President Donald Trump has made his disdain of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO, amply clear. He’s lambasted the decades-old alliance as “obsolete,” erroneously accused other members of owing the U.S. money and even came close last summer to threatening to withdraw America from the alliance if other members didn’t increase their defense spending.
Trump reportedly told NATO allies at a July summit that the U.S. would “go it alone” unless they boosted their financial contributions. He later appeared to soften his tone, however, reaffirming America’s “very strong” commitment to NATO.
But according to a New York Times report published Monday, the possibility of a U.S. withdrawal from the alliance was repeatedly floated by Trump behind closed doors last year.
Senior administration officials told the paper that Trump said “several times over the course of 2018” that he wanted to pull out of the alliance. Around the time of the July summit, the president reportedly told aides that he didn’t see the point of NATO.
“When Mr. Trump first raised the possibility of leaving the alliance, senior administration officials were unsure if he was serious,” the paper reported. “He has returned to the idea several times, officials said increasing their worries.”
In a statement to the Times, a White House spokesperson echoed Trump’s remarks from last year about America’s “very strong” commitment to NATO but did not elaborate further.
The resignation last month of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who’d been viewed as one of NATO’s biggest champions in the Trump administration, has sparked concerns about the future relationship between the U.S. and the alliance.
If the U.S. did withdraw from NATO ― once an unthinkable notion ― it would have seismic geopolitical ramifications.
The Times noted that at least one global leader would be thrilled by the move: Vladimir Putin. The Russian leader said in 2017 that a “falling apart” of NATO would be a boon to his country.