Donald Trump wanted to pull the United States out of NATO during his first term, but was repeatedly talked out of it by senior administration officials. For a possible second term in the White House, the 2024 Republican presidential frontrunner is already discussing how he could actually get it done, if his demands aren’t met by NATO. He and his policy-wonk allies are also gaming out how he could dramatically wind down American involvement to merely a “standby” position in NATO, in Trump’s own words.
When the former president has privately discussed the United States’ role in the transatlantic military alliance this year, Trump has made clear that he doesn’t want the upper ranks of a second administration to be staffed by “NATO lovers,” according to two sources who’ve heard him make such comments. The ex-president has made these kinds of jabs at the longstanding alliance during conversations related to the ongoing Russian war in Ukraine.
Trump, the sources say, has continued to express an openness to pulling the U.S. out of NATO altogether. However, Trump has suggested that this could be averted if the alliance — which Trump once famously called “obsolete” — gives in to his newest demands. This would include his desires for non-American members to further and steeply increase their defense spending, and for a reevaluation of the bedrock principle that an attack on one member is tantamount to an attack on all.
When he was in office, Trump would repeatedly scoff at this collective-defense clause of the North Atlantic Treaty, known as Article 5. One former senior administration official recalls to Rolling Stone a moment in the Oval Office in mid-2018 when the then-president started reading from a written list of smaller NATO countries, some of which he argued most Americans had never even heard of before.
Trump then vented that “starting World War III” over some of these countries’ sovereignty made absolutely no sense, and that he shouldn’t be forced to automatically commit American troops to any such crisis.
Any threats or action on Trump’s part in recasting the U.S.’s role in NATO would all, of course, be contingent on Trump winning reelection next year. When he was leader of the free world for four years, he dangled anti-NATO sentiments on multiple occasions, only to yield to intra-administration pushback.
“It would be a tremendously stupid endeavor, especially at a time when war in Europe rages, and much of Europe is looking to the United States to deter further conflict,” Dr. Aaron Stein, a Black Sea Fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, says, reacting to Trump’s NATO-skeptic policy goals. “Trading away allies based on ignorance, and Trump is ignorant about this issue, is just silly for broader U.S. national security.” [Continue reading…]