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%.

Every day thousands of people legally cross back and forth between El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, on their way to jobs, schools, doctor's appointments, shopping centers and the homes of family and friends. This harmonious exchange has taken place for more than 400 years, uniting neighbors through shared social ties, geography, history and, most importantly, an interlinked economy.

Beyond the people and goods, El Paso and Ciudad Juárez also converge in a cross-border flow of ideas, ambition and aspirations that have shaped the region for centuries. This forward-looking spirit is what attracted Microsoft to the region in 2017, when it launched Microsoft TechSpark to create new economic opportunities and help digitally transform established industries with modern software and cloud services. It's also why Microsoft announced on Monday that it is expanding the TechSpark El Paso program to include Ciudad Juárez and making a $1.5 million investment in the binational Bridge Accelerator. Read more about the TechSpark announcement here.

Since Syria's brutal civil war began eight years ago, millions of Syrians have fled their country to escape the bombs and bullets. But hundreds of thousands have been displaced within Syria's borders, where they languish in packed refugee camps. The al-Hol camp in northern Syria is sprawling, and of its nearly 70,000 residents, some 11,000 are family members of foreign ISIS fighters, according to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The surprise American withdrawal from northern Syria last week paved the way for Turkey and Syria's Bashar al-Assad to move in. Some 160,000 civilians have now fled the border region that Turkey is bombarding, deepening a humanitarian crisis in a stretch of Syria that had been relatively secure since the defeat of ISIS's self-declared caliphate back in March. Here's a look at the camps for displaced people in the area.

Syria is quickly turning into US President Donald Trump's most significant foreign policy blunder to date. It's looking like it might be for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, too.

On Monday, the Trump administration announced a fresh wave of sanctions on Turkey, in a bid to get Erdogan to halt his invasion of Kurdish-controlled territory in Syria. Yes, you may recall, that's the same invasion that the US green-lit last week by withdrawing American troops from the area.

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What's the update at the Syria-Turkey border?

Well, it is increasingly in the hands of Assad and the Russians, who the Kurds have flipped with. The United States withdrawing some troops away from the border, the Turks coming in, but they going to be limited in how much they can do given the fact that ultimately, Assad and Russia has most the firepower and Turkey does not want that fight.

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