Former President Donald Trump said Saturday that he wouldn't protect a NATO nation that didn't contribute enough defense funds and, instead, he'd "encourage" Russia "to do whatever the hell they want."
The remarks, which echo Trump's long-standing criticism of the role the U.S. plays in providing security for other countries, including major allies, drew immediate rebuke from his opponents in the White House.
"You don't pay your bills, you get no protection. It's very simple," Trump said at a campaign event in Conway, South Carolina. "Hundreds of billions of dollars came into NATO, and that's why they have money."
Trump claimed to have had a past conversation with an unnamed foreign leader about what could happen. "One of the presidents of a big country stood up [and] said, 'Well, sir, if we don't pay and we're attacked by Russia, will you protect us?'"
"I said, 'You didn't pay, you're delinquent,'" Trump said. "No, I would not protect you. In fact, I would encourage them to do whatever the hell they want."
In his comments, Trump also falsely suggested that NATO contributions come in the form of loans. In 2006, NATO leaders agreed that member countries (now 31 total) would commit a minimum of 2% of their gross domestic product that would go toward military readiness.
Trump has in the past criticized NATO, taking specific aim at the defense spending of other countries compared to the United States and has even previously vowed not to help other countries if they faced attacks because of it, raising concerns among international allies.
As president, Trump endorsed the NATO agreement that outlines a collective defense procedure where an attack on one member is considered "an attack against all;" however, he has since ramped up his skepticism about supporting other countries.
The White House responded to Trump's comments by calling them "appalling and unhinged."
"Encouraging invasions of our closest allies by murderous regimes is appalling and unhinged -- and it endangers American national security, global stability and our economy at home," spokesperson Andrew Bates said in a statement.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg also criticized Trump's comments, arguing it "undermines all of our security."
"Any attack on NATO will be met with a united and forceful response," Stoltenberg said in a statement. "Any suggestion that allies will not defend each other undermines all of our security, including that of the U.S., and puts American and European soldiers at increased risk."
Trump's comments Saturday also come as he attempts to squash a national security bill after senators just cleared a procedural logjam to eventually finish working on a bill to provide billions of dollars more in support to Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan. He posted to his social media platform that "no money in the form of foreign aid should be given to any country unless it is done as a loan, not just a giveaway."
In response to the backlash to Trump's NATO comments, a spokesman issued a statement swiping at "Democrat and media pearl-clutchers."
"President Trump got our allies to increase their NATO spending by demanding they pay up, but Joe Biden went back to letting them take advantage of the American taxpayer," the spokesman said. "When you don't pay your defense spending you can't be surprised that you get more war."