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Our View: NATO vital no matter the political noise in U.S.

Immediate backlash rained hard on Donald Trump, after saying on Feb. 10 he’d encourage Russia to do “whatever the hell they want” to any NATO member country delinquent on defense fund contributions.

Careless, harsh words.

In case of an attack on any NATO member within our collective security system, military action would be swift, united and forceful, with U.S. armed forces out front.

Yes, NATO defense members are committed to pay 2% of their gross domestic product. But no member nation would be vulnerable and undefended in an attack. Time and circumstances would sort out debts and payments.

The U.S. was one of 12 founding signatories of NATO, fundamental to our national security. Trump’s statement isn’t one that puts America first. In fact, quite the opposite. The U.S. would be in a world of hurt if Russian President Vladimir Putin actually attacked a NATO country.

Intelligence reports signal Putin is expected to do exactly that within three to five years. And if Putin wins Ukraine, Europe is poised for more aggression, conflict and instability.

By grousing at NATO and saying he’d allow an invasion by Putin, Trump firmly planted the subject into the U.S. election conversation. The recent bipartisan Senate legislation with aid for Ukraine, along with U.S. border enforcement policies, remains mired in U.S. politics. And Trump’s influence isn’t helping.

The longer the Ukrainian war drags on, NATO becomes more vital. And the U.S. will be swept up, whether or not we fund weapons and ammunition.

As we fine-tune our Opinion election coverage, we’re wondering how important NATO is to Southwest voters, especially those many generations removed from its inception. What could change one’s heart during a campaign and sway voters toward a different direction? Or will we all stay the course of our ingrained personal politics?

Many will wave off Trump’s comments as just talk. Nothing behind it. But the death of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny in a penal colony six days later re-enforced the staying power of Trump’s words.

We rely on dissidents, such as Navalny, a fierce Putin critic, to provide the world with information suppressed in a country without a free press. The charismatic counterweight to Putin, Navalny’s strength and conviction has inspired people around the world, and attracted more viewers to the 2023 Oscar winning documentary “Navalny,” produced by Littleton native Shane Boris.

As Navalny’s widow, Yulia Navalnaya, steps in front of cameras to continue her husband’s work, more people are paying attention. Sadly, Navalny’s path may have been a cautionary tale in Russia – stand up to authority and you’ll be killed.

Yet, speaking truth to power is an American value at its purest.

After Navalny’s death, President Joe Biden said, “Make no mistake: Putin is responsible.” Biden’s more than 500 new sanctions against Russia include capping the price of Russian crude oil sold on global markets, freezing billions of dollars of its central bank’s assets, and imposing trade restrictions on block technology and equipment used by Russia’s military.

America is involved.

If Trump wins the presidency, he couldn’t pull the U.S. from NATO without approval from the Senate or an act of Congress, thanks to legislation passed in December 2023.

His comments may have put the fear in some NATO members to dig deep into pockets to reinforce their own defense systems. After saying they should pay up, Trump should have stopped talking.

One thing in all of this is certain: NATO is arguably the most successful alliance in our world’s history in deterring war and keeping peace within member nations.

Also, NATO holds some flexibility with what nations can contribute. Consider Iceland, a member without armed forces but a Coast Guard, an air defense system, a voluntary peacekeeping force and more.

After World War II, NATO was created in support of defense structures, particularly against the Soviet Union. Echoes from that time in history are chillingly familiar.

Whatever comes of the November election, results will reach far beyond our shores.