By Matthew Bourque ’19

On December 2nd, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) extended an invitation to the tiny Balkan state of Montenegro to join the Alliance. The Montenegren government accepted and talks are to begin shortly. It is expected that it will take a little over a year to fully assimilate Montenegro into NATO.

For those unaware, NATO is a large military organization which includes over 28 member states. Each state pledges their military to the Alliance and promises to go to war if one of their fellow countries are attacked by an outside force. The Alliance was founded in 1949 in response to Soviet aggression. When the Soviet Union fell in 1991, NATO continued to exist, much to the dismay of Russia. It continued to add more member states, with the most recent being Croatia and Albania in 2009. There has been a recent trend in assimilating the Balkan states, and both Macedonia and Bosnia/Herzegovina are currently under consideration for membership. The Balkan states are of strategic importance, as are many former Soviet republics.

As is expected, the Russian government has been highly displeased with such an expansion. The government sees NATO expansion as passive aggressive behavior towards Russia and is especially displeased to see Western Powers controlling former Soviet Territory. “Moscow has noted at various levels that the continuing expansion of NATO and NATO’s military infrastructure to the East, of course, cannot but lead to response actions from the East, namely the Russian side in ensuring security interests and supporting the parity of interests,” said a Kremlin spokesman in response to the news of a possible new NATO member state. In response, NATO Supreme Allied commander of Europe and successor to Admiral Stavridis, (PAC’s fall speaker) General Phillip Breedlove has said,”I don’t think that we should allow Russia a veto over who wants to become part of our alliance.”

On a more local level, Montenegro is divided on the issue of whether or not to join NATO. There have been protests, especially by the Serbian population, over the growing closeness of Montenegro and NATO. Many still hold animosity towards the global military organization. In 1999, NATO forces bombed the country in response to the killing of innocent Albanians. Many citizens also fear joining NATO will hurt the economy. The countries coasts are a favorite tourist spot for rich Russians. The opposition parties have asked for a referendum, but the current government has declined.

The real question to ask here is “why does NATO want Montenegro?” Montenegro is a tiny country with only 620,000 people and only 2,000 active duty soldiers. If needed, this tiny country could contribute very little militarily. The economy is also in a depressing state, with a 15% unemployment rate. However, despite these disadvantages, Montenegro is of huge political importance. The final Russian response, and NATO counter-response is yet to be seen, but this NATO move will only worsen Western-Russian relations.