US Senate Paves Way for Final Vote on Montenegro’s NATO Membership

Prime Minister of Montenegro, Dusko Markovic (left) is seen here at the NATO headquarters in Brussels with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. Photo: NATO press service

  • US Senate has voted to allow a vote on ratifying Montenegro’s NATO accession.
  • Two Senators had been blocking the ratification for months.
  • US Secretary of State Tillerson has argued Montenegro will give NATO a contiguous border along the Adriatic coast.
  • Small Balkan and former Yugoslav nation suffered a failed Russian-sponsored coup attempt last fall.

The US Senate has voted to clear the way for a long-anticipated final vote on Montenegro’s accession to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

A small Adriatic and Balkan country of 600,000 people, one of the six republics which made up the former communist Yugoslavia until 1991, Montenegro began seeking NATO membership not so long after it split off from Serbia in 2006.

It was granted a Membership Action Plan (MAP) in 2009, and invited to join in December 2015. An accession protocol for Montenegro’s NATO membership was signed in May 2016, and the process continued with its ratification by the 28 NATO member states.

When it joins NATO, Montenegro will become the third former Yugoslav republic to do so, after Slovenia and Croatia.

While its small forces are not considered of great military value to the North Atlantic Alliance, Montenegro’s accession is considered strategic because it would seal off the entire European Mediterranean coast for potential NATO opponents such as Russia.

Montenegro’s leadership has seen its NATO membership as crucial for the country’s security, after in the fall of 2016, the country’s security forces prevented a coup attempted by Serbian nationalists and organized and sponsored by Russia.

Blocking Montenegro

The US Senate on Monday voted with an overwhelming majority, 97-2, in favor of terminating the debates, and holding a final vote later this week on the ratification of Montenegro’s accession protocol.

The only two “no” votes came from Republican Senators Rand Paul and Mike Lee, who had been blocking a quick vote for months.

Before the vote, Rand Paul argued that it was pointless for the American taxpayers to assume the burden of defending the small Balkan country if it came under attack, which is part of the mutual defense commitment of NATO members.

“[Montenegro’s accession will] add another country to the welfare wagon of NATO,“ Paul stated, as cited by Reuters, pointing out that Montenegro’s military was only 2,000-strong.

He warned that the US was spreading itself too thinly when its military is involved in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen.

“Montenegro in NATO will antagonize Russia while doing nothing to advance US national security,” he argued.

“Most Americans can’t find Montenegro on a map. Are you willing to send your kids there to fight?” Rand added.

Unblocking Montenegro

However, the understanding of the overwhelming majority of the US Senators has been that Montenegro’s admission to NATO was a further bulwark “against Russian aggression”, boosting democracy in Eastern Europe.

“Montenegro is trying to do everything that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin hates, where you actually can vote for your own leaders,” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham declared during the debates.

Republican Senator John McCain said Montenegro’s accession was a “test” of resolve against Putin.

“He attempted a coup to overthrow the freely-elected Montenegro government. That coup failed. But I can assure that if we turn down Montenegro, it will not remain the democracy that it is today,” McCain stated.

The US vote came several days after a Montenegrin special prosecutor accused “Russian state bodies” of involvement in the coup plot during Montenegro’s election last October, an accusation which Moscow described as “absurd”.

It is noted that US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sent a letter to the leaders of the Senate earlier this month declaring that Montenegro’s membership in NATO was “strongly in the interests of the United States.”

He argued that Montenegro’s membership would give NATO a contiguous border along the Adriatic coast.

A final vote on the ratification of Montenegro‘s NATO accession protocol is expected on Tuesday or Wednesday. A two-thirds majority of the US Senators is required for a “yes” vote.

The United States is the last NATO member yet to ratify Montenegro’s accession document, after Spain and the Netherlands already did so over the recent weeks.

NATO is going to hold a summit in Brussels on May 25, where US President Donald Trump is expected to confirm America’s commitment to the Pact.

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