The White House on Saturday criticized former President Trump’s “appalling and unhinged” comments in which he encouraged Russia to do “whatever the hell they want” to NATO members that did not meet spending guidelines on defense.
Trump made the comments during a campaign speech Saturday in Conway, South Carolina.
“NATO was busted until I came along,” Trump said. “I said, ‘Everybody’s gonna pay.’ They said, ‘Well, if we don’t pay, are you still going to protect us?’ I said, ‘Absolutely not.’ They couldn’t believe the answer.”
The former U.S. president said “one of the presidents of a big country” once asked him whether the U.S. would still defend their country if they were invaded by Russia, even if they did not pay.
“No, I would not protect you,” Trump recalled telling that country’s leader. “In fact, I would encourage them to do whatever the hell they want. You got to pay. You got to pay your bills.”
The White House responded later on Saturday to Trump’s remarks, saying they were “appalling and unhinged” while also citing President Biden’s efforts to strengthen the alliance.
“President Biden has restored our alliances and made us stronger in the world because he knows every commander in chief’s first responsibility is to keep the American people safe and hold true to the values that unite us,” White House deputy press secretary Andrew Bates said in a statement. “Thanks to President Biden’s experienced leadership, NATO is now the largest and most vital it has ever been. Encouraging invasions of our closest allies by murderous regimes is appalling and unhinged – and it endangers American national security, global stability, and our economy at home.”
“Rather than calling for wars and promoting deranged chaos, President Biden will continue to bolster American leadership and stand up *for* our national security interests – not against them,” Bates continued.
NATO states that an attack on one member nation is an attack on all the nations in the alliance. Trump has previously taken issue with the smaller amount of money other NATO countries spend on defense compared with what the U.S. pays. He has also threatened multiple times in the past to withdraw the U.S. from NATO.
The alliance’s guidelines have a target that each member country commits to a minimum of 2% of gross domestic product on defense spending to ensure the alliance’s military readiness, a target most countries are failing to meet. However, the figure is only a guideline rather than a legal mandate and member countries have not been failing to pay their share of NATO’s common budget to run the organization.
According to NATO’s website, allies whose current proportion of GDP spent on defense is below this figure will “halt any decline; aim to increase defense expenditure in real terms as GDP grows; and aim to move towards the 2% guideline within a decade with a view to meeting their NATO Capability Targets and filling NATO’s capability shortfalls.”
Fox News’ Jacqui Heinrich contributed to this report.