Is NATO Sending a Message with Montenegro?

  • By defencematters

On 19 May 2016, Allied foreign ministers signed the Accession Protocol for Montenegro.

Andrej Matisak

Montenegro is relatively small but it is still another enlargement for NATO as the Allied Foreign Ministers signed the Accession Protocol  on the 19th May 2016. What does it mean for both the Alliance and for Montenegro, especially taking into account the current geopolitical situation?

Stanley Sloan and Garrett Martin tell us what they think:

Stanley SloanNonresident Senior Fellow, Atlantic Council of the United States, Visiting Scholar in Political Science Middlebury College, Author of book Defense of the West: NATO, the European Union and the Transatlantic Bargain to be published in 2016

Montenegro becoming NATO’s 29th member will reaffirm the alliance’s “open door” policy, send a message to Moscow that it cannot dictate the international orientations of sovereign European states, and represent another step toward the inclusion of Balkan states in the Euro-Atlantic framework.

The country has checked off all the boxes required by NATO’s 1995 enlargement study, and any questions about its qualifications seem to have been resolved for all current members.  For NATO, Montenegro’s membership will bring neither large gains nor significant costs for the ability of the alliance to fulfil its missions. Montenegro, as a NATO partner, already has contributed to NATO programs and will as a member continue to make small-scale but symbolically important future contributions, including sending troops and financial support to Afghanistan.

The addition does not pose new issues for NATO decision-making, as some long-time members remain much more likely to block consensus than Montenegro. And, Montenegro faces no threats that could call for invocation of NATO’s Article 5 collective defense provision.  However, the accession of Montenegro will demonstrate that NATO’s open door remains ajar for qualified countries. This is not a step toward invitations to Ukraine and Georgia, but perhaps more a demonstration of how difficult it will be for those two countries to move toward membership anytime soon. They both seem to be candidates for enhanced partnerships for the foreseeable future, in spite of the NATO assertion in 2008 that they would one day become members.

It is also important for NATO to demonstrate that it has an interest in continuing to stabilize the Balkans. Montenegro’s membership in NATO will contribute to that cause, perhaps providing a model for some other Balkan states to follow without threatening the security of any one of them. All in all, it looks to this observer like a small but meaningful win/win for Montenegro and NATO.

Garret MartinProfessorial Lecturer, School of International Service, Editor at Large at the European Institute, American University

You are right that it is only a small enlargement (only Luxembourg and Iceland have smaller populations among NATO members than Montenegro), but it is still important both for Montenegro and the Alliance. In particular, one can emphasize the following points:

  • While Montenegro’s military contribution to NATO will be negligible (with only a 2,000 strong military), the accession of a new member is politically and symbolically important. It projects an image of confidence for a NATO that is facing many challenges ahead of a vitally important summit in Warsaw. It shows that NATO was able to out-muscle Russia and to draw Montenegro in its orbit, which is no minor feat when you consider that NATO targeted parts of Montenegro during the 1999 Kosovo war.
  • Montenegro’s accession to NATO is also significant insofar as providing more stability to the still fragile Balkans, and hopefully it might provide some renewed impetus/incentive to the other candidates states (in particular Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina).
  • Strategically, with Montenegro joining the alliance, this would mean also sealing off the Adriatic coast, limiting any Russian military presence and preventing any ‘Kaliningrad on the Mediterranean’.
  • Finally, for Montenegro, joining the Alliance would also be an opportunity to professionalize and modernize its armed forces, which have already served in Afghanistan alongside US troops.