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During the presidential campaign Donald Trump horrified the bipartisan foreign policy mandarinate by suggesting that NATO was “obsolete” and useless against the only real threat faced by Europe: the massive influx of violent Muslims applauded by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the “EuSSR” bureaucracy in Brussels, and the Obama Administration. Trump also indicated that America’s treaty pledge to defend alliance members was not absolute, especially for moochers unwilling to pony up for their own security.
Even before he takes office, Trump has a golden opportunity to show he means business with the pending NATO accession of Montenegro, a former constituent republic of Yugoslavia. With one word, he can put the kibosh on it.
If there was ever an ideal candidate to demonstrate a “Trump Doctrine” on ending NATO’s profligate freeloading, Montenegro is it. A tiny state—it really can’t be called a “nation”—of barely 600,000 people (fewer than half of whom identify as ethnic Montenegrins) and a nominal GDP of about $4 billion (roughly a tenth that of New Haven, Connecticut), Montenegro makes even neighboring Albania (another unqualified recent NATO acquisition) look formidable. With fewer than two thousand personnel in its armed forces, Montenegro obviously would contribute zilch to America’s security, despite the rumored prowess of its crack three-man mess kit repair team.
Accepting Montenegro into NATO wouldn’t make Americans any safer, but it would lay on our plate that country’s problems. To be sure, Montenegro is a lovely and picturesque vacation spot. Its people are proud and freedom-loving, as they have repeatedly shown over the centuries in tenacious and brutal wars against occupiers—mainly Turks and Teutons—with whom they would now be allied in NATO. Resentment against NATO itself, which bombed Montenegro for 78 days in 1999 as part of the Bill Clinton Administration’s illegal war against then-Yugoslavia over Kosovo, is reflected in the fact that despite massive propaganda there is still no majority support for joining the bloc. (The pro-NATO government claims a plurality in favor of accession but won’t risk a referendum.) In fact, the only real security threat to Montenegro is internal: a persistent slow-burn separatist insurgency by Albanian Muslims to snip off the border region they call “Malesia,” as part of their aspiration for a “Greater Albania” that includes Kosovo, other parts of southern Serbia, a third of (the Former Yugoslav Republic of) Macedonia, and part of northern Greece.
Why is the U.S. even considering admitting Montenegro to NATO? Mainly because, as lame duck President Barack Obama stated in his transmittal message to the Senate asking for its advice and consent to ratification of the relevant protocol, “Montenegro's accession to NATO will demonstrate to other countries in the Balkans and beyond that NATO’s door remains open to nations that undertake the reforms necessary to meet NATO’s requirements and contribute to the security of the alliance, and is yet another milestone in advancing the Euro-Atlantic integration of the Balkans.” Evidently the kind of “reforms” Obama means is the cosmetic stepping aside of the notoriously corrupt ex-Prime Minister Milo Ðukanovic, who effectively still controls Montenegro’s shaky “pro-western” government despite serious corruption allegations that include gun-running, cigarette smuggling, banking fraud, and scams involving the privatization of state owned utility firms.
But more important is showing that “NATO’s door remains open” to other countries, many of them even more unstable and mired in dangerous disputes than Montenegro: Bosnia-and-Herzegovina (a synthetic state that remains under outside supervision to manage its jerry-built balance among mutually suspicious Muslims, Serbs, and Croats); FYRO-Macedonia (as noted, under threat from Albanian secessionists, barred anyway because of its name trademark dispute with Greece); Serbia (where despite a government under western control a solid majority of citizens are confirmed NATO-phobes); and Kosovo (Serbia’s NATO-occupied province administered by a gaggle of Albanian mafia kingpins, terrorists, and human organ-harvesters, not to mention being a top hotbed of ISIS activity in Europe along with the Muslim part of Bosnia).
Then, after wrapping up Obama’s “Euro-Atlantic integration of the Balkans,” we can get on to his “and beyond.” This means the real third-rail, world-war risks that beset the former Soviet republics on NATO’s wish list: Georgia, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, and Moldova. The United States doesn’t need this parade of horribles. If Trump follows through with putting “America First!” an early item must be making sure that further NATO expansion is one door that is firmly and finally shut. That should be followed by a thorough zero-baseline reassessment of why we are in NATO at all a quarter century after the Warsaw Pact and the USSR dissolved. What’s in it for us?
Nonetheless, the same Washington establishment that just got its head handed to them on November 8 is still determined to press ahead. Globalists of both parties are urging the Senate’s rubber stamp of Montenegro’s entry prior to Obama’s departure from office, before the incoming Trump Administration can reassess it—and hopefully the rest of our long-outdated relationship with NATO too. The Committee on Foreign Relations has yet to report out Montenegro’s resolution of ratification so it can be slipped through the Senate and flopped onto Obama’s desk before he leaves office, presenting his successor with a fait accompli.
Luckily, there is more than one bite at the apple to stop Montenegro’s accession. First, the Foreign Relations Committee can decline to take action on significant matters before Trump takes office in January. (That would be a good rule for the GOP-controlled Congress to follow generally. Why help Obama lob parting stink-bombs at Trump? Another item that should not get action in the lame duck Congressional session is the Saudi lobbyists’ plotted revision to gut JASTA, “Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act” (S. 2040). Also beware any ploy to move the abominable TPP “Trans-Pacific Partnership,” which some are still hoping can be spirited through by complicit Republicans notwithstanding the election results.)
Second, even a lone Senator can place a “hold” on a treaty resolution, just as with any other bill. To his credit, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul has held up a series of defective tax treaties for months. The same can be done with the Montenegro protocol if it gets out of committee.
Finally, Trump himself can weigh in. He can make it clear that America’s fetish for collecting useless satellites like so many “meaningless Facebook friends” is over and done with. Making a commitment to go to war, including the risk of nuclear war, to defend some country nowhere near the United States is a deadly serious business, not a grand gesture of some absurd “Euro-Atlantic trajectory.” On any hard-headed cost/benefit analysis, Montenegro is all cost, no benefit.
Mr. Trump, please pull the plug.
Jim Jatras is a former U.S. diplomat and foreign policy adviser to the Senate GOP leadership. He is the author of a major study, “How American Media Serves as a Transmission Belt for Wars of Choice.” @JimJatras
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