Donald Trump hedges on NATO protection against Russian aggression

Posted at 9:28 AM, Jul 21, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-21 12:27:27-04

WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican nominee Donald Trump hinted at a new world order if he becomes president, saying the United States, under his leadership, might not come to the defense of some NATO members if Russia were to attack them.

Trump said he would decide whether to protect the Baltic republics against Russian aggression based on whether those countries "have fulfilled their obligations to us."

He made the comments in an interview with The New York Times on Wednesday, ahead of his speech to formally accept the Republican nomination for president late Thursday. Trump's remarks about U.S. obligations under NATO to come to the aid of other members of the 28-nation alliance are in line with his views questioning the United States' global role.

In 2014, the 28-member alliance created a rapid-reaction force to protect the most vulnerable NATO members against a confrontation with Russia. Last week, President Barack Obama pledged unwavering commitment to defending Europe, adding that "in good times and in bad, Europe can count on the United States."

NATO, or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, is a military alliance of European and North American democracies created after World War II to strengthen international cooperation as a counter-balance to the rise of the Soviet Union.

Presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton's campaign was quick to pounce on Trump's statements.

"The president is supposed to be the leader of the free world. Donald Trump apparently doesn't even believe in the free world," Clinton senior policy adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement shortly after the interview was published.

"Ronald Reagan would be ashamed. Harry Truman would be ashamed. Republicans, Democrats and independents who help build NATO into the most successful military alliance in history would all come to the same conclusion: Donald Trump is temperamentally unfit and fundamentally ill-prepared to be our commander in chief," Sullivan added.

Trump's running mate, Gov. Mike Pence, was on the defensive early Thursday, telling Fox News that he is confident the Republican nominee would stand by America's NATO allies, but insisted that those countries "must pay their fair share."

Pence added that a Trump administration would tell U.S. allies "the time has come for them and for their citizens to begin to carry the financial costs of these international obligations."

Trump has publicly welcomed praise from Russian President Vladimir Putin, telling MSNBC in December that, "when people call you brilliant, that's always good, especially when the person heads up Russia." When the interviewer pointed out charges that Putin kills opponents and that he invaded neighboring Ukraine, Trump responded that Putin is "running his country, and at least he's a leader, unlike what we have in this country."

Trump also told The Times that he would not criticize Turkey for cracking down on political opponents and restricting civil liberties following last week's attempted coup. Of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Trump said: "I give great credit to him for being able to turn that around. ... Some people say that it was staged, you know that. I don't think so."

The U.S. has no "right to lecture" Turkey and other countries when "people are shooting policemen in cold blood," Trump said.

With decades in business and no prior political experience, Trump cast the projection of American military might abroad in economic terms.

For example, he said it might not be necessary to station American troops abroad, though he agreed it's preferable.

"If we decide we have to defend the United States, we can always deploy" troops from the U.S., Trump told the newspaper, "and it will be a lot less expensive."