SMALL COUNTRY, BIG STORY: MONTENEGRO EDITION

The tiny Balkan nation of Montenegro just can’t catch a break from President Trump. At last year’s NATO summit, Forty-Five famously shoved the country’s prime minister aside to billow his way into a photo op. But earlier this week, the US president took a more ominous swipe at Montenegro, which has been a NATO ally since last summer.


In an interview with Fox – his and his supporters’ favorite TV network –  he cast doubt on whether the US would, or even should, come to Montenegro’s defense under NATO treaty obligations. To defend those “very aggressive people” could provoke “World War III” he said.

For background, Montenegro is a country of 650,000 people that was part of the former Yugoslavia and was conjoined with Serbia until gaining full independence in 2006. Since the late 1980s, it has been run more or less by one person, the wily Milo Djukanovic, a one-time ally of Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic, who turned towards the West in the late 1990s, and guided the country towards joining NATO last year. That move inflamed nationalists at home as well as in Russia, which views any eastward expansion of NATO as a challenge to its sphere of influence. The Montenegrin government has even accused Russia of backing a bizarre, failed coup attempt in 2016 meant to stop its push to join NATO.

Aside from piquing Montenegro, whose government responded in a decidedly non-aggressive way, Trump’s comments raise a critical question about his views on NATO itself. It’s one thing if he simply sees NATO as a ripoff, in which case accelerated defense spending by other members can keep him reluctantly on board. It’s quite another if he is opposed to alliances of this kind at all, under any circumstances – which is what his comments on Montenegro suggest. After all, an alliance is only as good as its commitment to its weakest members.

The challenge of finding and funding a coherent new purpose for NATO in the 21st century is a real one, as we wrote here. But the search would be moot if its most powerful member sees no point.

A word from the polls: Trump’s not alone on this. Almost half of Americans – two thirds of Republicans and four in ten Democrats – say the US shouldn’t come to NATO countries’ defense unless they are meeting the defense spending target of 2% of GDP. Montenegro currently clocks in at about 1.6%.

Legislators in 8 US states have recently passed laws to limit abortions, thrusting the contentious issue into the center of the country's political debate ahead of the 2020 presidential election. The bills are intended, in part, to force the US Supreme Court to revisit its landmark 1973 Roe v Wade decision, which gave women the right to choose to terminate pregnancy. Here's a look at how other countries around the world regulate abortion at the national level, as well as a region-by-region snapshot of how prevalent the practice is today, compared to 30 years ago.

Last week, as trade tensions continued to rise between China and the US, the Trump administration landed one of the heaviest blows yet on Beijing, moving to severely restrict the Chinese tech and telecoms giant Huawei's ability to do business with American firms.

What happened? Two things: The Trump administration formally banned sales of Huawei telecoms equipment in the US. More importantly, it also prohibited American firms from selling their technology to Huawei without a special license.

Why? It's complicated. Technically, Huawei was blacklisted from acquiring US technology due to alleged violations of US sanctions against Iran. But the US is also concerned that Huawei could allow Beijing to spy on or disrupt data flowing across the next-generation 5G data networks of the US or its allies. President Trump may also believe the moves will give him extra leverage in his broader fight with Beijing over trade and technology.

The fallout is already starting to hit. Here's where:

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An Austrian politician got drunk with a Russian woman in Ibiza a few years ago and said some things that have now broken up his country's government.

That's right, over the weekend the German press released a video secretly recorded on the Spanish resort island just before Austria's 2017 elections, in which Heinz-Christian Strache, the leader of the far-right Freedom Party of Austria (FPO), tells a woman posing as the niece of a Kremlin-connected Russian oligarch that if she donates money to his party, she'll get lucrative government contracts.

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Direct(ed) Democracy In Russia – After thousands of people protested the construction of a new cathedral in a nice park in Yekaterinburg, Russia's fourth largest city, President Putin weighed in to stop construction until a popular referendum can be held. What does that tell us? Well, for one thing, Putin is probably a little more sensitive to public unrest after seeing his approval rating pummeled by a botched pension reform last year. But more to the point, this is a nice illustration of how democracy works in Russia: the new tsar orders accountability to happen when and where it suits his interests.

The Size of Modi's Election Victory – Eight different exit polls released over the weekend show Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's BJP party comfortably ahead in the country's 6-week national election. Voting ended on Sunday, with final results due on Thursday. How big will the BJP's margin be? In 2014, the party won the first outright parliamentary majority in India in 30 years, but after mixed economic results and rising concerns about sectarian tensions, the BJP went into this election on shakier ground. We're watching to see if Modi heads into his second 5-year term emboldened with another majority, or if he's forced to cobble together an unwieldy coalition of parties in order to govern.

What We're Ignoring: Cash for Peace and a Southern Switcheroo

The Deal of the Millennium – President Trump has a plan to secure peace between Israel and Palestine. That plan is: buy it. The administration announced over the weekend that it will hold a "economic workshop" in Bahrain in late June to get Gulf and other Arab states to funnel aid to Palestine, in exchange for which the Palestinians are expected to drop their long-held demands for an end to Israeli settlements, the designation of East Jerusalem as their capital, and (some form of) formal statehood. We're skeptical that cold cash will solve one of the most intractable conflicts on earth. Also, it's not a great sign that the Palestinians themselves don't even plan to attend.

Don't Cry for Veep, Argentina – With her country in crisis (yet again), Cristina de Fernández Kirchner, the controversial left-wing populist who ran Argentina between 2007 and 2015, is increasingly well-positioned to return to power in elections later this year. But over the weekend she pulled a surprise move, announcing that she'd be running only as vice president, allowing former aide Alberto Fernández, whose politics are seen as somewhat more moderate than hers, to top the ticket. We get that it's an electoral strategy meant to broaden Kirchner's appeal among centrist voters, but let's be serious: if the ticket wins, only one Fernández will really be running the country – AND SPOILER: IT'S NOT GOING TO BE ALBERTO.