The Cable

Biden to the Baltics: Don’t Take Trump’s NATO Comments Seriously

The vice president says Trump doesn't know what NATO's mutual defense article is.

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Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has raised doubts about the American commitment to come to the defense of NATO allies, a comment that understandably spooked Baltic members of the alliance. On Tuesday, Vice President Joe Biden sought to quell those fears.

Speaking in Latvia — a country with a large Russian population that fears it could be Russian President Vladimir Putin’s next target — Biden suggested that Trump did not understand NATO’s Article 5, which states an attack against one member of the alliance is an attack against all 28 NATO members.

“I want to make it absolutely clear to all the people in Baltic states: We have pledged our sacred honor, the United States of America … to the NATO treaty and Article 5,” Biden said in the Latvian capital Riga.

He added, “I don’t think he understands what Article 5 is,” referring to Trump. The only time NATO has invoked Article 5 was to defend Trump’s hometown after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

The GOP nominee has suggested that the United States would not come to the aid of NATO members who did not spend 2 percent of GDP on defense, a requirement that is only met by the United States, Greece, the United Kingdom, Estonia, and Poland. He made this comment in June, when asked about Russia’s threatening activities, including its annexation of Crimea in Ukraine. He’s the first major U.S. presidential candidate who has suggested that aiding NATO allies could be optional.

Concerns about Trump’s stance have been heightened by his budding bromance with Putin. He’s called on Russia to hack his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton. Trump has also praised the Russian strongman, and vice versa; Putin has called Trump “bright,” and the businessman welcomed the compliment. Some senior Trump campaign officials also have financial ties to the Kremlin.

Despite Trump’s stance on NATO and warm ties with Russia, Biden sought to reassure allies that the U.S. commitment was unwavering.

“The fact that you occasionally hear something from a presidential candidate in the other party, it’s … nothing that should be taken seriously,” he said.

Photo credit: PETRAS MALUKAS/Getty Images

David Francis was a senior reporter for Foreign Policy, where he covered international finance. @davidcfrancis

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