Montenegro, in apparent rebuke to Trump, says it cherishes 'values of democracy'
Trump called Montenegrins 'very aggressive people' and seemed to question defending their NATO rights
Montenegro contributes to peace and security in Europe, the government of the new NATO member said Thursday, responding to a suggestion by U.S. President Donald Trump that the small republic was not worth defending against attack.
Trump and Fox News host Tucker Carlson were discussing NATO in a pre-recorded interview that aired Tuesday night when Carlson questioned why his son should have to defend Montenegro if it's attacked, a dubious scenario given that the U.S. hasn't reinstated conscription since the Vietnam War.
NATO's Article 5 holds that an attack on one country in the alliance, currently at 29 members, is an attack on all.
Trump responded: "I understand what you're saying. I've asked the same question. Montenegro is a tiny country with very strong people…. They have very aggressive people, they may get aggressive, and congratulations, you are in World War Three."
Trump did not speculate as to who the nation of some 640,000 people and an estimated active military of between 1,400-1,500 might initiate hostilities with.
Montenegro joined NATO last year in defiance of Russia after accusing Russian spies of orchestrating an attempted coup to derail the accession.
"Montenegro is proud of its history and tradition and peaceful politics that led to the position of a stabilising state in the region and the only state in which the war didn't rage during disintegration of the former Yugoslavia," the Montenegrin government said in Thursday's statement.
"Today as a new NATO member and candidate for EU membership it contributes to peace and stability not only on the European continent but worldwide, along with U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan."
"We build friendships, and we have not lost a single one, and at the same time we are able to boldly and defensively protect and defend our own national interests," the government statement continued. "In today's world, it does not matter how big or small you are, but to what extent you cherish the values of freedom, solidarity and democracy."
Alleged Russian interference in Montenegro
Trump's comments to Fox News were also criticized domestically. The U.S. last year voted 97-2 in the Senate to support Montenegro's accession to NATO, with opposition only from Rand Paul and Mike Lee — Republicans who both have long espoused a non-interventionist foreign policy approach for the U.S.
Republican Senator John McCain accused Trump of "playing right into [Russian President Vladimir] Putin's hands" with his comments with Carlson that appeared to question the U.S. commitment to defend all NATO allies.
<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Putin?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Putin</a> will do anything to shatter the transatlantic alliance. In 2016, he nearly succeeded in overthrowing <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Montenegro?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Montenegro</a>’s democratically elected government & murdering its prime minister in order to prevent it from joining <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/NATO?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#NATO</a>. Read more: <a href="https://t.co/0JO3bkFLI9">https://t.co/0JO3bkFLI9</a>—@SenJohnMcCain
McCain expounded on his views in an op-ed piece for USA Today, in which he pointed to the recent indictments of two Russians in connection with an alleged coup attempt in late 2016 in Montenegro.
Trump in the interview also re-asserted his frequent criticisms of NATO allies for failing to meet a spending target of two per cent of a country's economic output. He also has claimed that the United States pays for 90 per cent of European security, which NATO data shows is incorrect.
"It was very unfair. They weren't paying," Trump said to Carlson, referring to NATO members. "So not only are we paying for most of it, but they weren't even paying and we're protecting them. Add that to your little equation on Montenegro."
NATO agreed to a two per cent target for 2024 and his predecessor Barack Obama also leaned on alliance members to "step up" their progress toward that goal. While U.S. defence spending makes up 70 per cent of combined allied governments' military budgets, just 15 per cent of U.S. expenditure is spent in Europe on NATO-related defence.
With files from CBC News and Associated Press