Donald Trump, in a New York Times interview, refused to definitively say he would defend Baltic states if Russia were to invade. Trump argues NATO members must pay the bill if they expect the United States to help them, which is in line with his America First policy. Foreign policy experts are freaking out because the NATO alliance is what has helped keep relative peace in Eastern Europe since, well, you know... the end of WWII.
World War III may sound like an exaggeration, but it highlights the fragile nature that is keeping countries from waging full scale war.
Russia has been increasingly aggressive, with Putin making moves to put Russia back on the world stage (see Donbass, Crimea, Chechnya). As Vox explains, NATO works by guaranteeing a massive and crushing military response against any belligerent if a NATO member is attacked. Without that guarantee, NATO does not work, and war is more likely to occur.
Experts are arguing that Trump’s statements are incredibly dangerous and can upset the fragile balance of power that’s keeping the peace. They say that viewing these alliances through an economic lens is wrongheaded and dangerous.
But Trump and his supporters are arguing that it’s a matter of priority. Everyday Americans are not seeing benefits from NAFTA, NATO, and all those other acronyms that mean nothing to their lives. If America is to put their money and lives on the line for these countries, America better see a benefit.
Trump and his supporters also point to the fact that NATO is not keeping up their end of the bill. They’re freeloading off of America, and think they can get away with it. America can’t afford to foot the bill anymore, and if they’re not willing to invest the money for their own defense, then why should we defend them?