Setting up a possibly awkward situation for incoming administration of President-elect Donald J. Trump, the Senate Foreign Relations voted unanimously Tuesday to approve Montenegro’s entry into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, moving forward a process that became during the under President George W. Bush.
“We welcome Montenegro as NATO’s newest member,” said Sen. Robert P. Corker (R.Tenn.). “Given the many challenges facing the alliance, it is important that every state step up and meet the two percent of GDP target for spending on defense.”
NATO members signed an agreement with Montenegro May 19, which set up the country’s entry–but, for the United States to enter a treaty relationship the two-thirds of the Senate must ratify accession protocol, as specified in the Constitution.
Trump spoke of NATO-skepticism during the presidential campaign.
In his April 27 foreign policy address at Washington’s Mayflower to the Center for the National Interest, formally known as the Nixon Center, the New York City developer made his position on NATO clear:
They look at the United States as weak and forgiving and feel no obligation to honor their agreements with us. In NATO, for instance, only four of 28 other member countries besides America, are spending the minimum required 2 percent of GDP on defense. We have spent trillions of dollars over time on planes, missiles, ships, equipment, building up our military to provide a strong defense for Europe and Asia. The countries we are defending must pay for the cost of this defense, and if not, the U.S. must be prepared to let these countries defend themselves. We have no choice.
President Barack Obama made a formal report to the Senate Sept. 22, which asserted that Montenegro had met the requirements for NATO membership: “I am pleased to submit the enclosed report. In doing so, I reiterate my appreciation for efforts to work with me in advancing a Europe whole, free, and at peace.”
Charles V. Pena, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Defense Priorities think tank, wrote in The National Interest that Montenegro’s application to join NATO serves as a stepping stone towards European Union membership. The EU has blocked the country’s entry into that economic compact since 2009.
Pena wrote that Montenegro brings nothing to NATO nor to America’s national security:
If anything, adding Montenegro to NATO is potentially dangerous since Russia is not too keen about the prospect. Indeed, Russia has warned hat Montenegro’s accession would result in unspecified “retaliatory actions.” But why poke the Russian bear? Russia is not a direct military threat to the United States or even to Europe. Its military is a pale shadow of the former Soviet Union’s and – despite annexing Crimea and military intervening in Ukraine – Russia is not threatening to invade and overrun Europe. Given that NATO’s European members’ GDP is more than ten times Russia’s and they spend about five times more on defense, calling Russia a threat to Europe borders on hyperbole.
While there remain disagreements among Republicans, Democrats are united in supporting Montenegro’s joining the treaty organization.
When he was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Europe Subcommittee, Sen. Christopher Murphy (D-Conn.) told an audience at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies Oct. 31, 2014 that he supporting bringing Montenegro into NATO in order to throw a block up Russia’s goal of gaining a foothold in the Balkans.
“Russia sees this glaring NATO gap on the Adriatic and hasn’t given up trying to step in and fill the role as Montenegro’s protector,” Murphy said.
“Russia would like nothing more than to have a proxy in the middle of NATO’s Balkan arm,” he said. “It’s an open secret that Puton has made several multi-billion dollar offers to site a military base in Montenegro.”
Montenegro appears to remain a target of Russia’s. The New York Times reported on November 26 that officials in the country identified Russian nationals has spearheading a recent coup attempt in the Adriatic country:
The Montenegrin authorities say two Russians carrying passports in the names of Eduard V. Shirikov and Vladimir N. Popov commanded the botched plot. But both men, who oversaw preparations for the operation from Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, are back in Moscow, and it is unclear whether they were traveling under real or fake identities and for whom exactly they were working.
The Montenegrin news media has reported that they are agents of Russia’s military intelligence service, known as the G.R.U. People close to the investigation said that they were Russian intelligence officers but that their precise affiliation was unclear.
Despite those machinations, when Prime Minister Duško Marković launched his government Nov. 28, he told his countrymen that NATO membership was a centerpiece of his program of national renewal.
“Montenegro will no longer be the object of other people’s interests, nor of the challenging of its sovereignty, but an active factor in building peace and stability in the region and beyond,” the prime minister said. “Membership in NATO will provide our country and our citizens with the quality of security and stability that we have not had so far.”