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Andreas Kaju: Trump does not really care what allied nations think

Andreas Kaju talking to 'Aktuaalne kaamera.'
Andreas Kaju talking to 'Aktuaalne kaamera.' Source: ERR

United States presidential candidate Donald Trump has been critical of NATO for decades, though his recent statements about member states who contribute less than the required proportion of Gross Domestic Product is harder to ignore in the context of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, one expert says.

Speaking at a political rally in South Carolina Saturday, Trump, who is seeking the Republican nomination for November's election, said that when president, he had once warned NATO allies that he "would encourage" Russia "to do whatever the hell they want" to countries that are "delinquent," in not meeting the membership minimum annual defense spending as a proportion of GDP, at the time set at 2 percent.

Trump said at Saturday's rally that NATO had been "busted" until he came along.

Speaking to ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) Monday, Andreas Kaju, a US expert, noted that while Trump's criticisms of the alliance are nothing new, the timing, given the current war in Ukraine, now nearly two years old, makes it more surprising.

Then again, Kaju said, Trumps' views on NATO and other permanent supra-international bodies pre-date his 2016-2020 term as president, by some margin.

Kaju said: "I have expressed this idea before, that Trump has been skeptical about permanent unions, permanent alliances for around 40 years now."

"As early as the late 1980s, he spoke out against NATO and against what he called military free-loaders, hitching a free ride, in a national defense sense, since they do not contribute from their own domestic budget, at America's expense."

This squared with businessman Trump's view of permanent international trade organizations.

"He has always been against permanent trade organizations. This has been a consistent activity for him, so there is nothing new in this," Kaja added.

"What has been surprising, and why we can't and shouldn't dismiss this under any circumstances, is that he has continued to hold the same line during the Russia-Ukraine war. There are two possible factors here: Either he doesn't realize how sensitive this issue is to permanent allies in NATO, or he knows but doesn't care," Kaju said.

This skepticism, particularly with regard to trade, will continue, and be accompanied by a move towards protectionism, should Trump become president again at any time.

"I think his foreign policy statements have been consistent with his first term, ie. still extremely skeptical of free trade. Rather than looking at what he has pledged during his campaign or what the think tanks are doing right now in putting together policy packages for the next Republican administration, at the heart of it is China and trade relations with China, and the US foreign trade deficit; Trump himself has talked about a 60 percent tariff on all Chinese goods, and a 10-20 percent tariff on all other goods imported from all other countries," Kaju went on.

A similar approach has not been seen on this scale since the period before World War Two, Kaju added, noting that if Trump does win in November and the US ends up going down that route, this will deal a major blow to European trade and the European economy.

On another key Trump policy area, illegal immigration, Kaju noted that in any case, this is one of the most important issues for voters, meaning whoever becomes president in November will have to address it.

Last year, Kaju said, around three million illegal immigrants were detained at US borders, 10 times higher than the numbers detained on the EU's external border in 2023.

The over 1,000-kilometer US-Mexico border in particular is currently not closed, Kaju went on, and large caravans of migrants mostly from Latin America have overwhelmed that border and its authorities.

Back in 2017, Trump said at a NATO headquarters opening in Brussels, at which Estonia's prime minister at the time, Jüri Ratas, was present, that European countries were not paying their way.

"NATO members must finally contribute their fair share and meet their financial obligations," he said at the time, standing alongside the alliance's secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, and putting the number of member states failing to do so at 23 out of 28 (EU nations as there were at the time, though not all EU nations were NATO member states then, or now – ed.).

This situation was "unfair" on the US, he said.

At Saturday's rally, Trump also attacked Nikki Haley, the only candidate left in the running for the Republican nomination, questioning where her husband Michael Haley was. The latter is in fact on overseas deployment with the South Carolina Army National Guard in support of the US Africa Command. South Carolina is Haley's home state.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Merili Nael.

Source: 'Aktuaalne kaamera,' interviewer Astrid Kannel.

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