Trump’s dangerous ideas would undermine NATO

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg arrives Wednesday in Washington to attend a meeting of the global coalition to fight the Islamic State.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg arrives Wednesday in Washington to attend a meeting of the global coalition to fight the Islamic State. The Associated Press

Americans may be clamoring for change, but Donald Trump is being reckless with half-baked ideas that would unravel our vital defense alliances around the world.

On the eve of his big acceptance speech Thursday night, the Republican presidential nominee suggested that if Russia attacked one of the small Baltic countries that recently joined NATO, he would decide whether the United States would help them based on whether that nation has met its financial obligations.

As part of his isolationist and incoherent foreign policy, he also repeated his threat to pull back U.S. troops around the globe. The U.S. must be “properly reimbursed for the tremendous cost” of defending other countries, many of which are “extremely rich,” Trump told The New York Times. “I would be absolutely prepared to tell those countries, ‘Congratulations, you will be defending yourself.’ 

Our relationship with NATO – and with our other key allies – is not a business deal. It is a cornerstone of America’s national security and global peace, and the next commander in chief must understand that.

Criticism of Trump’s statements came quickly, even from some Republicans who bash Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s national security credentials. “Our alliances are not business transactions. We have these alliances not because we’re charitable, but because they’re in our interests,” Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas said in response to a question from a Sacramento Bee editorial board member.

It’s true that most NATO countries fall short of the goal that defense spending is 2 percent of GDP, as President Barack Obama pointedly noted at his last NATO summit this month in Warsaw. But that’s far different from saying the U.S. commitment to NATO’s core principle of mutual defense is contingent on countries paying up.

In response to a massive Russian military buildup and its aggression in Ukraine, NATO leaders agreed in Warsaw to deploy more forces in the Baltic states of Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia, as well as Poland. Trump’s remarks are “both dangerous and irresponsible,” Ojars Kalnins, chairman of the foreign affairs committee in Latvia’s parliament, told Latvian radio Thursday. “This won’t be good for NATO unity or the security situation.”

Trump’s campaign chairman tried to explain away the candidate’s remarks – a full-time job – but the damage was done.

In the Times interview, Trump conceded his foreign policy was radically different from the traditions of the Republican Party, which happened to be voiced by his own running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, in his acceptance speech Wednesday night.

While Democrats and Republicans disagree over the use of force, nation-building and other strategies, presidents of both parties have steadfastly supported NATO, created in 1949 to protect Europe against the Soviet Union. Under the NATO treaty, an armed attack against any of its 28 member states is considered an attack against all.

Americans should remember, since Trump apparently doesn’t, that Article 5 was invoked for the first time after the Sept. 11 terror attacks on America. All three Baltic countries sent troops to Afghanistan; 13 of them were killed, along with more than 1,000 soldiers from other NATO nations.

If we want to win the war against what Trump calls radical Islamic terrorism, we need the help of our allies – sharing intelligence and providing troops to fight on the ground.

That is done by strengthening our alliances, not cavalierly dismissing them.