President Joe Biden on Sunday angrily criticized former President Donald Trump for remarks suggesting he would let Russia attack fellow NATO countries without any U.S. response, calling the idea destabilizing and dangerous.
“America’s leadership on the world stage and support for our allies is critical to keeping the American people safe here at home,” Biden said in a statement. “If my opponent, Donald Trump, is able to regain power, he is making it clear as day that he will abandon our NATO allies.”
During a rally Saturday in South Carolina, Trump reiterated his accusations that other NATO countries do not pay their fair share of costs in the military alliance and offered a softer U.S. diplomatic stance towards Russia.
“‘You didn’t pay? You’re delinquent?’” Trump said. “‘No, I would not protect you. In fact, I would encourage [Russia] to do whatever the hell they want. You gotta pay. You gotta pay your bills.’”
None of the 30 NATO countries owe money to each other for the alliance. According to the Associated Press, 10 current members are spending 2% or more of their gross domestic product on national defense (a target pledge made by all member nations in 2014), while 13 are spending 1.5% or less.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, in a statement responding to Trump’s comments, said that “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.”
Biden said he has worked to strengthen U.S. involvement in the alliance since he took over from Trump in 2021, and criticized a return to an adversarial stance towards NATO that Trump fostered during his time in office.
“Trump’s admission that he intends to give Putin a green light for more war and violence, to continue his brutal assault against a free Ukraine, and to expand his aggression to the people of Poland and the Baltic States are appalling and dangerous,” he said.
Trump’s comments also brought swift condemnation from other critics.
Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, Trump’s primary opponent in his bid for the Republican presidential nomination this year, said the NATO comments made her “sick to my stomach.” Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander retired Gen. Wesley Clark, who now advises VoteVets, said the comments amount to “encouraging World War III, which will hit our shores and cost American lives.”
Polish President Andrzej Duda, who has expressed support for Trump in the past, said support for NATO must be strong “regardless of who is currently in power in Poland and the USA.”
Trump has not responded to the criticism publicly or on social media since his South Carolina appearance. At that event, he also appeared to mock Haley for her husband’s absence on the campaign trail, hinting that he may not have faith in her ability to win.
Maj. Michael Haley has been deployed in Africa with the South Carolina National Guard since June 2023. Haley called Trump’s remarks part of a pattern of “someone who continually disrespects the sacrifices of military families.”