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ICDS chief: Trump's words driving countries to invest even more in defense

Indrek Kannik.
Indrek Kannik. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

International Center for Defense and Security (ICDS) director Indrek Kannik said that while Donald Trump's threats of not protecting NATO member states not meeting the alliance's defense spending targets send a dangerous message, this shouldn't be taken too seriously either, because even the Kremlin is suspicious of Trump.

"This is very Trumplike – this is sort of Trump's rhetorical style," Kannik told ERR on Sunday. "A traditional politician could have rephrased that same sentence as, 'It's very hard for me to explain to the American people why we should support those countries who don't contribute to their own defense,' and the message would have ultimately been the same."

As worded, however, Trump's recent comments were in this case "typical" of his "extremely aggressive rhetoric," he added.

"As far as allies are concerned, it's clear that this creates concern and uncertainty among European countries – there's of course no doubt about that," the ICDS chief continued. "It's still the kind of language that more traditional politicians than Trump are unaccustomed to and will never become accustomed to."

He noted that these comments technically don't apply to Estonia anyway, as one of few countries that has long since met and now even well exceeded the defense spending target by member state agreed upon within NATO, but acknowledged that rhetorically, it will nonetheless certainly continue to create tensions within the alliance.

According to Kannik, knowing that the U.S. would not intervene definitely encourages Russia to attack NATO states.

"Whether Trump now has to verbally encourage anyone or not is another question entirely," he continued. "But even Russia just feeling like the U.S. won't intervene is most certainly encouraging [for them]."

Even so, he isn't at all convinced whether Trump's comments actually conveyed this message.

"The Kremlin of course actually knows how unpredictable Trump is – and that's unquestionably his advantage over incumbent U.S. President Joe Biden, who said upon entering office [three years ago] he wanted to achieve stable and predictable relations with Russia," Kannik said. "That was precisely what the Russians interpreted as yet another weakness."

What Trump says, what he does and what he says next are always highly contradictory, the ICDS chief underscored, adding that you can't really read too much into it.

If there is any positive takeaway from Trump's scandalous statement, he continued, it's the fact that it will likely further deepen NATO member states' commitment to defense spending.

"At the same time, this is no longer a matter of debate anymore, either rhetorically or practically," Kannik said. "The question is, how quickly can things be done."

Recalling Trump's last term in the White House, he pointed out that in practical terms, he didn't adversely affect the alliance.

"If anything, the Trump administration rather strengthened NATO's eastern flank," Kannik acknowledged. "In that sense, we didn't see any explicitly detrimental security activity in our direction, other than the fact that relations between allies worsened."

He chalked both Trump's statement and the stark reactions it provoked up to the U.S. presidential election campaign as well. "It's an attempt by the Democrats there to construe every word Trump says as harmfully to him as possible," he explained.

The ICDS chief went on to acknowledge that Joe Biden isn't great either.

"It can be said that at least as much damage is also being caused by the current U.S. administration's many cowardly decisions regarding the war in Ukraine," he explained. "The current administration doesn't have too many feathers in its cap in terms of protecting European security."

Ultimately, Kannik explained, nothing good will come of such statements, but at the same time, they aren't worth taking too seriously either.

"At no time did he say that he'd actually invite Russia to attack NATO member states; it was still more of a threat that if NATO member states don't contribute sufficiently to their own defense, then it'll be hard to count on the protection of the U.S.," he concluded.

Speaking at a rally Saturday in Conway, South Carolina, former president and GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump recalled a meeting with a NATO member state where the latter challenged his threat not to defend members of the alliance who fail to meet its defense spending targets if attacked by Russia.

"'You didn't pay? You're delinquent?'" he recalled saying. "'No, I would not protect you. In fact, I would encourage [Russia] to do whatever the hell they want. You gotta pay. You gotta pay your bills.'"

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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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