President Donald Trump returned to undermining NATO on Tuesday by singling out the alliance's smallest and newest member, Montenegro, following a European tour that Republicans heavily criticized for misrepresenting US values.
In an interview with Fox News host Tucker Carlson on Tuesday, Trump was asked why the US should answer the call to defend Montenegro — which was admitted to NATO in 2017 — in the event it was attacked.
NATO members can invoke a mutual defense clause in the event of an attack on its soil, obligating all 28 other states to come to its defense.
The clause, known as Article 5, has only ever been invoked one time, by the US after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
"Let's say Montenegro, which joined last year ... why should my son go to Montenegro to defend it from attack," Tucker 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 and drag the US with it.
"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."
If Montenegro, a country with just over 620,000 people, became aggressive and started a war with Russia, they could not invoke Article 5 and require US involvement. That's because it would not be in response to an attack on a NATO member, but it would instead be an attack from a NATO member.
Montenegro reportedly pledged more troops to help fight the US's longest war in Afghanistan. Prior to joining NATO, Montenegro assisted in Afghanistan's reconstruction efforts for nearly eight years.
Rather than instigating World War III with Russia, Montenegro has had to fend off what it describes as a Russian attempt to kill its prime minister in 2016.
Describing NATO ascension, expansion, or NATO countries taking steps to defend their homelands as "aggressive" is a hallmark of Russian messaging in its opposition against the alliance.
Trump attacks the cost of NATO
Trump comments echoed his previous assertion that NATO members are not contributing enough on domestic and joint defense spending.
Trump suggested that the US, which "[pays] 90% of the costs to defend Europe," bore the short end of the stick. NATO members contribute to the organization's funding on an agreed cost-share formula based their gross national income, to which the US contributes 22% towards.
"It was very unfair. They weren't paying," Trump said. "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."
During his summit with other NATO countries, Trump blasted allies and demanded that members increase their domestic defense spending to "2% of GDP IMMEDIATELY." A non-legally-binding guideline states that members should reach 2% by 2024.
Tensions also flared in the NATO summit after Trump accused Germany of being "totally controlled by Russia" for receiving a large share of oil and natural gas.
At one point, NATO leaders invoked a special emergency session after Trump's remarks prompted concern.