NATO inducts Montenegro as 29th member
By JOHN VANDIVER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 5, 2017
The tiny Balkan nation of Montenegro will become NATO’s 29th member state on Monday, joining the 68-year-old military alliance and the mutual defense security umbrella it offers.
“Montenegro’s NATO membership will support greater integration, democratic reform, trade, security, and stability with all its neighbors,” the U.S. State Department said in a news release.
Montenegro’s Prime Minister, Dusko Markovic is in Washington Monday for a ceremony to formalize the country’s entry into the military pact. On Wednesday, the country’s flag will be hoisted at NATO’s new headquarters in Brussels, making its membership complete.
The decision to add Montenegro, whose population of about 600,000 is smaller than Vermont’s, and whose 1,850-strong military adds virtually no capabilities to NATO, has been a source of tension with Russia. As a rule, Moscow bristles over former Warsaw pact states such as Poland and Romania joining the alliance as well as the former Soviet states in the Baltics. Moscow also opposes a plan for the republic of Georgia to eventually join NATO, a bid that also divides some NATO members.
Although Montenegro, as part of the former Yugoslav federation, was never a member of the Warsaw Pact and geographically distant from Russia’s borders, Moscow has nonetheless vehemently opposed its policy of integration with the West. Russia also has been accused of having a hand in a failed coup attempt last year inside Montenegro by Serb nationalists opposed to membership.
Meanwhile, Moscow has banned the import of Montenegrin products such as wine. It has also launched a campaign aimed at undermining Montenegro’s tourism industry, claiming the country was unsafe for Russian visitors who include thousands of owners of holiday-homes and yachts docked in marinas along the country’s picturesque Adriatic coast.
In the U.S., there also has been disagreement over the merits of adding Montenegro to NATO.
Opponents of extending NATO membership to small nations in the east argue that means adding more security consumers than security providers, and that growing NATO around Russia’s periphery adds unneeded tension.
In an acrimonious debate in March, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., temporarily blocked the ratification of the treaty to advance the country’s membership, causing fellow Sen. John McCain to accuse the Republican of “working for Vladimir Putin.” Paul’s move was unusual given that votes of ratification are more of a formality after a prospective NATO member has cleared a lengthy multi-year process of meeting various alliance standards.
The opposition, however, was only a temporary hurdle for Montenegro, whose membership also had the backing of the Trump administration.