- By James Fitzgerald
- BBC News
Donald Trump has said he will “encourage” Russia to attack any NATO member that fails to pay its dues as part of the Western military alliance.
At a rally on Saturday, he said he told a leader he would not defend a nation behind its payments and would “encourage” the aggressors to “do whatever they want”.
NATO members are committed to defending any nation under attack.
The White House called the comments “horrendous and unconscionable.”
Addressing a crowd at a rally in South Carolina, Mr Trump said he made his comments about Russia during a meeting of NATO leaders.
He recalled that the leader of a “major country” presented a hypothetical situation in which he defaulted on his financial obligations within NATO and came under attack from Moscow.
Mr Trump said the president had asked if the US would come to his country's aid in that situation, prompting him to rebuke him.
“I said: 'You didn't pay? Are you guilty?'… 'No, I won't defend you, in fact I will encourage them to do whatever they want. You have to pay.'”
A White House spokesman said the former president “encourages invasions of our closest allies by murderous regimes” and called it “horrendous and unconscionable.”
He said the report “endangers America's national security, global stability and our economy at home.”
Mr Trump, who is seeking a re-election bid for the US presidential nomination this year, has long been critical of NATO, which he sees as too much of a financial burden for the US to guarantee the security of the 30 nations.
Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022 after Mr Trump left office. He lamented the amount of US money sent to Ukraine, which is not a NATO member.
The US has given Ukraine more than $44bn (£34bn) in funding since the 2022 invasion, according to White House figures from December.
However, Republicans in Congress have blocked all new funding since the start of the year – demanding tougher measures to curb immigration into the US at its southern border and then refusing when a revised bill was introduced earlier this week.
Mr Trump celebrated that rejection during a rally on Saturday, calling President Biden's proposals “disastrous”.