Abandoning statements made during his presidential campaign that NATO was “obsolete,” President Trump on Friday came out in support of the NATO charter’s requirement that all members be prepared to defend each other.
Trump said he supports Article 5 of the NATO charter at a joint news conference with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis. Article 5 is the section of the charter which obligates all NATO members to mutually defend any member that comes under attack.
“As you know, I have been an advocate for strengthening our NATO alliance through greater responsibility and burden-sharing among member nations—and that is what is happening,” Trump said at the press conference.
In a meeting in Brussels last month, Trump did not explicitly endorse the article, leading many to question his commitment to the alliance. After today’s press conference, however, the uncertainties have largely been ameliorated.
In March of last year, in a meeting with the Washington Post’s editorial board, then-candidate Trump described NATO as an anachronism:
NATO was set up at a different time. NATO was set up when we were a richer country. We’re not a rich country anymore. We’re borrowing, we’re borrowing all of this money…NATO is costing us a fortune and yes, we’re protecting Europe with NATO but we’re spending a lot of money. Number one, I think the distribution of costs has to be changed. I think NATO as a concept is good, but it is not as good as it was when it first evolved.
The same day he made the above statement, candidate Trump took part in a CNN town hall and elaborated his position on NATO to Wolf Blitzer:
Blitzer: Do you think the United States needs to rethink U.S. involvement in NATO?
Trump: Yes, because it’s costing us too much money. And frankly they have to put up more money. They’re going to have to put some up also. We’re playing disproportionately. It’s too much. And frankly it’s a different world than it was when we originally conceived of the idea. And everybody got together.
In a remarkable about-face, Trump outright reversed that position in April during a White House meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
“I said it was obsolete. It’s no longer obsolete,” Trump said.
While the president pledged to uphold Article 5 on Friday, he also suggested that NATO members should pay spending deficits from previous years.
“Do we ever go back and say, how about paying the money from many many years past?” Trump asked. “I know no president has ever asked that question, but I do.”
Considering the significant backtracking from the administration on this matter, it is difficult to judge whether the president will make a real effort to see that all NATO members live up to their spending requirements.
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