EUROPEAN NUKESTrump’s Threats Lead to Reflections in EU Over Nuclear Weapons

By Ella Joyner

Published 16 February 2024

Trump’s latest threats that he will take the U.S. out of NATO have gotten EU politicians and military experts talking about a European nuclear deterrence without Washington. Others are warning of a risky, hasty debate, and seek to downplay chances of a major stateside shake-up. Some suggest that France “Europeanize” its nuclear capabilities.

The looming prospect of NATO-skeptic Donald Trump winning a second term as US president is serving as food for thought in Europe on everything from climate to trade.

But this week, explosive comments from the isolationist front-runner to be the Republican Party’s candidate for president have pushed concerns about EU security to the fore and loomed large over a NATO defense ministers’ meeting in Brussels on Thursday.

At a campaign rally on Saturday, Trump implied he wouldn’t come to the aid of NATO states attacked by Russia if they hadn’t met the alliance’s military spending targets.

In fact, he would have opted to “encourage” Russia “to do whatever the hell they want,” he said, recounting a conversation he claimed to have had with the leader of an unnamed major European country while in office between 2016 and 2021.

Trump has long railed against European NATO allies that spend far less than Washington in both real and relative terms on their militaries, slamming them for free-riding on an international security order backed up by US clout.

A Shiver Down Europe’s Spine
Trump is known for hyperbole and still a long way from the White House, but his words reverberated on the other side of the Atlantic. Such a threat flies in the face of the central promise of NATO, enshrined as Article 5 in its treaties: Allies must come to each others’ aid in the case of a military attack.

On Wednesday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg touted increased spending by European NATO allies — an increase of 11% in 2023, he told reporters at a press conference ahead of the meeting.

The whole idea of NATO is that an attack on one ally will trigger the response from the whole alliance. And as long as we stand behind that message, together, we prevent any military attack on any ally,” he stressed.

EU politicians are concerned that they may not be able to count on the US if President Joe Biden, a Democrat who strongly condemned Trump’s comments, loses in November elections.

The fear extends to Washington’s huge nuclear arsenal. Though the information is classified, experts estimated that the US had about 3,700 warheads last year, with around 100 bombs stationed at military bases in Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy and Turkey. After the departure of the United Kingdom from the EU, France is the only member state with its own nuclear weapons.