Former US President Donald Trump’s comments about the defense of “bad-paying” NATO countries sparked a backlash in Europe on Monday as Moscow’s increasingly bellicose rhetoric fueled concerns about an escalation of the conflict in Ukraine.
Donald Trump in the election campaignPhoto: Charlie Neibergall / Associated Press / Profimedia Images
Alexander Stubb, Finland’s new president, said Monday that his country should remain calm and focus on its NATO membership as the United States campaigns for November’s presidential and legislative elections.
“US election campaigns are very different from Finnish elections and the rhetoric used is often much stronger. I think at the moment it is best to remain calm and focus on strengthening our membership in NATO,” Stubb said at a press conference.
The Helsinki leader also recalled that Finland spends more on defense than the 2% of GDP recommended for NATO member countries.
The head of the European Parliament says Europe must send a “clear message” to the United States
Kaja Kallas, Estonia’s prime minister, instead said Trump’s remarks should be a wake-up call for some of the member countries that have neglected defense spending in recent years.
“I think what America’s presidential candidate said is also something that maybe should be a wake-up call for some of the allies that haven’t done that much” militarily, Kallas told a news conference community that he supported together with Roberta Metsola, the president of the European Parliament.
Metsola, for her part, said that the EU should spend more on defense and that it would thus send a “clear message”, “regardless of who leads the next American administration”, that “we are strong enough to be able to defend ourselves others”.
Metsola also said that “any statement like that (made by Trump) must be recognized with the danger it brings, but also with the recognition on our part that we need to do more” on defense.
The head of European diplomacy slammed Donald Trump’s comments
The three officials’ comments came after earlier in the day Josep Borrell, the head of European diplomacy, had a harsh reaction to comments made by Donald Trump over the weekend.
“Let’s be serious! Let’s be serious! NATO cannot be an alliance à la carte!” said Josep Borrell before the informal meeting of the development ministers of the European Union, held in Brussels.
“In the era in which we live, a military alliance cannot function according to the tone of the president of the United States: ‘yes, no, tomorrow, no, it depends’. NATO exists or it doesn’t exist,” Borrell added visibly irritated, according to journalists present in Brussels.
“During this (US election) campaign, we will see and understand many things. Don’t count on me to comment on all the stupid ideas that will be expressed during a national campaign in the United States”, said the head of European diplomacy.
The head of NATO reiterated the alliance’s determination to defend all member states
Jens Stoltenberg, the Norwegian who holds the position of Secretary General of NATO, warned for his part a day ago that the statements made by Trump “undermine our entire security” and that they “expose American and European soldiers to increased risk.”
“Any suggestion that allies will no longer defend each other undermines the security of all of us, including the United States, and puts American and European soldiers at increased risk. NATO remains ready and capable of defending all allies,” the head of NATO said in a press release, stressing that “any attack against NATO will result in a united and vigorous response.”
“I am convinced that the United States will remain a strong and committed ally in NATO, regardless of who wins the presidential election,” Jens Stoltenberg added.
Trump’s comments that caused consternation in Europe
Donald Trump, the very Republican candidate who will face Joe Biden in the US presidential election in November, threatened on Saturday that if he is re-elected, he will no longer defend NATO countries that do not allocate a large enough share of their budgets to defense, even going so far as to encourage Russia to attack them.
Trump, who during a political rally in South Carolina on Saturday appeared to be recounting a meeting with NATO leaders, quoted the president of a “big country” he did not name asking him: “Well , sir, if we don’t pay and are attacked by Russia – will you protect us?”.
“I asked, ‘Didn’t you pay? Are you bad-payers?’. He said, ‘Yes, let’s say it is.’ No, I wouldn’t protect you. In fact, I’d encourage them to do whatever the hell they want. You have to pay”.
His comments were also harshly criticized by the Democratic administration of President Joe Biden.