By Jim Sciutto, CNN
(CNN) — As US allies reel from Donald Trump’s weekend comments encouraging Russia to attack European allies if they don’t meet NATO budget contribution goals, multiple former Trump advisers warn in my upcoming book that the former president will seek to formally withdraw the US from the NATO alliance if he wins a second term.
In “The Return of Great Powers”, which will be published March 12, a former senior US official, who served in both the Trump and Biden administrations at a high level, told me that if Trump defeats President Joe Biden in November “the US will be out of NATO.”
“NATO would be in real jeopardy,” John Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser, agreed. “I think he would try to get out.”
Trump’s disparagement of US security commitments extends to its mutual defense agreements with South Korea and Japan as well, retired General John Kelly, who served as White House chief of staff to Trump, told me.
“The point is, he saw absolutely no point in NATO,” Kelly said in the book. “He was just dead set against having troops in South Korea, again, a deterrent force, or having troops in Japan, a deterrent force.”
“He thought (Vladimir) Putin was an okay guy and Kim (Jong Un) was an okay guy that we had pushed North Korea into a corner,” Kelly recalled. “To him, it was like we were goading these guys. ‘If we didn’t have NATO, then Putin wouldn’t be doing these things.’”
Senior members of the administration I spoke to for the book also detailed how Trump came close to withdrawing the US from the alliance, which is a key bedrock of Western security against Russia, in his first term and warn he is likely to go further in a second.
“Democrat and media pearl-clutchers seem to have forgotten that we had four years of peace and prosperity under President Trump, but Europe saw death and destruction under Obama-Biden and now more death and destruction under Biden,” Trump campaign spokesperson Jason Miller told CNN. “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. When you don’t pay your defense spending you can’t be surprised that you get more war.”
Trump’s 2018 near NATO exit
At the core of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and enshrined in Article 5 of the treaty is the promise of collective defense — that an attack on one member nation is an attack on all the nations in the alliance. Trump has long complained about the amount NATO members spend on defense compared with the US.
In “The Return of Great Powers,” multiple advisors recount in detail how Trump very nearly removed the US from NATO at the alliance’s 2018 summit in Brussels.
“He was always ranting and raving and jumping up and down, and oftentimes he would spin up in terms of, ‘Well, I’m smarter than they are,’ and all of this,” Kelly said, describing Trump’s mindset in Brussels. Kelly said he tried to explain the importance of NATO to Trump in terms he believed the president would understand. Kelly’s approach involved a combination of explaining what was actually possible and what might make him look bad. In the case of withdrawing from NATO, Kelly tried to convey to Trump that both applied.
But at the summit, Trump persisted. A former senior US official told me that Trump issued orders to then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley and then Defense Secretary Mark Esper for the US to withdraw from NATO. Despite vehemently opposing the move. They considered the president’s direction a “lawful order” and drew up plans to execute the withdrawal.
Bolton recalls the 2018 summit with genuine fear. “Honest to God, it was frightening because we didn’t know what he was going to do up until the last minute. And I mean, I think, he all but said he was going to get out of NATO and then pulled back on it,” said Bolton.
Other potential Trump targets
Many veterans of the Trump administration have a similar warning for Ukraine. “US support for Ukraine would end,” said the senior US official who served under Trump and Biden.
Noting Trump’s comment at a Fox News town hall in July 2023 claiming, if reelected as president, he could end the war in one day, Bolton said, “If I were Ukraine, I’d be very worried, because if everything is a deal, then ‘what’s another ten percent of Ukrainian territory if it brings peace?’ kind of thing.”
US support for Taiwan, they say, would also be in jeopardy. Bolton recalled a stunt Trump would carry out in the Oval Office. “He would hold up the tip of his Sharpie pen and say, ‘That’s Taiwan. See this Resolute Desk, that’s China.’” His point, according to Bolton, is that Taiwan is too small to successfully defend itself against a Chinese invasion— and too small for the US to care.
Bolton recalled, “I mean, if I were in Taiwan, I would be very worried about a Trump administration.”
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