NATO "cannot be an 'a la carte' military alliance, it cannot be a military alliance that works depending on the humor of the president of the US," Josep Borrell, the foreign policy chief of the European Union (EU), told reporters in Brussels in response to Donald Trump's recent comments about NATO.
On Saturday, at a campaign rally in South Carolina, Trump had told the crowd that, as president, he had warned NATO allies that he "would encourage" Russia "to do whatever the hell they want" to countries that did not "pay [their] bills." His comments sent a chill across Europe, alarming NATO's European members, already agitated about the prospect of a second Donald Trump presidency.
"Any suggestion that allies will not defend each other undermines all of our security, including that of the US, and puts American and European soldiers at increased risk," NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg responded in a statement on Sunday.
NATO grapples with Trump's threats
As president, Trump had threatened to withdraw from NATO many times. He warned he would make Europeans pay for America's protection and repeatedly threw into doubt the US commitment to the core of the alliance — a promise enshrined in Article Five of the North Atlantic Treaty providing that "an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all."
The fact that he is doing this again — attacking "the soul of the alliance," as some at NATO view it — this time on the campaign trail, has been described by diplomats as "worrying." After all, many allies fear a potential second presidency might feature an unhinged and much bolder Trump than during his first tenure.
"The last time that Trump was in office, it was the biggest upheaval in the Europe-United States relations since the beginning of the EU," Alison Woodward, a senior associate fellow with the Institute for European Studies in Brussels, told DW.
"It was really a very dramatic change," she added. "And so, I think the leaders now are bracing themselves for what could possibly occur if Donald Trump does get reelected." During Trump's first presidency, the US had imposed punitive tariffs on trade with EU members, noticeably chilling transatlatic relations.