In his comments to The New York Times, US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said aloud what others in NATO are thinking but leave unspoken — that the Alliance may not keep its vow to defend the Baltic States if Russia were to invade them, deputy chairman of the opposition Estonian Conservative People's Party (EKRE) Martin Helme said.
"What Trump said is what everybody in NATO thinks and knows, but nobody says out loud — that the treaty is a nice political declaration which will not necessarily work, especially when we are doing absolutely nothing ourselves," Helme told BNS.
Questioned by The New York Times about Russia's aggressive activities, which have unsettled the Baltic nations as well as other more recent entrants into NATO, Trump declared on Wednesday that if Russia were to attack, he would decide whether to provide assistance only after reviewing whether those countries "have fulfilled their obligations to us."
He added: "If they fulfill their obligations to us, the answer is yes."
Trump made the statements during an interview with The New York Times on Wednesday, a night before he is to officially accept the Republican nomination for president.
"Trump says it out because he is in the middle of a presidential campaign, but people think the same way in Germany, France, and Britain. This should be a serious wake-up call for those people in Estonia who hide behind this kind of a false consolation, that we have Article 5 envisaging mutual protection. But as you see, when the political course in some big country changes, this Article 5 is no longer worth the paper it is printed on. This should very seriously be a place for the Estonian government to change policy and rhetoric," the EKRE deputy chair noted.
"In a situation where NATO holds a few hundred exercises per year and the Russians hold more than 10,000, I think that the talk by Trump is a good signal for the allies who think that the Americans should do everything for them," Helme continued. "It's what EKRE has been saying for long, that Article 5 is a good thing, but does it have political cover too?"
According to Helme, the only way out for Estonia is to develop at least a capability for initially fighting off an attacker.
"In our party at least there's no doubt about it that someone will come to our aid only when nothing else is left. And this will be the situation when we have put up fierce resistance on our own for weeks," Helme said.
He pointed out that this was not the first time that Trump has made this sort of comment.
"He has said on repeated occasions that when other countries are not making a contribution financially, he can see no reason why the United States should make the national defense of other countries its duty. And I believe this question is completely justified. It's namely our party that has been saying for a long time that making initial independent defense capability strong is the most important thing, allies being the next component. Of all NATO member states only five are meeting this requirement to contribute two per cent of GDP to national defense. The US and Estonia are both among these five countries and the talk by Trump means putting pressure on other NATO member states in our present geopolitical situation particularly fraught with risks to start building up their militaries too."
Helme believes that Trump would be a better American president for Estonia than Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
"Clinton never says things out directly like Trump does, yet what Trump says holds true for Clinton exactly the same. That the Americans might not come to our aid if they feel at that moment that their national interests or international position somehow does not require it," he explained.