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Exclusive-Trump adviser proposes new tiered system for NATO members who don't pay up

FILE PHOTO: Pence national security adviser Keith Kellogg speaks during press briefing at the White House in Washington

By Gram Slattery

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -A leading national security adviser to Donald Trump told Reuters on Tuesday that he would push for changes to NATO if the former president returns to power that could result in some member nations losing protection against an outside attack.

Keith Kellogg, a retired lieutenant general and onetime chief of staff of the former president's National Security Council, said in an interview that if a member of the 31-country alliance failed to spend at least 2% of its gross domestic product on defense, as agreed, he would support removing that nation's Article 5 protections under the North Atlantic Treaty.

Article 5 states that an attack against one member of the Europe-based alliance will be considered an attack against all, and members of the alliance must respond appropriately. Without those protections, a member country would not be guaranteed other NATO members would come to its aid.

"Where I come from, alliances matter," said Kellogg, who also served as former Vice President Mike Pence's national security adviser. "But if you're going to be part of an alliance, contribute to the alliance, be part of the alliance."

Trump drew swift rebukes from Democratic President Joe Biden and top Western officials when he suggested at a weekend rally that he would not defend NATO allies who failed to spend enough on defense and would even encourage Russia to attack them.

Kellogg declined to say if he had discussed his proposal with Trump, though he said they have frequently discussed the future of NATO. Trump is close to securing the Republican Party's presidential nomination for the Nov. 5 general election.

Kellogg said if Trump wins, he would likely suggest a NATO meeting in June 2025 to discuss the future of the alliance. He said NATO could subsequently become a "tiered alliance," in which some members enjoy greater protections based on their compliance with NATO's founding articles.

The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment, but it has previously identified Kellogg as a policy adviser who could take a role in his administration.

Trump and his allies have increasingly signaled that they intend to rethink America's decades-long commitment to NATO, and they have long complained that European members of the alliance are not paying their fair share.

In addition to losing Article 5 protections, Kellogg said, other less severe sanctions were possible, such as losing access to training or shared equipment resources. Member countries, he added, should feel free to withdraw from NATO.

"If President Trump is re-elected, once the election is done, I would give everyone what we call a warning order. I would probably say this is where we are going to go to allow them preparations so we can discuss it in June," Kellogg said.

"I think it's a very adult conversation to have, and it's one of the many conversations in national security that need to be had."

NATO PROTECTIONS NOT AUTOMATIC

Kellogg said that if Article 3 of the North Atlantic Treaty was not respected, the protections afforded by Article 5 should not be taken as automatic.

Article 3 states that NATO member countries must make appropriate efforts to develop their individual defense capabilities. While Article 3 does not say countries must spend at least 2% of their GDP on defense, member nations pledged at a 2014 summit in Wales to move toward that figure within a decade.

According to NATO estimates from July last year, 11 of 31 nations were set to reach that target in 2023, including the United States, the United Kingdom and several eastern European nations close to or bordering Russia.

"Everybody understands Article 5 - an attack on one is an attack on all - but they forget all the other articles that are either built under it or on top of it." Kellogg said. "One of them is Article 3."

In December, Robert O'Brien, Trump's national security adviser from 2019 to 2021, who still discusses foreign policy issues with the former president, told Reuters imposing trade tariffs on NATO countries if they did not spend at least 2% of their GDP on defense would likely be among the policies on the table during a second Trump term.

(Reporting by Gram Slattery, editing by Ross Colvin and Howard Goller)