In a few weeks, Scope Arena in Norfolk, Va., will be busy with activity as the city holds its annual NATO Festival, the longest continuous festival on the Hampton Roads calendar. It pays tribute to our region’s unique status as the home to NATO’s only command operations in North America.

Owing to that long and fruitful relationship, our region needs no lesson about how the multinational alliance has helped preserve peace in Europe and advance American interests abroad. NATO is an invaluable force for good that the United States must resolutely preserve and protect, contrary to former President Donald Trump’s unconscionable invitation on Saturday that Russia attack its members.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization emerged from the rubble of World War II as a defensive alliance in Western Europe to guard against the growing threat posed by the Soviet Union’s expansion into Eastern Europe following Germany’s defeat. It facilitated European integration and sought to replace nationalist militarism with continental cooperation.

Central to that is the United States’ involvement in NATO’s formation and development. After American forces helped defeat fascism, the U.S. wanted to forge a new global order based on the principles of freedom, democracy and opportunity.

NATO was instrumental to that effort. By holding the line against the march of communist authoritarianism, allied nations successfully prevented another large-scale European conflict and, ultimately, helped bring about the Soviet Union’s collapse.

The most important aspect of the NATO treaty is Section V, which states “that an armed attack against one or more [members] in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all” and that all parties agree to mutual self-defense in accordance with each nation’s constitutional process. (In the case of the United States, a commitment of troops for a war effort would still require congressional approval.)


Although intended as a bulwark against a Soviet invasion, Section V has only been invoked once: on Sept. 12, 2001. Following the terrorist attacks against this country, our NATO allies provided aircraft to help patrol American skies and assistance in the fight against al-Qaida.

When it mattered most, America’s allies in NATO had our backs. While that swift and decisive response should never be forgotten, some who should know better apparently need a reminder.

Speaking to a rally in South Carolina on Saturday, the former president launched into a savage broadside of the coalition, reflecting a fundamental misunderstanding of both the treaty’s obligations and the alliance’s importance to our national security.

Trump spun a yarn in which, while he was president, the leader of an unnamed NATO member asked him, “If we don’t pay and we’re attacked by Russia, will you protect us?”

“‘You didn’t pay? You’re delinquent?’” Trump continued. “‘No, I would not protect you. In fact, I would encourage [Russia] to do whatever the hell they want. You gotta pay. You gotta pay your bills.’”

As president, Trump made no secret of his disdain for longstanding American allies and his infatuation with authoritarians such as Russian President Vladimir Putin, inviting Russian aggression against NATO countries crosses a new, dangerous threshold. It is antithetical to our national principles.


That he made that statement as Ukraine bravely defends itself is especially despicable. It only serves to embolden America’s enemies.

His supporters will insist Trump shouldn’t be taken at his word, but it’s evident that the world was listening.

Our allies expressed shock and concern that Trump could be so ignorant of what NATO means. On Tuesday, Russia added the prime minister of Estonia, a former Soviet state and now NATO member, on a wanted list, the first such action against a European head of state.

Here in “NATO’s home in North America,” the benefits of a strong coalition are plainly evident. Our service members work hand-in-hand with our European allies in the interests of peace, and we are better for it.

Those who suggest otherwise reflect an ignorance of history and would empower our enemies at the expense of our friends.

Editorial by The Virginian-Pilot

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