Many of Donald Trump’s supporters say they like him because “he shakes things up” (presumably the stuffy political establishment). An extreme example of this blowtorch approach was Trump’s recent comment that unless delinquent European allies paid their bills to NATO, not only would the United States not defend them, but he would “encourage” the Russians “to do whatever the hell they want against them.”

Of course, this utterance sounds more like a mob boss trying to enforce an extortion racket than a former U.S. president trying to regain office. Also, Trump grandiosely claimed he could end the war between Ukraine and Russia in “one day.”

It is correct that wealthy western European countries should take greater responsibility for European security, including contributions to NATO and Ukraine, and that after Ukraine’s failed offensive against Russia, that country should begin negotiating an end to the war. However, the former goal should not be attained by prodding Russia to toss European security into shambles by attacking a NATO country, and the latter should not be achieved quickly by pressuring Ukraine to cave into Vladimir Putin’s demands.

Although Trump is on the right track in both matters, he lacks the basic knowledge to make good policy in the first case, and his motives vis-à-vis Russia are questionable.

Even though he had four years in the presidency to learn about NATO, Trump still thinks members pay dues to belong to the alliance—much like they do at his Florida Mar-a-Lago club/residence.

Although the alliance has some common funds to which all members contribute, most of its power comes from the members’ armed forces and their individual military spending. After Russia’s initial invasion of Crimea and eastern Ukraine in 2014, all alliance members pledged to spend 2 percent of their GDP on defense. To date, only countries that are on the front line of a potential threat from Russia or Belarus (a band of countries from Finland to Romania), those on the front line of another possible threat (Greece perceiving a threat from fellow NATO member Turkey), or are global powers attempting to police an informal global empire (the United States) or a commonwealth of nations of a past one (the United Kingdom) have met the pledge.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has improved the performance of some alliance members, again motivated by fear. Yet, the bulk of NATO members regularly have failed to meet the goal—in some cases spectacularly, such as the large countries of France, Italy and, until recently, Germany.

The European Union has created a joint financing mechanism to fund armaments to Ukraine, but it has not fulfilled its pledges for deliveries. For example, the EU is projected to fill just over half of the 1 million artillery shells promised by March 2024. In 2023, according to the International Monetary Fund, the European Union has about the same GDP (in purchasing power parity terms) as the United States but almost 10 times the size of Russia’s GDP.

Yet, the combined yearly defense spending of the European Union nations, even with a post-invasion rise to $345 billion, is only about 40 percent of the hefty $877 billion annual U.S. total.

European NATO (not considering the United States) already leads Russia in almost all military categories, except armored ground vehicles, and Europe is much more technologically advanced than Russia, which has an economy dominated by the export of natural resources. Thus, Trump is correct that wealthy Europeans can do more for their own defense than they do now, especially when the Russian military has been devastated by the war in Ukraine.

Some NATO countries that border Russia—for example, Poland and the three Baltic countries—are screaming that they are next on the diabolical Vladimir Putin’s list of countries to invade. However, the Russian military has been set back decades by its disaster in Ukraine; it is in no shape to take on European NATO, let alone a U.S.-led NATO. Instead, Russia is likely to be deterred from further aggressive action by the fact that its corrupt military has had trouble subduing the much weaker Ukraine.

As for aid to Ukraine, the EU has contributed more than the United States, but the vast majority of it has been financial assistance; the United States has utterly dominated the provision of military aid.

As European arms production increases, the United States can transfer to the Europeans the burden of providing weapons to Ukraine. After all, the Europeans should be doing more than the United States since the Russian threat is more acute to Europe than to the United States. The United States must be freed up to counter a rising China, especially when the Europeans are already vastly outpacing Russia economically and technologically.

As for Donald Trump, although he has always been right that the Europeans should do more in the military, getting them to do so by inviting a hostile Russia to attack delinquent countries is as dangerous as trying to scare your kids into an appreciation of money and financial responsibility by inviting an armed robber into the house.

Trump’s son Eric once said that much of the money flowing into the Trump Organization was coming from Russia. Considering the 2016 Trump campaign’s many contacts with Russians and that the campaign provided a Russian intelligence agent with expensive and detailed private campaign data, the apparent public coordination between the candidate and Russian hackers, and Trump’s deference to Putin at every turn, statements inviting Russia to attack any NATO member should once again raise many eyebrows about Trump’s seeming affinity for a man who has already brutally invaded a weaker country.