“One for all”, said Athos to Porthos, and Porthos to Aramis, and Aramis in synchrony as they solemnized their vow “and all for one!” Thus spoke those unnamed musketeers (whose individual identities have until now been lost). Or, for the Francophones amongst us, whose ears must shrivel at our harsh consonants and yearn to hear the phrase in its original and melodious form, “Un pour tous, tous pour un”. Still, even today, after having written that famous rallying cry nearly two centuries ago, Alexandre Dumas’ logic persists. It still reads like a chivalrous ode—like a selfless attestation to our fellow man. It leaps before our eyes and into our fraternal souls like a declaration of interdependence of the most enlightened and latitudinous kind. It’s a basic and yet timeless corollary to which we owe a thousand shared victories and a hundred defeats. And, being as such—a corollary, that is—its second half necessarily follows its first and is all the more important: All for one.
It’s in Dumas’ terms, and specifically in that second part, that I come to think of NATO and its vaunted “Article Five”. This most demanding of articles, of course, requires that every allegiant to the post-WWII organization (in whose grasp we count ourselves and twenty-eight other nations—a figure that has steadily grown since NATO’s inception in 1948. It’s a growth in membership, one might add as an aside, that’s caused in Moscow no small amount of geopolitical unease) responds to an assault on one constituent member as though it were an assault on its own being. Just as the one nation would hasten to its colleague’s defense, so too would that once-badgered nation return the favor in kind. Thus established, Article Five functions like a virtuous circle. It creates a double effect by simultaneously deterring attacks by non-NATO states (why would Russia, to use a feasible example, attack a nation whom it considered vulnerable and teetering on the edge of sovereignty if it knew that twenty-eight other countries would unanimously respond and intervene) and buttressing military responses if the deterrence is ignored.
Article Five, then, becomes the same type of noble, mutual, and above all, reliable assurance upon which the western world and those doughty musketeers relied. It’s the knowledge that next to you stands a saber in its sheath and a bullet in its barrel, both of which are ready—on your behalf and for your preservation—to explode.
It’s a sacred and a far-sighted bond, even though it’s been implemented but once. Since the Treaty was established, NATO hasn’t had too many military entanglements—as the world, in the broader view of modern history, hasn’t itself had all that many military events (at least none comparable to those that punctuated the twentieth century) of which to speak. Its first involvement was in Kuwait in 1991, when Saddam Hussein’s Baathist thugs attempted to overrun their small oil-rich neighbors to the south. Though not a proper NATO member per se, Kuwait was gladly relieved of Hussein’s imperialist endeavors by the organization and by the urgings of President Bush. It was a NATO coalition that stopped in his tracks that sadist Hussein, although looking back, it might’ve done well to finish the deal.
Not long after the crisis in Kuwait, the war in Bosnia erupted. Again, though not a NATO member state, the situation required of the organization its action. But, sadly, far too long after the crisis began did NATO finally choose to act. Insensate to the sufferings of the Bosnian Muslims on the ground, it would take nearly two years before NATO responded to the developing genocide in a meaningful way. A same story could be told of Kosovo, a Balkan nation not far from Bosnia and Herzegovina were ultimately thousands of Bosniaks died. Kosovo told of a similarly gruesome and sanguinary tale. Where Bush moved with relative alacrity in the Middle East, Clinton dithered with timidity along the Adriatic Sea. Even as the evidence of Mladic’s, and Milosevic’s crimes mounted, NATO was slow to respond. Finally, it did, but much of the damage was done.
But hitherto, there hadn’t been a direct attack on a NATO-member state from the outside. The inauguration of such an event, a sad distinction, no doubt, came on September 11, 2001. Seeing those eviscerated towers (from whose crags hundreds leapt and in whose hallways thousands burned) crumble, NATO remembered its commitment and perhaps redeemed its prior hesitations in the prior Slavic wars. All for one, the bells did toll again, and NATO intrepidly joined its American comrades for a decades’ long Central Asian travail.
Amongst those many and gallant nations who came to our support in those years was the tiny state of Montenegro. No state better encapsulates Mark Twain’s ode to the underdog (it was he who said that it’s not the size of the dog in the fight that counts, rather that of the fight in the dog. He spoke, of course, at a time before America would become the Goliath we know her to be). Not yet a member of NATO in any official capacity, Montenegro cared for titles not; it believed in America’s cause and in its own future as a part of the west. Strained of manpower (its population sits just above 620,000—commensurate with our own sparsely inhabited Vermont) and limited in matériels and clout, Montenegro nevertheless committed itself to our end. All for one, it said, and Montenegro hasn’t yet reneged on this loyal decree; it’s maintained since the mid-2000’s an indefatigable (albeit small) military presence in Afghanistan (its army numbers just over 2000, of whom every fifth has served for some amount of time in Afghanistan for the American cause).
That sort of dogged commitment, however infinitesimal it may seem, is enough to make a man blush. Yet just the opposite was the response of President Trump when he grew red in the face when thinking about doughty Montenegro and what our allegiance to that state means. It wasn’t out of a humble appreciation for that little Balkan nation’s resolve that he turned his face a crimson hue, but out of anger at the sheer thought of having to return the favor by coming to Montenegro’s aid, should it require that of us.
Asked by Fox News’ Tucker Carlson why his or for that matter any blue-blooded American son should die for that insignificantly small Montenegro (who is, after all, a mere stripling of a NATO member, having been admitted only last year), President Trump responded that they shouldn’t. In words reminiscent of Twain, though forgivably less eloquent than he, Trump called Montenegro a “tiny country with very strong people”, but like a dog desperate for its life, they are a “very aggressive people” all the same. The line of reasoning here being that, as a people with an inclination toward aggression (having not visited Montenegro myself, I can’t speak to its people’s manners; we’ll simply have to accept the president’s characterization as true), Montenegro could incite World War III. And alas, because of its people’s foolhardy aggressive ways, America would be made to defend Montenegro’s sovereignty at great—and by extension—unnecessary loss.
Dumas would be downcast and NATO, crestfallen. It appears as though President Trump, in understanding his calculation, thinks that All for one works in only one way. Tous pour un, so long as everyone is there for the U.S. As for Montenegro? Much obliged for the help, but henceforth, you can go it alone.