Macedonia’s tenuous relationships with its neighbor states make it a liability for the alliance.
When Fox News host Tucker Carlson asked Donald Trump last month why he should send his son to die defending Montenegro, NATO’s newest member, the president seemed to repudiate his own administration’s policy. He indicated that Americans shouldn’t be willing to sacrifice their lives for such a trivial ally. Furthermore, he warned that Montenegro “has very aggressive people. They may get aggressive, and congratulations, you’re in World War III.” As Cato Institute senior fellow Doug Bandow pointed out, Trump’s comment was odd on two counts. First, the Senate approved the admission of Montenegro on his watch in March 2017. If he thought that latest episode of adding a useless microstate to the Alliance was unwise, he could have withdrawn the treaty from consideration before the Senate vote. Second, as Bandow notes archly, that while “it is theoretically possible that the vast, aggressive, powerful Montenegrin legions might launch themselves towards Moscow,” it isn’t too likely, because Montenegrin leaders “do not appear to have entirely lost their minds.”
Indeed, the scenario that a small Balkan NATO partner might trigger a war that entangles the United States is unlikely to entail a direct provocation of Russia. That reality has made it easy for Trump’s critics , here and abroad, to mock his comment about Montenegro triggering a world war. A far greater risk is that the tripwire would be a conflict in which an alliance member became embroiled with one of its regional neighbors. Montenegro actually is less of a danger in that respect than NATO’s latest invitee, Macedonia. Montenegro seems on relatively good terms with neighboring states, although it has been involved in an extended border dispute with Kosovo that was resolved just recently when the Kosovo parliament passed bitterly resisted legislation approving a settlement of the controversy.