Kęstutis Girnius. Should the USA or Lithuania defend Montenegro?

Kęstutis Girnius
DELFI / Karolina Pansevič

Should the USA defend Montenegro? When asked by a TV show host, whether his son should go to Montenegro to defend it from attack, president D. Trump hesitated. Supposedly, Montenegrins are “very aggressive people. They could become aggressive and congratulations – you’re in World War III.”

Trump’s explanation is a mash of nonsense and untruths that is typical of him.

I am certain that he could not differentiate Macedonia from Montenegro, that he has no knowledge of the psychological traits of Montenegrins. And what would its 2000-man army attack? Its neighbouring NATO member Croatia? Serbia?

Certainly not Russia, which is too far and too powerful? What is far more important is that Russia would never attack it.

In his own incoherent way, Trump nevertheless touched on a sensitive matter, which is not discussed widely enough.

Does NATO expansion strengthen the Alliance or weaken it? Do the governments of the member states express the will of their people when NATO invites new members? Do discussions on this important question proceed in the public because every new member is yet another country that is to be defended?

It would be interesting to find out, how many Lithuanian, Polish or Dutch citizens know that Albania, Montenegro and Croatia are NATO members, with Macedonia in line to enter.

The number of NATO member states is rapidly growing. As former US VP D. Cheney‘s advisor to Russia George Beebe notes, NATO was created to contain the expansion of the USSR. From its creation in 1949 to the end of the Cold War, the Alliance only invited four new members, while from 1999 – an entire thirteen.

According to Beebe, the new composition Alliance has not seriously asked the citizens of its long-term member states, whether they agree with these steps. A Pew Research Institute survey in 2015 revealed that while most NATO member state citizens view harmony positively, only the USA and Canada have majorities thinking that a NATO member under attack by Russia should be defended by military means.

A whole 58% of Germans believe that allies should not be defended by force of arms. I am sometimes left with the impression that NATO acts based on a vacuum cleaner principle, seeking to draw in as many members as possible. The European Union is more careful in terms of its new invites because membership is linked to major financial commitments. You would think that military commitments are no less weighty.

When considering new candidates for NATO accession, we must answer two important questions. First, is the candidate suitable in a political perspective? Members must be democratic states, though there are exceptions.

Founding member Portugal was a dictatorship. Greece was even expelled after a military coup in 1967. A candidate’s contribution to joint security depends on two elements – military capacity (contribution) and the likelihood to enter military conflict (reduction).

The military capacity of Montenegro is almost nil, but there are no real chances it could go to war with its neighbours. Thus, it neither increases, nor reduces joint security.

The same cannot be said of Georgia, which according to NATO Secretary General J. Stoltenberg, will eventually become a NATO member.

Georgia has twice the number of troops as Lithuania, they participate in various peacekeeping missions, thus its military capacities are not all that minor. On the other hand, its relations with Russia are tense, granting membership would significantly increase chances for a new confrontation between Georgia and Russia.

Ukraine reformed its armed forces and made them an effective fighting force. In this respect, it surpasses a number of NATO states. But its membership would be a challenge, to which Russia would feel the need to react with special measures.

Disregarding US President Bush’s efforts, in 2008 a NATO summit meeting in Bucharest decided to not invite Georgia and Ukraine to join the NATO membership action plan. This was a wise decision.

Same as then, the entry of Georgia or Ukraine to NATO would not be a natural continuation of harmony, but a new stage. So far, NATO has not invited any “regular” former Soviet republic. Eastern European countries such as Poland and Hungary, whose independence was formally recognised by the Soviet Union entered NATO, as did the Baltic States, whose incorporation into the USSR, the West never recognised.

In recent times, the door has been open for the Balkan states, but I am not certain, why they are invited to NATO. Their security can be ensured by other means and they are neither Russia’s neighbours, nor are they in its crosshairs.

The goal of NATO is not to wage war, but to deter potential aggressors with its military power and firm commitment to defend all its members.

So far, the deterrent power of NATO has done its part somewhat because the harmony did not grant provocative, hard to implement guarantees. While the Kremlin was discontent with the Baltics’ accession to NATO, it conceded it, having earlier de facto recognised their exceptional nature.

The then NATO states supported our membership as the restoration of historical justice, even a sort of penance for prior unfriendliness.

The situation of Georgia, Ukraine, also Armenia, Azerbaijan and even Moldova is different, their membership in the transatlantic community more questionable.

The Germans, Italians and Portuguese would perhaps turn their backs on the Baltic States in danger, but they would be ashamed, their conscience would nag them.

Such feelings would be far less prominent regarding the aforementioned countries. There are no favourable conditions for continued expansion. Europe is increasingly concerned with migration, its own, not other countries’ problems, discontent with the elite’s decisions is growing.

Trump is urging to turn from the world and the constantly berated allies. His statement of America First is not foreign to his numerous supporters, prepared to defend the “fortress” of America.

The time has come to establish a moratorium on new memberships for at least a decade. Some countries seeking membership will be left outside. Perhaps it is unfair, but neither history, nor geography grant justice, which is well known by many Central American states, familiar with numerous US interventions.

On the other hand, we can aid the countries, defend them without the guarantees of NATO. Israel is an excellent example. I have no doubt that Sweden and Finland would receive support.

The US Department of State rushed to emphasise that Trump unambiguously supports NATO collective defence. I have no doubt that Lithuania would go to defend Montenegro, but what is important is that it will not have to be done.

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