Podgorica (Montenegro) (AFP) - Montenegro on Thursday defended its contribution to peace in response to US President Donald Trump, who said the tiny Balkan nation's "aggressive" people were capable of triggering "World War III".
The rebuttal comes after Trump drew criticism in the US with his broadside on Tuesday, which many interpreted as the latest sign of the president's shaky commitment to the NATO alliance, which tiny Montenegro joined only last year.
In a statement on Thursday, Montenegro's government defended its history of "peaceful politics," saying the country "contributes to peace and stability not only on the European continent but worldwide, along with US soldiers in Afghanistan."
It added that Montenegro has served as a "stabilising" force in the region, which was ravaged by wars during the break-up of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
As members of the Yugoslav army, Montenegro's soldiers fought alongside Serbs in Croatia's war of independence. But, like Macedonia, its decision to split from the federation did not trigger a separate war.
Montenegro's alliance with the US remains "strong and permanent," the government added.
Trump made his controversial comments during a Fox News interview on Tuesday in response to a question about NATO's Article 5, which states that an attack on one member is an attack on all.
"Why should my son go to Montenegro to defend it from attack?" Fox News host Tucker Carlson asked the US president about the country with a population of little more than 600,000.
Trump answered: "I understand what you're saying. I've asked the same question."
"Montenegro is a tiny country with very strong people... They're very aggressive people. They may get aggressive, and congratulations, you're in World War III," Trump added.
A former US ambassador to NATO slammed Trump's comments as "a gift" to Russian President Vladimir Putin, while senior Republican senator John McCain said Trump was playing into Russia's hands by "questioning our obligations under NATO."
- 'Trump doesn't know us' -
Montenegro, a country on the Adriatic coast whose troops number about 2,000 personnel, joined NATO in June 2017 despite strong opposition from some and violent demonstrations in 2015.
The move also infuriated Russia, with whom relations have soured in recent years as the Balkan nation forges closer ties with the West and eyes entry into the European Union.
This Western drift has been steered by Montenegro's President Milo Djukanovic, who has led the country almost without interruption since 1991.
In Podgorica, Montenegrins did not take Trump's comments too seriously.
"Trump doesn't know us well enough. We are so aggressive and strong that we have not managed to change power in 30 years and even less to provoke a global conflict," joked 67-year-old Sreten Markovic.
Darko Mandic, a 33-year-old toy seller, told AFP: "When I read Trump's statement about us, I thought I was still dreaming. When I woke up it seemed like a good joke to me."
Sergej Sekulovic, a political analyst in Montenegro, dismissed the idea that Montenegro was on the brink of conflict, which some pro-Russian opposition MPs have also argued.
While "a resurgence of political tension is possible, fundamentally the conditions for destabilisation are not there," he told AFP.
NATO's common defence clause known as Article 5 has only been invoked once -- by America after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks.
Nearly 17 years on, NATO troops are still operating in Afghanistan -- including personnel from Montenegro -- after the US-led invasion seeking retribution for the nation's harbouring of the 9/11 terror group.