EVER travelled to Montenegro?

The tiny Balkan country, bordered by Serbia, Albania and Bosnia, is best known for its Mediterranean climate, the touristy beachside town of Budva and its various mountain and water activities.

But thanks to Donald Trump, it's making headlines as a potential breakout spot for World War III.

Is Trump crazy? Or should we start building bunkers? Does this mean no soul-searching journeys across Eastern Europe for North Shore white girls on their gap year?

Let us explain.

WHAT DID TRUMP SAY ABOUT MONTENEGRO?

In an interview with Fox News' Tucker Carlson last night, Donald Trump was asked about America's role in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO).

More specifically, he was asked about Article 5, the organisation's joint defence agreement, which basically says that if any of the 29 countries in NATO get attacked by an outsider, the rest will jump in to defend it.

Donald Trump says Montenegro could be the cause of World War III.
Donald Trump says Montenegro could be the cause of World War III.

Here was the exchange:

CARLSON: Membership in NATO obligates the members to defend any other member who has been attacked. So let's say Montenegro, which joined last year, is attacked: Why should my son go to Montenegro to defend it from attack?

TRUMP: I understand what you're saying. I've asked the same question.

CARLSON: Yeah, I'm not against it - or Albania.

TRUMP: No, by the way, they have very strong people - they have very aggressive people. They may get aggressive, and congratulations, you're in World War III. Now I understand that - but that's the way it was set up. Don't forget, I just got here a little more than a year-and-a-half ago. But I took over the conversation three or four days ago and said, "You have to pay."

WHAT DID TRUMP'S COMMENTS MEAN?

Mr Trump's main argument was that if Montenegro got "aggressive" with a massive enemy country, like Russia, the US would be forced to jump in and defend it due to its NATO obligations.

Theoretically, this would turn into a bigger war between the US and Russia - all thanks to grouchy little Montenegro - and would be the cause of World War III.

His comment about Montenegrins being "very aggressive people" is silly at best.

In its 12 years of independence, the tiny country has not once come close to starting a war. It was Mr Trump himself who appeared to shove Montenegrin leader Duško Marković out of the way at NATO's headquarters in Brussels a year ago, in cringe-worthy footage that went viral:

So file that "aggressive" comment away into your ever-growing archive of Trump-isms, and let's get to the real point here: the US President's reluctance to remain part of NATO.

Mr Trump has long voiced his concerns over America's role in the 29-country alliance, largely because he reckons it's unfair that the United States contributes the most money to it.

His argument, crudely put, is this: Why should we risk a massive fight with this huge rival, just because some random little country that's barely pulling its weight couldn't keep its mouth shut?

But NATO - and America's role in it - is more complex than that.

For one thing, the US is under no obligation to do anything when a NATO country is engaged in hostilities with a rival.

In theory, Montenegro and Russia could snipe and trade threats all they wanted, and the US could keep right out of it. They only have to defend that country if it actually gets attacked.

And for another, the obligation goes both ways.

The US has invoked Article 5 only once, after the 9/11 terror attacks, and to this day, NATO allies - yep, including Montenegro - are fighting alongside the US in Afghanistan.

DOES TRUMP MAKE A GOOD POINT?

The usefulness of NATO has been debated since the fall of the Soviet Union.

Last week at an international summit of all NATO's leaders, Mr Trump renewed this debate, arguing many other countries weren't paying what they should.

This is technically true - only four of the 29 countries are exceeding NATO's current guideline for what they should be contributing to the organisation, which is two per cent of each country's gross domestic product (GDP).

Based on last year's data, the US contributes more to the organisation than any other country, at 3.5 per cent of its GDP.

But what Mr Trump failed to mention is that NATO set the two per cent figure as a target to reach by 2024. Each country has been increasing its contribution towards this goal over the past few years.

What's arguably more concerning here is the President's rhetoric. He's been vocal about his opposition to NATO and threatened to pull the US out of the organisation, but he's never once affirmed that he understands its role as a symbol of Western stability.

There's nothing authoritarian Russia wants more than to see a divided Europe, and for the US to retreat from the region.

Hell, it was a failed Moscow-backed coup that sought to stop Montenegro from joining NATO in the first place.

If anyone is gleefully watching Mr Trump's Fox interview footage with a bucket of popcorn right now, it's Vladimir Putin.

As Senator John McCain just tweeted, "By attacking Montenegro & questioning our obligations under NATO, the President is playing right into Putin's hands."

The biggest irony of all? That very separation of the Western world is what could spark the beginning of a major new world conflict.

 

@gavindfernando | gavin.fernando@news.com.au


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