skip to main content

S.J.Res. 4: A joint resolution requiring the advice and consent of the Senate or an Act of Congress to suspend, terminate, or withdraw the United States from the North Atlantic Treaty and authorizing related litigation, and for other purposes.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, more commonly called NATO, is a 29-nation alliance including the U.S., Canada, and most countries of Europe.

Founded in 1949 not long after World War II, it was intended as a bulwark against wars or military conflicts between such powers in the future, and to present a unified front in the face of military aggression or annexation by other nations such as the USSR. It has essentially worked as advertised. Russia is not a member, just as the USSR was not.

On January 14, the New York Times revealed that President Trump had proposed withdrawing the U.S. from NATO several times throughout 2018, which the article termed “a move tantamount to destroying NATO.” Members may withdraw after a one-year notification period, which Trump had not given — in no small part due to the efforts of NATO-supporting Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who as of a few weeks ago is out of the administration.

What two bills would do

Rep. Jimmy Panetta (D-CA20) and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA)

Separate pieces of legislation in the House and Senate — the former of which just passed — aim to combat a potential Trump withdrawal.

The NATO Support Act [H.R. 676] would bar any funds from being used to withdraw the U.S. from NATO. Introduced on January 17 by Rep. Jimmy Panetta (D-CA20), it passed the House five days later on January 22 by a lopsided 357–22 margin. All 22 opposers were Republicans, although the vast majority of the party supported.

Senate Joint Resolution 4 would prevent an administration withdrawal without express Senate approval. Introduced on January 17 as by Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), it has eight bipartisan cosponsors of four Democrats and four Republicans, and awaits a potential vote in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

What supporters say

Supporters argue that NATO is a necessary institution for safety, security, and alliances — one which shouldn’t be unilaterally rejected on one man’s whim when all Democrats and even most Republicans support it.

“The President’s reckless decision-making — his abrupt withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria and Afghanistan, his pullout from the Iran nuclear deal and Paris climate agreement, and his deference to Vladimir Putin — is destroying strategic partnerships we have forged with allies across the world,” Sen. Kaine said in a press release. “At a time of increased Russian aggression and global threats, our alliance with NATO is more important than ever to ensure the safety of the American people.”

“The NATO alliance is a pillar of international peace, stability, and security, and serves as a deterrent against aggression and destabilization,” Rep. Panetta said in a press release. “We must promote our shared values of freedom, equality, and empowerment by continuing to invest in the institutions, programs, and people that enhance our national security.”

What opponents say

President Trump has argued that NATO no longer serves the purpose that it originally did, and may be harming U.S. interests and economy more than helping at this point.

“I think NATO may be obsolete. NATO was set up a long time ago — many, many years ago when things were different. Things are different now,” Trump told Bloomberg News. “We were a rich nation then. We had nothing but money. We had nothing but power. And you know, far more than we have today, in a true sense. And I think NATO — you have to really examine NATO. And it doesn’t really help us, it’s helping other countries. And I don’t think those other countries appreciate what we’re doing.”

Trump’s implication that the U.S. is no longer rich or powerful is not true. We’re currently the world’s 2nd-highest GDP behind China and the world’s most powerful military.

Odds of passage

The House version passed so overwhelmingly, with 94.1% in support including most members of the president’s party, that Senate passage seems reasonably likely.

However, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has often made a point of saying he’ll only bring up legislation that the president would sign. So it’s hard to tell for certain whether this would even receive a Senate vote at all, even if the votes to pass it were there.

Last updated Jan 31, 2019. View all GovTrack summaries.

The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Jan 17, 2019.


This joint resolution requires either the advice and consent of the Senate or an act of Congress before the President may suspend, or withdraw the United States from, the North Atlantic Treaty. No funds shall be authorized or appropriated to support any efforts to withdraw from the treaty without the Senate's approval by a two-thirds vote or an act of Congress.

The President shall notify Congress in writing of any effort to suspend or withdraw from the treaty no later than 48 hours after such action.

This joint resolution also authorizes the Senate Legal Counsel and the General Counsel of the House of Representatives to represent Congress in judicial proceedings related to actions that are inconsistent with this resolution.