Trump’s NATO threats are ‘deadly serious,’ Bolton says. What about NORAD?

Click to play video: '‘He’s deadly serious’: John Bolton on Trump’s warning to NATO allies'
‘He’s deadly serious’: John Bolton on Trump’s warning to NATO allies
WATCH: Fallout continues over former U.S. president Donald Trump’s comments suggesting Russian President Vladimir Putin could do whatever he wanted to NATO allies who didn’t meet the alliance’s 2-per cent defence spending targets. ‘The West Block’ host Mercedes Stephenson speaks with John Bolton, the former U.S. national security adviser to Donald Trump, about the seriousness of the Republican frontrunner’s NATO comments. Bolton also discusses the threat of Iranian foreign interference in North America and the death of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny – Feb 18, 2024

Donald Trump’s recent threats that NATO members who miss their spending targets — like Canada — won’t be protected by the United States show he’s “serious” about ultimately withdrawing the U.S. from the military alliance, Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton says.

That “simple view” of America’s relationships with its allies may likely inform Trump’s approach to U.S.-Canada relations and strategic partnerships between the two countries, Bolton says — including NORAD — if Trump returns to the White House.

“I think he would talk as he does when he refers to the European Union, or about these ‘horrible trade deals’ that Canada has negotiated with the United States,” Bolton said in an interview with Mercedes Stephenson that aired Sunday on The West Block, when asked if Trump might withdraw from NORAD.

“He thinks all of our friends take advantage of us … but that’s not a reason to throw over the entire alliance system.”

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Bolton was Trump’s national security adviser from April 2018 to September 2019, ultimately leaving the administration amid mounting disagreements with Trump. He wrote in his memoir that during a 2018 NATO leaders summit, Trump nearly withdrew the U.S. from NATO entirely, but ultimately backed down.

“Fortunately, it didn’t happen through the efforts of a lot of people who were there, trying their best to prevent it, and Trump’s attention turned elsewhere,” Bolton said. “But (his latest remarks show) the idea is still on his mind.

“He’s deadly serious.”

Click to play video: 'How Trump’s threats could affect Canada, NATO allies'
How Trump’s threats could affect Canada, NATO allies

Trump has often lamented that NATO members aren’t pulling their weight by not meeting the alliance’s 2014 pledge of spending at least two per cent of GDP on defence, which Canada has fallen well short of for years. Trump has equated that non-binding pledge with membership dues, suggesting members are leeching off the U.S. military and openly questioning the value of the post-war military alliance.

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That transactional mindset not only misunderstands the point of NATO, Bolton said, but also applies to how Trump sees most U.S. alliances with other countries.

“We’re not defending Canada because we want to be nice to Canada,” he said. “We’re defending the alliance as a whole because it’s in America’s interest to defend the alliance as a whole.

“Donald Trump has a simple view of life. Everything is dollars and cents, and he looks at the balance sheet and Canada and others are not spending two per cent (on defence). So for Americans who think that Europeans are a bunch of freeloaders to begin with, it has powerful appeal.”

Bolton noted that some of Trump’s current advisers have floated the idea of a “two-tiered” approach to NATO, where the U.S. would still offer protections to countries that meet the two-per cent spending target if attacked by a foreign power — under the alliance’s Article 5 — and let members who don’t spend enough “fend for themselves.”

That approach would be just as damaging as withdrawing the U.S. from NATO altogether, Bolton said.

“You can’t have an alliance with doughnut holes in it that allow Russia, China or somebody else to exploit them,” he said.

“What will happen is that if Trump tries to withdraw or decides he’s only going to support countries that are spending two per cent, is the alliance effectively will collapse.”

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Click to play video: 'Trump’s comment about supporting NATO ‘undermines the security’ of all allies, increases risks: Stoltenberg'
Trump’s comment about supporting NATO ‘undermines the security’ of all allies, increases risks: Stoltenberg

The most prudent thing countries can do to prevent such a fate, Bolton said, is to invest more in national defence — including the U.S., which currently spends 3.5 per cent of its GDP. He wants that to return to the levels seen during the Reagan administration, which spent between five and six per cent, in order to face the growing global threat environment.

One of those threat actors in need of addressing is Iran, said Bolton, who has long been hawkish toward the Middle Eastern power. He helped convince Trump to withdraw the U.S. from the Iran nuclear deal negotiated during the Obama administration, and says now such diplomatic approaches “are totally wrongheaded because the Iranians have absolutely no intention of honouring those commitments.”

He sees the current conflict in the Middle East not as one between Israel and Hamas, but rather “a war by Iran against Israel using these terrorist proxies,” which also include Hezbollah and the Houthis, he said.

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Iran has also proven its threat extends to Europe and North America, with the regime sponsoring assassination attempts against Iranian dissidents in Canada and the U.S., according to multiple indictments and other legal proceedings. Bolton himself was targeted by the Iranian regime, and the U.S. charged an Iranian Revolutionary Guard member in 2022 with attempting to kill him.

“It tells you exactly what the character of the regime is,” he said.

Click to play video: '2 Canadian men charged in murder-for-hire plot involving Iranian operative'
2 Canadian men charged in murder-for-hire plot involving Iranian operative

Bolton said Russian President Vladimir Putin has showed his own character amid reports Friday that Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has died in prison. That, along with the ongoing invasion of Ukraine and U.S. intelligence suggesting Russia is developing a space-based anti-satellite weapon shows the threat from Moscow is “significant,” he said.

That threat won’t go away if Trump is re-elected in the U.S., Bolton added, noting Trump only views the success of international partnerships through his own personal relationships with leaders like Putin or Chinese President Xi Jinping.

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“When you face really hard men like Putin and Xi, they’re not going to let personal relationships sway them from their effort to advance their own national interest,” he said.

“That’s one of the reasons I think the likes of Putin and Xi are looking forward to Trump coming back because they think, to put it bluntly, he’s an easy mark.”

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