Tough call: Prospects Montenegro’s accession to NATO

Author : Georgiy Kuhaleyshvili

Source : 112 Ukraine

Montenegro’s joining NATO would be a new responsibility for the United States, and at the same time, a background for further expansion of the alliance to the east
21:40, 21 March 2017

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Prime Minister of Montenegro Milo Đukanović and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg

Few days ago, a scandal erupted in US Senate over the prospect of accession of Montenegro to NATO. During a speech in support of Balkan country’s accession to the North Atlantic alliance, Senator John McCain accused his colleague and fellow party member Rand Paul of assisting Russian President Vladimir Putin, who creates barriers to Montenegro's becoming a NATO member. Mr. McCain urged the senators to unanimously support the bill. Earlier, Senator Rand Paul refused to approve Montenegro's entry into NATO, while 98 senators supported this initiative. In May last year, NATO member countries signed a protocol on the entry of the Balkan country into the alliance, which grants it observer status at meetings. After ratifying the protocol by the parliaments of all member states, Montenegro would officially become a new member of NATO. So far, only two countries have not ratified the protocol - the Netherlands and the United States.

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Russia is against Montenegro's accession to NATO. Organizer of the unsuccessful coup in Montenegro, leader of far-right Serbian Wolves organization, Aleksandar Sindelic, recruited Serbian volunteers to help the Russian army during the annexation of Crimea. During a meeting with representatives of the pro-Russian opposition Democratic Front of Montenegro, State Duma deputy from the ruling United Russia party, Sergei Zheleznyak, supported idea of holding of a referendum against Montenegro's accession to NATO. However, let us not hang the stigma of "Kremlin agent" on the senator-republican. When Rand Paul ran for the presidency of the United States from the Republican Party, unlike Donald Trump, he did not support the idea of rapprochement with Russia. According to Rand Paul, Russia became a "source of problems" after the annexation of Crimea. As for Montenegro's membership in NATO, Rand Paul believes that the United States is compelled to incur military and financial obligations to protect 28 NATO member countries, despite a public debt of $ 20 trillion. Then why did the problem arise?

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New NATO’s dependant

Senator Rand Paul tells US officials that after joining NATO, Montenegro would be a new hole in the US budget. President Donald Trump took a course to reduce NATO funding and repeatedly called on European member countries to increase defense spending to 2% of GDP. On average, US contributions form half of the NATO budget. According to the DailyMail, the bulk of member countries (including Germany - the most powerful economy in the EU) spends on defense less than 2% of GDP. Spain and Belgium in general give less than 1% to the needs of the army. The USA in the conditions of an economic crisis and necessity to reduce the state debt are interested to get rid of a part of expenses.

Montenegro with a population of about 600 thousand people is doomed to become a new US parasite in NATO. According to the World Bank, Montenegro's defense spending is 1.6% of GDP, which is less than Greece's (2.4%) with its debts and financial problems in the euro area. Focused mainly on tourism, the economy of Montenegro is hard to survive the consequences of the financial and economic crisis. In 2015, Montenegro's GDP amounted to $ 3.9 billion. This compares with a third of Albania's GDP ($ 11.4 billion), the weakest economy in NATO. The external debt of Montenegro is 61.4% of GDP.

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Montenegro will not be able to make a significant contribution to ensuring Euro-Atlantic security. Since gaining independence from Serbia in 2006, the armed forces of Montenegro have fallen from 6,500 to less than 2,000. They include one brigade of ground forces, 17 military aircraft, 14 helicopters, 2 frigates and boats (not counting non-combat ships) and 1 tank, which is stored as a museum exhibit. In 2007, about 61 T-55 tanks, which were inherited by Montenegro from the Yugoslav army, were destroyed under the pretext of obsolescence and high cost of maintenance. Montenegro's contribution to strengthening security in Afghanistan within the framework of cooperation with NATO amounted to $ 1.2 million in 2015-2017. Since 2010, the military contingent of Montenegro, which takes part in the military operation in Afghanistan, has decreased from 27 to 15 people. From the first years of its existence, Montenegro has positioned itself as a small European state that seeks to find itself under the NATO security umbrella. In addition to new costs for the United States, Montenegro's membership in NATO would not bring anything.

Political reasons

At the same time, we cannot disagree with the opinion of Senator John McCain that Montenegro still needs to be taken to NATO. Montenegrin membership in the alliance is of political importance in order to prevent the strengthening of Russia's influence in Europe. It is possible that if Montenegro does not join NATO, then Democratic Party of Socialists of Montenegro, headed by Prime Minister Milo Đukanović, will be removed from power by representatives of the pro-Russian opposition Democratic Front of Montenegro.

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In Montenegro, there are favorable conditions for a political crisis. About two weeks, the country has been embraced by women from the large families, who have been joined by students and pensioners. Women demand from the authorities to increase the allowance for mothers with three or more children or to resign. In February, protests against joining NATO were held in Montenegro. According to a poll by Damar agency, about 38.9% of Montenegrins are against their country's entry into the alliance.

The pro-Russian forces, which came to power in Montenegro, are beneficial for Russia. The Balkan country has access to the Adriatic Sea, and its ports could be used for parking of Russian warships. Russia would be able to secure a military presence in the underbelly of NATO in the Balkans, to provide a military presence for pressure on the West.

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Montenegro in the Adriatic can play for Russia the same role as Cuba for the USSR in the Caribbean - a pro-Kremlin satellite with unpredictable foreign policy near the NATO zone of responsibility. If necessary, Russia can deliver arms and volunteers through Montenegrin ports to support neighboring Serbia if an escalation of the conflict in Kosovo occurs, or if Belgrade tries to reintroduce the idea of "Greater Serbia" and to increase the territories of neighboring states inhabited by ethnic Serbs. The entry of Montenegro into NATO will allow the US to fully take control of the Adriatic coast and cut off Russia's access to the Balkans.

Montenegrin precedent for Ukraine

The entry of Montenegro into NATO will create a precedent for successful Euro-Atlantic integration of a militarily weak country with a difficult social and economic situation and political instability that is the object of Russia's geopolitical expansion. The governments of Ukraine and Georgia will have an argument to justify the need for an early membership in the alliance. Both countries surpass Montenegro militarily and are the objects of Russia's aggression. Montenegro together with Ukraine and Georgia for a long time has been participating in the program "Partnership for Peace", carried out an individual partnership plan with NATO. In addition, Kyiv spends on defense about 5% of GDP, which should please Washington.

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Montenegro in NATO is a new responsibility for the United States, and at the same time, a background for further expansion of the alliance to the east. For the sake of reducing Russia's influence in Europe, the US will have to agree Montenegro’s accession in NATO. Apparently, some US politicians, including Senator Rand Paul, are afraid of taking responsibility for the further expansion of NATO. However, the example of Montenegro proves that this cannot be avoided. Otherwise, Russia will continue to impose its will on small European states, create hotbeds of instability near the alliance's responsibility zone.

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