NATO Expands with Montenegro as 29th Member in Defiance of Russia
A tiny Adriatic and Balkan country of 600,000 people, one of the six republics which made up the former communist Yugoslavia until 1991, Montenegro began seeking NATO membership not so long after it split off from Serbia in 2006.
It was granted a Membership Action Plan (MAP) in 2009, and invited to join in December 2015. An accession protocol for Montenegro’s NATO membership was signed in May 2016, and the process continued with its ratification by the 28 NATO member states.
Montenegro has now become the third former Yugoslav republic to join NATO, after Slovenia in 2004, and Croatia in 2009.
While its small forces are not considered of great military value to the North Atlantic Alliance, Montenegro’s accession is considered strategic because it seals off the entire European Mediterranean coast for potential NATO opponents such as Russia.
Montenegro is the last Adriatic Sea nation to join NATO – with Greece, Albania, Croatia already being members, together with founding member Italy.
Montenegro’s leadership has seen its NATO membership as crucial for the country’s security, especially after in the fall of 2016, the country’s security forces prevented a coup attempted by Serbian nationalists, which was organized and sponsored by Russia.
In March 2017, a Montenegrin special prosecutor accused “Russian state bodies” of involvement in the coup plot during Montenegro’s election last October, an accusation which Moscow described as “absurd”.
Russia allegedly attempt the coup precisely in order to prevent Montenegro’s accession to NATO.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sent a letter to the leaders of the US Senate in March declaring that Montenegro’s membership in NATO was “strongly in the interests of the United States.
The United States recently became the last NATO member to ratify Montenegro’s accession document, after Spain and the Netherlands had already done so.
Amid bitter Russian criticism, Montenegro became on Monday the first new member of NATO in 8 years, after the admission of Croatia and Albania in the Pact’s sixth enlargement in April 2009.
The small Balkan nation on the Adriatic Sea officially joined the North Atlantic pact in a ceremony at the US State Department in Washington, D.C., The Hill reported.
The event was used as an opportunity for officials to reiterate the strength of the Alliance after during his first NATO summit at the end of May, US President Donald Trump failed to sound especially convincing with respect to America’s commitment to its allies’ security as he omitted to mention Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, as the mutual defense provision is known.
Trump’s personal commitment to NATO in his capacity as President of the United States had already been called into question by his controversial statements made on the campaign trail or while he was still the President-elect.
In another highly criticized act during the NATO summit, Trump brushed aside newcomer Montenegro’s Prime Minister Dusko Markovic as he was trying to come to the front of the group of NATO leaders.
Montenegro’s NATO accession ceremony in the US State Department was attended by Markovic and Montenegrin Foreign Minister Srdjan Darmanovic, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, and by US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Shannon.
Shannon subbed for US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson who was on an official visit in Australia.
“Montenegro’s accession sends a strong message of strength to the region and makes clear to our allies that the United States remains as committed as ever to the principal of collective defense as enshrined in Article 5 of the Washington Treaty,” Shannon said at the ceremony.
He commended Montenegro for joining the alliance in the face of “concerted foreign pressure” apparently referring to pressure from Russia, which includes the infamous October 2016 Russian-orchestrated coup attempt in the Montenegrin capital Podgorica.
“Montenegro should be commended in particular for asserting its sovereign right to choose its alliances even of the face of concerted foreign pressure. America respects the right of all nations to chart their own path,” Shannon said.
He underscored that Montenegro would be spending 1.7% of its GDP on defense in 2017, and was expected to reach the NATO target of 2% by 2024.
The US Under Secretary of State also noted Montenegro’s contribution to the wars in Afghanistan and against the ISIS terrorist group (“Islamic State in Iraq and Syria”).
“Montenegro’s accession sends a signal to other states that seek membership that if a country truly reforms, if it promotes democracy, strengthens the rule of law, modernizes its armed forces and contributes to our collective defense, it too can join the alliance,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg declared at the accession ceremony.
“We are an alliance of democracies and we have at time different political perspectives, but together we rise above those differences and unite around a common purpose: to stand with each other, to protect each other, and if necessary to fight to defend each other,” the Alliance chief said.
Montenegro’s Prime Minister Dusko Markovic thanked the United States for its “staunch and continuous support” for his country’s NATO membership.
He vowed that Montenegro would be a “strong advocate and partner” for NATO’s efforts in the region.
“[This] is a historic event for a country and a nation which endured enormous sacrifices in the 19th and 20th centuries in order to defend their right to a free life, the right to decide on our own future, the right to be recognized by the world under our own name, and with our national symbols,” Markovic stated at the ceremony.
“This is also confirmation of something that has never been questioned – that Americans remain committed to the stability and security of the Western Balkans and Europe. I firmly believe that this is a historic day for NATO,” he added.
“Facing the new and grave challenges, the Alliance’s admitting the 29th member shows increasingly that the open-door policy is alive and that it works well as a beacon of hope to all of those who want to share its values and standards,” the Montenegrin leader concluded.
Ivan Dikov, the founder of HeartlandHinterland.com, is the author of the book “Ugly Bargain: How the European Union and Bulgaria’s Post-Communist Oligarchy Fit Together“, among other books.