That part of the treaty, which has only been invoked once, after the US was attacked on September 11, 2001, requires members to “protect each other” if one is attacked and states that “an attack against one Ally is considered as an attack against all Allies.”
Retired US Army Gen. Wesley Clark, a former Supreme Allied Commander Europe who oversaw all NATO military forces on the continent, warned that the potential walk-back of Article 5 could endanger the US and its allies.
“This is a very rough way to play with NATO’s fundamental commitment,” Clark told Business Insider. “It undercuts deterrence, encourages potential adversaries, and erodes NATO itself.”
“It invites others to play the same way, as [Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan] is now doing by threatening Baltic defense plans unless he gets his way with the Kurds,” Clark added, referring to the Turkish-backed offensive against the Kurds in northeast Syria in October.
Trump has railed against NATO allies for not spending enough on their defense sectors compared to the US, which leads the alliance in defense spending at about 3.42% of GDP. Bulgaria is second at 3.25%, followed by Greece at 2.28%.
Germany, a leading member of NATO and major European economy, as been criticized by Trump and others for only spending 1.38% of its GDP on defense.
“Some are way below 1%, and that’s unacceptable,” Trump said. “And if something happens, we’re supposed to protect them. And it’s not really fair and it never has been fair.”
Nearly all of the countries informally agreed to increase their spending in 2014, and many of them have made strides toward that. However, there were no formal agreements on or hard deadlines for members’ defense spending.
Trump also said he was considering economic penalties for members who did not meet the informal standard.
“They’re starting to come along. They have to,” Trump added. “Otherwise, if they don’t want to, I’ll have to do something with respect to trade. And with trade, I have all the cards.”
Throughout the years, NATO members have for the most part supported US military operations in the war on terror. NATO members continue to wage war against ISIS and terrorist militants in Afghanistan. And despite Trump’s reticence about the organization, domestic support for NATO is high.
“In the face of a revanchist Russia, support for NATO remains strong, with 62% of Americans expressing a favorable view and only 22% expressing an unfavorable view,” the Ronald Reagan Institute found in a national defense survey, adding that a majority of Americans agreed that NATO members “should do more.”