Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images(NEW YORK) — On Monday, President Obama took the unprecedented step of assuring NATO allies that President-elect Donald Trump would remain committed to the alliance, serving as welcome news to European leaders nervous about Trump’s campaign threats to abandon the pact.
NATO’s Secretary General made a similar gesture Friday, saying that he and Trump had a “good talk” over the phone and that they spoke about NATO’s “enduring importance.”
But for all those seeking reassurance, it should be noted that the man Trump tapped Friday to be his national security advisor appears to have played a role in shaping Trump’s controversial remarks about the 67-year-old alliance.
Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn told ABC News this past May that he first spoke to Trump in September 2015, shortly after Trump made the remark that he gets his military advice from “the shows.”
“We did talk about NATO and I told him this business about him NATO doesn’t pay their bills,” Flynn said. “The United States – we pay too much of the bill. NATO is a 20th century model and needs to be retooled for 21st century threats that we collectively face, you know cyber is one of them. So, I said those things to him when we first talked.”
It was not until months after that, July 2016, that Trump first raised eyebrows when he told the New York Times he might not respect the alliance’s mutual defense agreement unless other countries paid their fair share. Member states are encouraged to spend 2 percent of their GDP on national defense, and right now only a handful of 28 members meet that threshold.
Asked by the New York Times if members of NATO could count on the Trump administration to come to their defense if they were attacked by Russia, Trump said: “If they fulfill their obligations to us, the answer is yes.”
That language stands in apparent contrast to that of the North Atlantic Treaty: “An armed attack against one … shall be considered an attack against them all.”
Then in April Trump described NATO as “obsolete.”
— Jens Stoltenberg (@jensstoltenberg) November 18, 2016
“I don’t have any problems with what he said about NATO,” Flynn told ABC in May. “And if it’s to put NATO on alert, to say hey NATO, we got to figure this out — this is no longer the Cold War — we need to organize ourselves differently and frankly if you are part of the club you’ve got to pay your bill and for countries that don’t pay their bills there has got to be some other penalty.”
Trump has a history of being critical of the alliance that predates his relationship with Flynn, however.
In his 2000 book, “The America We Deserve,” co-authored by Dave Shiflett, he says: “America has no vital interest in choosing between warring factions whose animosities go back centuries in Eastern Europe. Their conflicts are not worth American lives. Pulling back from Europe would save this country millions of dollars annually. The cost of stationing NATO troops in Europe is enormous. And these are clearly funds that can be put to better use.”
In addition to raising doubt about his commitment to the alliance, Trump has suggested he would soften the U.S. positions on Russia in order to mend the relationship. He has said “would be looking at” the possibility of lifting sanctions against Russia tied to its illegal military annexation of Crimea, which the U.S. government refuses to accept.
And while Russia was sending troops into Ukraine and bombing US-backed Syrian rebels Trump often asked: “Wouldn’t it be nice if actually got along, as an example, with Russia?”
It remains to be seen how the Trump administration will approach NATO and Russia, but Flynn has great confidence in the next president. “I like his unpredictable nature,” Flynn said…”especially as commander-in-chief.”
Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.