The head of NATO has called for solidarity and warned that European security is tied to the safety of the United States, following remarks by Donald Trump that he would intervene to help only NATO allies who "fulfilled" their obligations to the US.
"Solidarity among allies is a key value for NATO. This is good for European security and good for US security. We defend one another," Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told BuzzFeed News.
The Republican presidential candidate's comments to the New York Times at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland are also expected to send a chill through Baltic members of NATO, which have witnessed growing Russian aggression on their borders in the past two years.
Asked explicitly whether the US would come to the aid of Baltic nations that are threatened by Russia, Trump responded, “If they fulfill their obligations to us, the answer is yes.”
Article 5 of the NATO treaty states that the 28 members – the US was a founding member in 1949 – agree to come to the aid of any member should they be attacked.
Stoltenberg noted that although he did not wish to "interfere" in the US election, "what I can do is say what matters for NATO." He added, "Two world wars have shown that peace in Europe is also important for the security of the United States."
NATO has increased military spending in Europe for the first time in more than a decade, and is expected to increase spending by 3% this year.
"The United States has always stood by its European Allies," Stoltenberg said. "Now the US is stepping up its support once again, and increasing its presence."
Estonia, Latvia, Poland, Norway, and Lithuania all share a border with Russia. In the past few months 5,000 Estonia soldiers, alongside other NATO nations' troops, have staged Kevadtorm (“Spring Storm”) – a dry run of events should Russia invade.
“Estonia’s commitment to our NATO obligations is beyond doubt, and so should be the commitments by others,” an Estonian government spokesperson from the ministry of foreign affairs told BuzzFeed News.
The president of Estonia – a country whose government has expressed increasing concern about neighboring Russia's burgeoning militarism – tweeted after Trump's remarks that Estonia was one of just five countries to meet NATO's defense spending requirements, and had committed troops to the invasion of Afghanistan.
"There is no ground to doubt Lithuania‘s commitments, and we do not doubt [our] allies' commitments," the country's minister of foreign affairs Linas Linkevičius told BuzzFeed News.
Dalia Grybauskaitė, Lithuanian PM, also told a press conference her country trusted the US, and that Lithuania was "doing everything it can" to improve its military. She continued: "I do not think interpretations of candidate Trump’s remarks are necessary. We know that the United States will remain our most important partner."
The Polish government declined to comment on Trump's remarks when contacted by BuzzFeed News, however, a spokesperson said the US's role in NATO is clear in the organization's charter.
On Thursday, Jake Sullivan, a senior advisor to Hillary Clinton, released a statement in response to Trump's comments. "He won't even commit to protecting our NATO allies against a Russian invasion," the statement said. "It is fair to assume that Vladimir Putin is rooting for a Trump presidency."
"More broadly, Trump has apparently decided that America lacks the moral authority to advance our interests and values around the world. He has adopted the logic and positions of China, Russia, and Iran."
Russian leader Vladimir Putin is one of the few world leaders – others include North Korea's Kim Jong Un – to publicly support Trump's candidacy for the presidency.
In remarks last December, Putin referred to Trump as a “a very lively man, talented without doubt,” and said he was a leader who he could "get along with".
Trump's response? "It is always a great honor to be so nicely complimented by a man so highly respected within his own country and beyond," read an official statement. It also called for greater cooperation between the two countries.
Trump's remarks came ahead of his speech at the RNC on Thursday. He said his administration would pursue policies that put America "first", reducing foreign expenditure and international intervention.
He questioned whether the US had the right to lecture other nations, and told the New York Times that America needed to "fix our own mess" before others. "Look at what is happening in our country," he said. "How are we going to lecture when people are shooting policemen in cold blood?"
Trump has made similar remarks before – although the latest demonstrate a step-up in rhetoric. In April, he described NATO as "obsolete," and went on to say that members “not paying their fair share” were being propped up by US contributions.
Following the stormy reception his latest remarks generated, a Trump's campaign chairman Paul Manafort said the candidate's remarks had been "misquoted." The New York Times has released a transcript of the conversation.