By Reid J. Epstein
RACINE, Wis. – A relatively subdued Donald Trump on Saturday offered a lengthy defense of his proposals to deconstruct the American military treaty with European allies.
The Republican presidential front-runner offered his critique of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as part of a broadside against Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who leads him in polling ahead of Tuesday’s Wisconsin primary. Mr. Trump said he would ask European nations for retroactive compensation for American contributions to the alliance.
“Many countries are not paying their fair share. That means we are protecting them, giving them military protection,” Mr. Trump told an a crowd of about 650 people at the Racine Civic Center. “They’re ripping off the United States. And you know what we do? Nothing. Either they have to pay up for past deficiencies or they have to get out. And if it breaks up NATO, it breaks up NATO.”
Mr. Trump’s doubts about the necessity of American involvement in NATO, first broached during a meeting with the Washington Post editorial board last month, have become one of an array of flashpoints with Mr. Cruz in recent days.
Mr. Trump said NATO is not capable of defending against terrorism, which he said is more important than providing a hedge against Russia.
“They have to either rejigger it or come up with something new,” Mr. Trump said. “Terrorism is the problem. We have to knock the hell out of these crazy people there.”
Mr. Trump also offered an explanation for his suggestion, broached during a CNN interview this week, that the U.S. should end military arrangements with countries like Japan and South Korea and allow them to build their own nuclear arsenals. “I didn’t say anything about letting Japan go nuclear,” Mr. Trump said on Saturday. “We have to let them take care of themselves, and if that means they have to someday get nuclear weapons–in all fairness folks, I don’t really like this– eventually they’re going to want to get them anyway.”
After Mr. Trump’s CNN comments, his chief policy adviser said in an interview on Wednesday that Mr. Trump is “adamantly nonproliferation.”
Mr. Trump’s event, billed as a town hall though he took no questions from the audience, was one of three the New Yorker has planned across Wisconsin on Saturday. He was also due to make stops near Wausau, in the state’s north, and Eau Claire, in the west. Both are regions of the state where polling and voter sentiment tilt in his favor, more than here in southeastern Wisconsin.