WASHINGTON Rolling out a foreign policy that he said would always put America first, Republican front-runner Donald Trump vowed on Wednesday that if elected president, he would make U.S. allies in Europe and Asia take on more of the financial burden for their defense, or they would be left to defend themselves.
In a major speech, Trump delivered a withering critique of Barack Obama’s foreign policy, saying the Democratic president has let China take advantage of the United States and has failed to defeat Islamic State militants.
Trump pledged to “shake the rust off America’s foreign policy” and said he would seek better relations with China and Russia.
The New York billionaire spoke the day after victories in five Northeastern states that moved him closer to capturing the Republican Party presidential nomination for the Nov. 8 election.
Trump, who was also critical of policies of the last Republican U.S. president, George W. Bush, said he would use America’s strength sparingly.
He said he would build up the U.S. military to keep pace with Chinese and Russian military programs but would use American armed forces only when absolutely necessary.
“I will not hesitate to deploy military force when there is no alternative. But if America fights, it must fight to win. I will never send our finest into battle unless necessary – and will only do so if we have a plan for victory,” Trump said.
With U.S.-Russian relations strained over numerous issues including Moscow’s support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Trump said “an easing of tensions with Russia from a position of strength” is possible.
Trump, a real estate magnate, also said he would use U.S. economic leverage to persuade China to rein in North Korea’s nuclear program.
“China respects strength and by letting them take advantage of us economically we have lost all their respect,” he said.
Trump said he would call separate summits of NATO and Asian allies to discuss a “rebalancing” of the U.S. financial commitment to their defense.
He was stern in charging that American allies have benefited from a U.S. defense umbrella but have not paid their fair share.
“The countries we defend must pay for the cost of this defense. If not, the U.S. must be prepared to let these countries defend themselves. We have no choice,” Trump said.
Trump, a reality TV star, has never held elected office and has built support – particularly among white working class voters – with a no-nonsense style and populist pledges to “make America great again.”
That message was echoed in his foreign policy speech, although he set aside his rancorous campaign rhetoric for the address on Wednesday, delivered at a downtown Washington hotel.
Trump usually speaks in an off-the-cuff manner, but he delivered the speech with the aid of a teleprompter as he sought to make himself appealing to more Republican voters.
Trump said he would develop a plan to halt the spread and reach of Islamic State militants but that more would be needed beyond the use of military force.
“Events may require the use of military force. But it’s also a philosophical struggle, like our long struggle in the Cold War,” he said.
(Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom, Matt Spetalnick, Warren Strobel and Richard Cowan, Susan Heavey, Doina Chiacu; Editing by Frances Kerry)