In an unusual display of partisanship abroad, Vice President Joseph R. Biden told European leaders Tuesday to disregard Donald Trump’s doubts about the importance of NATO because the Republican presidential nominee doesn’t understand the military alliance’s organizing principles.
At a meeting in Latvia with Baltic leaders, Mr. Biden said comments by Mr. Trump about NATO are “nothing that should be taken seriously.”
“I don’t think he understands what Article 5 is,” Mr. Biden said. “There is continued overwhelming bipartisan agreement in the United States of America, in both political parties, to maintain our commitment to NATO.”
Article 5 requires all NATO allies to come to the defense of any member that is attacked. Mr. Trump has called NATO obsolete and said if he is elected, the U.S. would defend NATO members only if they “have fulfilled their obligations to us.”
Most countries in the 28-member alliance are not meeting the guideline of contributing 2 percent of their gross domestic product to NATO’s budget, and Mr. Trump has argued that the U.S. carries too much of the financial burden. President Obama also has sought to get NATO members to pay more.
Last year, the U.S., the United Kingdom, Estonia, Poland and Greece were the only NATO members to meet the budget threshold.
Top administration officials rarely get involved in presidential politics while traveling overseas. But Mr. Biden and President Obama have slammed Mr. Trump during trips abroad this year, saying they are trying to reassure allies worried about the Republican’s pronouncements on foreign policy.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Mr. Biden’s comments were intended “to clear up any confusion that may exist on this front — and some of that confusion may stem from some of the rhetoric that we’ve seen on the campaign trail.”
Russia’s military aggression in Ukraine and Mr. Trump’s praise for Russian President Vladimir Putin also played roles in Mr. Biden’s visit. Mr. Trump has called for better U.S. relations with Moscow.
Also, Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort resigned last week amid reports that he was paid millions of dollars from Russian-backed leaders in Ukraine. Mr. Manafort has denied any wrongdoing.
The Baltic states are former satellites of the Soviet Union and fearful of renewed Russian expansionism.
Speaking in the Latvian capital of Riga, Mr. Biden said Russia’s aggression is enhancing the U.S. presence with “more NATO partners on the Russian border.” The vice president said the U.S. commitment to NATO is firm.
“I want to make it clear, absolutely clear to all the people of the Baltic states: We have pledged our sacred honor, the United States of America, our sacred honor to the NATO treaty and Article 5,” Mr. Biden said. “We mean what we say. We have never reneged on any commitment we have made. Our sacred honor is at stake.”
He added, “the fact that you occasionally hear something from a presidential candidate … it’s nothing that should be taken seriously.”
Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite, Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves and Latvian President Raimonds Vejonis said during the meeting with Mr. Biden that they were confident in the U.S. commitment to the alliance.
“We have a common resolve to stand for our values and do it wherever necessary by whatever means it takes, and for us, we have never doubted in Article 5,” Mr. Ilves said.
Ms. Grybauskaite said she is certain that, “after the elections in the United States, the commitment of this country to NATO and to Baltic regions will stay.”