To one U.S. ally in eastern Europe, theres a more pressing concern than Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump questioning NATOs binding principle.
Estonia, a Baltic nation of 1.3 million people, dismisses Trumps comments as pre-election posturing and has no doubt the U.S. will honor its commitments to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. More worrying are Russian military exercises on the two nations shared border. Rather than being defensive, the drills are offensive in nature, according to Estonias defense minister, who says Russia has hundreds of thousands of well-equipped troops nearby.
Its economy is doing badly, living standards are declining, elections are coming — its certainly possible to construe something to divert peoples attention from the real problems in Russia, Hannes Hanso said Friday in an interview in Tallinn, the capital. We must constantly be on guard.
After Russias annexation of Crimea, the Baltic region — with its large Russian-speaking minorities — has often featured in war-gaming involving President Vladimir Putin. Trumps remarks that the U.S. should only defend allies that have fulfilled their obligations alarmed some in eastern Europe. While Estonia is one of five NATO members to meet the alliances military-investment target, and the bloc is bolstering its presence, the RAND Corporation said last year that a Russian lightning strike could reach Tallinn in 36 to 60 hours.
NATO decided at a summit last month in Warsaw that it would sending one allied battalion to each of the Baltic countries and Poland. The move is an attempt to increase the costs to Russia of any possible aggression. Russia has repeatedly said it has no intention of attacking.
Trumps comments, in an interview with the New York Times, referred to NATO members that dont spend the required 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense. Latvia and Lithuania, which, like Estonia are former Soviet republics that joined the bloc in 2004, will fall short of that goal at about 1.5 percent each.
Trump has also been accused of leaning toward Russia on some foreign-policy issues, saying last week that hed consider recognizing Putins 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine. When asked about defending the security of countries such as Estonia, Trump supporter and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said hes not sure the U.S. should risk a nuclear war over some place which is the suburbs of St. Petersburg.
Nevertheless, Hanso, 44, played down the presidential contenders stance on NATO. The alliances collective-security pledge, under which an attack on one member is deemed an attack on all, is fundamental, he said.
We have no reason not to trust the present or future U.S. administration regarding our common vision of collective security, Hanso said. The Western world has to be united and this is the reality everyone has to put up with at the end of the day.