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Donald Trump doesn’t shy away from inflammatory remarks – and we certainly don’t cover every time he says something provocative.

In February, Trump said that if he is reelected president, he would tell Russian leader Vladimir Putin to do “whatever the hell they want” with NATO members that don’t pay the typical amount countries pledge to when they join the military alliance.

The remark rattled some foreign policy experts and also caught the attention of Dan Reiter, a political science scholar at Emory University, and Brian Greenhill, a political science scholar at the University of Albany, SUNY.

Trump and others scoff at military alliances like NATO and international organizations like the United Nations, saying that the U.S. spends too much to keep them afloat. But actually, being part of NATO doesn’t necessarily oblige the U.S. and other nations to jump to member countries’ defense if they are attacked.

“It is possible for the U.S. and other Western countries to stay out of a conflict that involves a NATO country without having to break their alliance commitments. The NATO treaty’s language contains loopholes that let member countries remain out of other members’ wars in certain situations,” Greenhill and Reiter explain in today's lead story.

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Amy Lieberman

Politics + Society Editor

The national flags of some NATO countries fly during an Air Force exercise in Germany on June 11, 2024. Marcus Brandt/picture alliance via Getty Images

Joining NATO binds countries to defend each other – but this commitment is not set in stone

Dan Reiter, Emory University; Brian Greenhill, University at Albany, State University of New York

NATO’s treaty has loopholes that give member countries, including the US, power over whether or not they want to intervene in a particular conflict.

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