The United States must ratify Montenegro’s NATO membership

Montenegro, a small Balkan country that has doggedly pursued Euro-Atlantic integration ever since declaring independence in 2006, is now on the cusp of joining NATO despite a Russian campaign of subversion designed to sow chaos and prevent it from acceding to the Alliance. In spite of Moscow’s opposition, NATO foreign ministers unanimously decided in December 2015 to grant the country an invitation to join the Alliance and by now 22 of 28 Allies have ratified Montenegro’s accession. The United States is one of the last remaining holdouts. That is why the Senate must act quickly to provide its advice and consent and put pressure on the Trump administration to ratify the accession protocol as soon as possible.

The outcome is uncertain. President Trump has called NATO “obsolete” and sought to cozy up to Russian President Vladimir Putin. However, Secretary of Defense Mattis has called NATO “essential” and said he understands the threat that Russia poses both to NATO and the global order. It is anyone’s guess therefore whether the administration will agree to enlarge NATO as one of its early foreign policy actions.

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For Montenegro, the stakes could not be higher. Russia’s anti-NATO campaign in Montenegro has been bold, brazen, and unscrupulous.

During Montenegro’s parliamentary elections in October, coordinated cyber-attacks against government websites and massive trolling of fake news on social media sought to discredit the vote. A sophisticated plot was also uncovered in which 20 hired mercenaries were to take over the parliament building, shoot anti-government protestors, and assassinate the Prime Minister to sow chaos and undermine Montenegrin democracy.

As with Ukraine’s “little green men,” the commanders of the foiled operation were identified as Russian citizens with ties to Russia’s military intelligence service, or GRU, the same organization sanctioned by the United States for interfering in our presidential election. One of the lead plotters, who has since become a government witness, revealed that he fought alongside Russian forces in eastern Ukraine. Another of the plotters was recently photographed standing beside Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during the latter’s official trip to Serbia.

In the end, however, these attempts to plunge Montenegro into chaos failed. The parliamentary elections were peaceful, and monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) concluded they “were held in a competitive environment and fundamental freedoms were generally respected.”

At its core, the issue is not about Montenegro’s qualifications for membership, though it is worth noting that Montenegro has stood with NATO since independence and that fully 20 percent of its Armed Forces have cycled through Afghanistan to serve alongside the United States and NATO. The bigger question is whether Russian malign influence in Europe will go unchecked, or even be rewarded, in pursuit of a rapprochement with Russia that is based on a tacit division of Europe into spheres of influence. A failure to act on Montenegro’s membership by the new administration would do just that, while breaking the existing consensus within NATO in support of enlargement. The consequences for transatlantic relations would be disastrous.

For decades the United States has benefited enormously from peace, stability, and prosperity in Europe, with NATO as the foundation of European security. That is why the United States must now stand with Montenegro or risk undermining our vision of a Europe whole, free and at peace.

Michael Carpenter is a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia, foreign policy advisor to Vice President Biden, and NSC Director for Russia.


The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.