During his interview with Fox News's Tucker Carlson Tuesday night, President Trump wondered aloud why the U.S. continues to send troops to Montenegro, the latest addition to NATO. Or, as Trump calls it, "the tiny country with very strong people." Although Montenegro was added to the alliance last year, the U.S. president suggested that the U.S. will not feel obligated to step in and protect the small nation if it went to war with, say, Russia.
Here was the exchange:
"Let's say Montenegro, which joined last year ... why should my son go to Montenegro to defend it from attack?" Carlson asked Trump.
"I understand what you're saying — I've asked the same question," Trump said. "Montenegro is a tiny country with very strong people."
Tucker quickly interjected by saying he was "not against Montenegro" and added that any country, such as Albania, could have been applied in his hypothetical scenario.
But Trump added another wrinkle to the scenario and suggested Montenegro's "aggressive people" could spark a global conflict.
"By the way, they're very strong people — they're very aggressive people," Trump said. "They may get aggressive. And congratulations, you're in World War III."
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) was one of the first lawmakers to criticize Trump's remarks. The senator said it will play right into Putin's hands.
The people of #Montenegro boldly withstood pressure from #Putin’s Russia to embrace democracy. The Senate voted 97-2 supporting its accession to #NATO. By attacking Montenegro & questioning our obligations under NATO, the President is playing right into Putin’s hands.— John McCain (@SenJohnMcCain) July 18, 2018
Military officials are equally concerned by Trump's rhetoric and what it means for the small Balkan state.
"This is the worst nightmare for the Montenegrins," said former NATO supreme allied commander Gen. Wesley Clark. "They thought they were safe, they got into NATO, they rely on NATO to give them the assurance to be able to build a democracy and move their economy forward."
Clark went on to remind the president that Article 5 of the NATO treaty explains that "an attack against one Ally is considered as an attack against all Allies."
Then, the government of Montenegro responded, defending its commitment to peace.
NEW: Government of Montenegro responds to Pres. Trump's comments: "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." https://t.co/ZkrxPXD0ME pic.twitter.com/R9jz3bmaU7— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) July 19, 2018
Trump's comments on Montenegro are the latest evidence that he may not be fully committed to the NATO alliance. At the summit last week in Brussels, he demanded to know why other nations weren't spending as much as they should on defense.
"It was very unfair," Trump said. They weren't paying. 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."