Dividing the Alliance. It Doesn’t Add Up

One provision of the alliance states that an attack on one is an attack on all, which helps to keep Moscow from invading any of NATO’s current 29 members, especially those in Eastern Europe. If Putin ordered an invasion of a NATO member country, then America would be treaty-bound to come to the defense of that country. Putin would essentially be starting a war with America. He doesn’t want to do that.

Julianna Truesdale

Expanding the NATO alliance will keep Putin in check. So why is Trump opposed to it?

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was formed by the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, and 8 other European countries in 1949. At that time NATO was primarily designed to create a powerful military alliance to prevent Soviet expansionism after World War II.

One provision of the alliance states that an attack on one is an attack on all, which helps to keep Moscow from invading any of NATO’s current 29 members, especially those in Eastern Europe. If Putin ordered an invasion of a NATO member country, then America would be treaty-bound to come to the defense of that country. Putin would essentially be starting a war with America. He doesn’t want to do that.

Instead, Putin invades non-NATO countries and he has set out to divide and undermine the NATO alliance. In the last 10 years alone, Russia has invaded 2 non-NATO countries – Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014. Putin has also taken aggressive actions just short of war against NATO by interfering in the elections of NATO countries, attempting to insure the election of pro-Russia candidates. Putin mounted a major cyber-attack in 2007 against Estonia, kidnapped Estonian officials, and planned to carry out a coup to take over government buildings and to assassinate the prime minister of Montenegro on election day in October 2016.

Russia was desperate to prevent Montenegro’s accession to NATO, but Putin knew that the United States strongly supported Montenegro’s bid for membership with the Senate voting 97-2 in favor of NATO membership. On April 11, 2017, Trump himself signed off on it and the White House issued a statement saying, “President Trump congratulates the Montenegrin people for their resilience and their demonstrated commitment to NATO’s democratic values.”

Montenegro is a worthy partner for the U.S., continues to contribute to NATO-led missions, and is a benefit to the alliance as a member. Other than Trump pushing Montenegro’s current prime minister out of his way during Trump’s first visit to NATO headquarters in May of 2017, Montenegro was essentially out of the news… until the Helsinki Summit, where Trump met privately with Putin for 2 hours.

The day after the Helsinki Summit Tucker Carlson of Fox News interviewed Trump and he appeared to now question the NATO commitment to mutual defense and pointed to Montenegro as an example.

“Membership in NATO obligates the members to defend any other member that’s attacked,” Carlson said. “So, let’s say Montenegro, which joined last year, is attacked. Why should my son go to Montenegro to defend it from attack?” Trump answered: “I understand what you’re saying. I’ve asked the same question. Montenegro is a tiny country with very strong people. They’re very aggressive people. They may get aggressive, and congratulations you’re in World War III.”

The sudden focus on this small country of Montenegro so soon after Trump’s private meeting with Putin in Helsinki makes one wonder what the two world leaders said about the country.

Why would Putin care about tiny little Montenegro? Well, Montenegro was once part of Russia’s traditional Slavic ally, Serbia. The country has been a long-time favorite for Russian tourists. In fact, Russian politicians and oligarchs are reported to own as much as 40% of the real estate in Montenegro.

Montenegro is also strategically located on the Adriatic Sea. Russia unsuccessfully sought a naval base in Montenegro a few years ago and with Montenegro joining NATO, the entire Adriatic Sea has fallen within NATO’s borders.

Senator John McCain (R-AZ) wrote in a Twitter post recently, “By attacking Montenegro & questioning our obligations under NATO, the President is playing right into Putin’s hands.”

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a major supporter of Montenegro’s NATO membership, said “I want to send a clear signal to our friends in Montenegro and to the Russians about how we feel.” The vast majority of the Senate agrees that by expanding the alliance we can deter more destabilizing moves.

Trump doesn’t seem to understand that the NATO alliance makes the possibility of a war on behalf of Montenegro less likely, not more likely. If Putin believes that there is even a slight possibility that America (and the two European nuclear powers – France and the United Kingdom) would go to war to defend Montenegro, he will not attack the tiny country. If Putin does not attack Montenegro, there will be no World War III that Trump claimed would happen.

Trump seems to think that if Montenegro were not a member of NATO, then the United States could stay uninvolved in a war between Montenegro and Russia. Geographically and historically this won’t work. If Russia mounted a land invasion of Montenegro, they would have to cross through the country of at least one member of NATO, which Putin won’t do. Additionally, the idea that a major European war would not ultimately involve the United States betrays logic and history. In both World Wars, America initially hoped to remain on the sidelines, but as the conflicts grew, that position became unrealistic and the United States entered.

Montenegro would have been a strategic gain for Putin, but now that they are a member of NATO Putin has lost and he’s angry. It’s understandable for the president of Russia to actively undermine a military alliance that exists to essentially curb his ambitions. It’s another thing entirely when the president of the United States does it.

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