Montenegro and Article 5

This is another example of Donald Trump using bone-headed language but making a valid point nonetheless:

Carlson questioned why the US should have to defend Montenegro, as required by Article 5 of the NATO treaty.
Trump responded: “I’ve asked the same question. Montenegro is a tiny country with very strong people. … They are very strong people. They are very aggressive people, they may get aggressive, and congratulations, you are in World War III.”

Now his characterisation of Montenegrin people is unhelpful and irrelevant, but in classic Trump style he raises a point most people would rather not discuss.

Article 5 of the NATO treaty requires the whole alliance to come to the aid of any member that is attacked. This made sense when a coalition of large and small western European countries were facing off against the Warsaw Pact: the Soviets had to understand that were they to invade Germany or Norway, America would step in. Taken to its logical conclusion, Article 5 meant the alliance was willing to risk nuclear war with the Soviet Union in the event any one of them was attacked. During the Cold War this made sense, but now?

Supposing Russia decides to attack Montenegro. Are NATO’s member states really going to attack Russian forces, triggering a massive conventional war that could easily go nuclear within days? Would the various electorates be behind this? Now if France or Germany was invaded, then yes, despite everything I reckon enough Brits, Americans, Danes, Spaniards, and Dutch would think this was worth fighting over. But Montenegro?Does anyone even know the first thing about the place? Or Albania? Sorry, but I’m not sure I want to enter into a global nuclear war with Russia because Albania’s been attacked. Yet this is what the Article 5 of the NATO treaty requires, and Trump is raising serious questions over its suitability almost 30 years after the end of the Cold War.

Darmanovic took a generous view of Trump’s comments, suggesting the US President was making a broader point. “I think President Trump actually did not speak on Montenegro. He spoke on 2% on financing and contributing to NATO, and Montenegro was just picked up as an example — maybe because we are one of the tiniest countries in the alliance,” the foreign minister said.

Now Montenegro joined NATO in June 2017 when Trump was president, so it happened on his watch. Of course, his opponents are leaping on his remarks to claim they have undermined NATO by casting doubt on whether member states are fully committed to triggering Article 5 in all cases, but this is just shooting the messenger. The real doubt was cast as soon as countries like Albania and Montenegro were admitted to the alliance, and it’s high time western leaders both civilian and military acknowledged that.

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35 thoughts on “Montenegro and Article 5

  1. Where do you draw the line though? Estonia has a population of just 1.3m, a third of whom consider themselves Russian. Latvia and Lithuania are similar.

    Without NATO, Russia might well have annexed the Baltic states all the way down to Kaliningrad Oblast, and they’d be eyeing up Belarus. After all, they weren’t shy about taking Crimea.

  2. Where do you draw the line though? Estonia has a population of just 1.3m, a third of whom consider themselves Russian. Latvia and Lithuania are similar.

    It’s not about drawing lines, it’s about taking each country on an individual basis. There is a very strong case for including the Baltic countries in the alliance due to historical reasons and, as you imply, because if they were taken then they’d keep heading west until stopped. But this ultimately has to be approved by the electorates of the member states, and I don’t think Montenegro and Albania have a ghost of a chance of getting a favourable outcome if the question was asked. Which is why it hasn’t been, of course.

  3. You draw the line at the eastern German border. You dump all the former Warsaw Pact countries and ex-Russian territories, which was what Bush promised Gorbachev.

    While you’re at it, extradite Bill Browder to Russia so he can be tried for his crimes.

    And dump apartheid Israel.

  4. Does a country become unworthy of protection just because it is small?
    Attacking a small country and getting away with it could easily escalate if the attacker thinks they can do it again to a slightly larger country and get the same result. Surely article 5 aims to prevent wars by saying that no matter which country is attacked, the response will be the same and will be a large one, making no country a viable target (assuming they’re signed up)

  5. ‘… Now if France or Germany was invaded, then yes, despite everything I reckon enough Brits, Americans…’’

    You sure?

    Anyway they have been invaded by several million refugees, so would a few Russians be noticed?

  6. Does a country become unworthy of protection just because it is small?

    No. Speaking for myself, if I was a bit younger and had some competence, I’d fight to defend Denmark or the Netherlands against a Russian invasion. Would I fight to defend Romania? Probably not. Turkey? Heh.

  7. I would ask, is this country western? Would they fight for us? Are they of strategic value? If they’re not family, not friends and not holding back the barbarian hordes…

  8. Before the Russians get to Montenegro, they would have a few other invasions to do on the way there…

    Including another country means that the bureaucrats working for Nato have something to do for a few years. I’m willing to bet that it is the sole reason.

    That said, it is sad to see that 30 years after the fall of the ussr, our politicians are still behaving as if nothing had changed. Thank God for Trump.

  9. You draw the line at the eastern German border. You dump all the former Warsaw Pact countries and ex-Russian territories, which was what Bush promised Gorbachev.

    While you’re at it, extradite Bill Browder to Russia so he can be tried for his crimes.

    And dump apartheid Israel.
    ———-
    Ambassador Bob has it all figured out.

  10. It’s not terribly obvious what the US, UK etc are gaining from bringing such countries under their security umbrella – it’s a move that can be perceived as hostile to Russia, that has costs and risks attached, but what are the returns? Moreover, I am not entirely sure just how committed all of the NATO allies are, to going to war to defend every one of the others.

    I posted something about this on an earlier piece about Turkey:

    If Warsaw Pact tanks had rolled into West Germany, everyone was pretty sure what the inevitable consequences would be. At the fringes of NATO now, I’m not so sure, and I don’t think national leaders can be either. I don’t like that uncertainty – there may be benefits to flexibility, but grey areas promote uncertainty and miscalculation. Easier to act provocatively if you have a (potentially false) sense of security, for example. I think Western powers would do themselves a favour if they had a careful think-through of exactly how committed they would be to protect Turkey, and in what circumstances, and on the flip side, to what extent they expect to ever benefit from Turkish guarantees to come to their aid. But that should probably be part of a more thorough rethink of what NATO is for in general.

    Turkey here could be replaced by various other states on the fringes of NATO.

    The risk of miscalculation / provocation by a state that believes (perhaps incorrectly) that it has a military blank cheque supporting it is likely to be non-zero, in my opinion.

  11. There is no argument to keep NATO going, hopefully Trump will shut this war driven alliance down.

  12. There is no argument to keep NATO going, hopefully Trump will shut this war driven alliance down.

  13. There is this thing called strategic depth. If we don’t have it, the Putin regime will.

  14. I don’t see Montenegro as a problem. They’re unlikely to start any wars and likely to turn up in a fight. They fear some of their neighbours and will participate because they will want a quid pro quo.

    Turkey is likely to start a war, and will soon be a dictatorship. But it’s been a member for decades. I trust it to fight well, but not for anything it has no direct stake in.

    Much of the West won’t start anything, but I’d not particularly trust them to turn up on time and ready to go.

    Like the EU, trying to squeeze everyone into the same organisation has grown out of hand.

  15. In the pre-blogging era there was an equally sensible piece on paper titled “Mourir pour Dantzig?” The electorate probably did not know where that was anyway. And look how swell that worked out.

    The only unclear part is why on earth those Dutch would ever want to fight over Paris. The French certainly wouldn’t. Let’s hope all those government buildings in Vichy remain well-maintained to mimimize the inconvenience.

  16. The question about small nations in alarge alliance should be, to what extent do they align their foreign policy with the alliance? If large nation A and tiny nation B are both behaving the same way, then A had better defend B, or the nations in the alliance will be picked off one at a time. But if tiny nation B picks a fight with nation C because hey, NATO will come and kick their ass for me… then it’s time to reconsider.

  17. In an era where we’re supposedly happy to let British troops die for the failed state which is Afghanistan, I can only assume they’d be happy to fight for Montenegro too. Within living memory, the USA conscripted the population to fight for South Vietnam.

    Not many people are going to volunteer to fight, unpaid, for a third country. The Islamic State managed to persuade a few thousand western-born Arabs to fight for their lands, but that was the exception rather than the rule.

  18. “In an era where we’re supposedly happy to let British troops die for the failed state which is Afghanistan, I can only assume they’d be happy to fight for Montenegro too. ”

    Exactly, I never quite figured out why NATO troops nor ANZUS for that matter invaded and have stayed in Afghanistan and am unsure if anyone could logically explain the situation there including NATO’s’ involvement based on their stated policies and reason for existence.

    Montenegro though is easily explained as a member state of NATO that is worthy of its troops dying for, strategic coastline and further encirclement, plus it’s right next door to those pesky and much hated by the west pro-Russian Serbs.

    “Vladimir Komoyedov, chairman of the Duma’s defense committee, was quite outspoken in his disapproval over the admittance of Montenegro, “They are ready to admit even the North Pole to NATO just for the sake of encircling Russia.””

  19. The Russians still think Yugoslavia is “their” area of influence.

    They really haven’t got the hang of the idea that those countries have seen the Russian way of operating and solidly prefer to stay away from it. (Apart from the Serbs, who are likely to go the way of Turkey into authoritarianism, bent out of shape about losing the lands they feel are Serbian.)

    Russia thinks it is a major power, and acts like it is a major power, but has the economy of a minor one and an awful lot of enemies.

    They think of NATO as a defence arrangement, designed to circle Russia, because they think they are that important. In reality NATO is about integrating Eastern Europe into Western European norms. To stop the sabre-rattling and carry-on about trivial border issues that have plagued the Balkans forever. To get the Serbs and Hungarians, in particular, to give up their dreams of territorial “corrections”. But also to get awkward allies like the Greeks and Albanians used to dealing with each other civilly.

    Russia is a threat because it is aggressive, but it is also incompetently so, making sure all its neighbours remain enemies. It’s ability to take on NATO in an all-out war is close to zero. Badly trained and unmotivated conscripts against professionals isn’t a fair fight.

  20. “In reality NATO is about integrating Eastern Europe into Western European norms.”

    Ideally, yes. What makes this task almost a non-starter, though, is that Western Europe is pretty far away from Western European norms. E.g. lecturing the Poles on the importance of solidarity sharing the burden of uncontrolled migration, while at the same time undermining their security by sweet gas deals with Putin, won’t cut it.

  21. “In reality NATO is about integrating Eastern Europe into Western European norms.”

    That’s what NATO is about? Seems a bit unusual for a mutual defense treaty. I thought it’s original purpose was to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down.

    NATO has been looking for something to do for a long time. This idea that it’s for integrating Eastern Europe is very recent, and is basically extending US protection over areas it was never meant to cover. Ideally NATO should have just been disbanded in 1989.

    I’m surprised it’s taken this long for a US President to say “we’re committed to defending who?”

  22. MyBurningEars “Moreover, I am not entirely sure just how committed all of the NATO allies are, to going to war to defend every one of the others.”

    They are all 100% committed to the US going to war to defend every one of the others.

  23. “That’s what NATO is about?”

    Western folk will always acquiesce on its basis but the fact is that it’s mostly about the destruction of Russia. Quite a few of them wouldn’t even realise the lies that they were being fed about Milosevic and Yugoslavia. Just about every western mainstream media outlet blatantly misquoted his St Vitus Day speech calling for multicultural integration to a falsely interpreted call for racist genocide. Which all of course culminated in a divided and conquered Yugoslavia, NATO aerial bombing the fuck out of Belgrade (with depleted uranium bombs, thanks Al Gore), the first since WWII and a major NATO air base now in the middle of it. Milosevic only crime was to refuse NATO troops into his sovereign state, something that you would expect from your leader and something that actually prevailed and he was never found guilty of any war crimes either. Is it any surprise that Trump is trying to destroy NATO in his own special way.

  24. I wonder to what extent Great Britain is in Nato. I get that if mainland Britain and NI are attacked then Montenegrans would send their foreign legion to our aid. But if Gibraltar was attacked by Spain, or the Isle of Man was attacked by some kind of weird Polytechnic Potato Platoon, would they assist?

  25. “Is it any surprise that Trump is trying to destroy NATO in his own special way.”

    Not in the slightest: that would be the first thing his friend Vladimir would ask for. I suppose Mr. Mueller should tell us the trivially interesting detail of whether that happened before or after the election.

  26. The risk of miscalculation / provocation by a state that believes (perhaps incorrectly) that it has a military blank cheque supporting it is likely to be non-zero, in my opinion.

    Cold War history is chock-full of lessons, on both sides, of the tail wagging the dog. Anatoly Dobrynin, the Soviet ambassador to the US, acknowledged they made a mistake getting involved in Angola, whose conflict was less about ideology than bickering power factions.

  27. There is this thing called strategic depth.

    If Montenegro represents western Europe’s strategic depth, we’re in trouble.

  28. Milosevic only crime was to refuse NATO troops into his sovereign state

    Erm, I think he did a little more than that.

  29. The Russians still think Yugoslavia is “their” area of influence.

    I thought Tito put that idea to bed in the early 1950s.

  30. Including another country means that the bureaucrats working for Nato have something to do for a few years. I’m willing to bet that it is the sole reason.

    Yes, I’d say that’s precisely it.

  31. — Milosevic only crime was to refuse NATO troops into his sovereign state

    – Erm, I think he did a little more than that

    He did, but admitting it would be going too far astray from the hip routine of defending blood-thirsty imperialist dictators, and that would never do.

  32. If Montenegro represents western Europe’s strategic depth, we’re in trouble.

    You clearly do not understand the concept. The further our frontiers are from our centre, the better.

  33. “If Warsaw Pact tanks had rolled into West Germany, everyone was pretty sure what the inevitable consequences would be.”

    Once talked to a guy who said it was his job to service short range tactical nukes in West Germany, probably (though he wouldn’t confirm) truck mounted. Apparently, tanks with red flags cross border, rockets fly from back of lorries, large mushroom clouds spring up.

    I think we were serious then about such things.

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