On 5 June 2017, eleven years after Montenegro regained her independence, NATO received its 29th member into the transatlantic family.
The reason for the successful outcome of this joining process is to be found in the fact that, ever since its independence referendum, Montenegro has defined joining NATO as her foremost strategic policy goal.
NATO membership was therefore the logical outcome of the dissolution of the ex-Yugoslav space, subsequent instabilities and conflicts in the region, and Montenegro’s clear political decision to join an alliance of common values and principles.
For several decades, Montenegro has been a factor for stability, continually contributing to security in the region. The country has made itself part of solutions, rather than a generator of problems, and it has tried to provide constructive answers to the Balkan crisis.
Montenegro can only add further to this role through its membership of NATO, and prove her worth as an ally and provider of security within this win-win relationship. Continuing along this path, Podgorica is now pursuing negotiations, aimed at joining the European Union.
Culmination of work
Relations between Montenegro and NATO began in late 2006 when the country was invited to join the Partnership for Peace programme; the official invitation to join the Alliance came in December 2015.
So, membership was the culmination of a decade of work on the implementation of comprehensive reforms in the country: the adoption and application of modern standards in areas such as security and defence, but also improvements in the rule of law.
The Montenegrin accession to the Alliance also marks a shift from the application of purely defensive or military criteria for membership, towards an upgraded, more political model, applicable to any future NATO enlargement.
By joining NATO, Montenegro has become part of an alliance of states based on the values of democracy, human rights, civil liberties and respect for international law.
NATO is also a prerequisite for security, economic growth and development, which are all important markers in the EU-accession process.
Membership of the Alliance has also given a strong impetus to the further modernization of the Montenegrin armed forces, and allowed the country to participate in the creation of a global security policy, as well as helping to strengthen peace and stability within the region, and Europe as a whole.
Montenegro has also become more attractive to the EU and other NATO member states, which encourages increased investment in tourism, energy and transport infrastructure, as well as the creation of new jobs.
The security of a country is the first thing foreign tourists check before departing. With more people and more business coming to Montenegro, the country will become more open and transparent, more competitive in accordance with international standards, and with an ever-stronger rule of law.
Furthermore, as a NATO member, Montenegro acquires the right to participate in NATO procurement tenders, as well as to receive funding from the Science for Peace and Security programme and use NATO's resources in emergency situations. Recent fires that engulfed the coastline of Montenegro showed how vital assistance via the NATO network and its communication channels can be.
A consequence of the country’s plan to join NATO was the triggering of a number of debates in society, with people polarized on each side of the argument.
Apart from this active domestic debate, the process was marked by a third country attempting to interfere in the internal affairs of a candidate country by trying to halt the joining process, and overturn increased integration within the region, something that has characterised the Western Balkans for more than two decades.
Montenegro managed to fight off these interferences and stay on course to join the Alliance. By doing this the country showed not only that she can preserve stability and security internally, but also send a strong message that the Alliance is vibrant and able to grow despite any opposition there might be to its enlargement. Other countries queuing up to join NATO are very well aware of these facts.
Geopolitical reasons were also an integral part of the decision to join NATO.
Since the Bucharest summit nine years ago, and the last enlargement of the Alliance, the world has changed, especially Europe. The Arab Spring, Ukraine, Syria and new migrant flows have all changed the concept of security, both in terms of asymmetric threats, as well as those more traditional ones centred on geography, borders and regions.
Montenegrin entry into NATO means that, no matter how small a country, the Alliance is strong enough to grow and further stabilise yet another part of the Mediterranean Basin area.
Montenegro was the last patch of land missing along the NATO Northern Mediterranean coast, as well as the only country stopping the Adriatic Sea being successfully ringed by NATO members.
As the Balkans have always played the role of crossroads for the continents, this NATO expansion helps secure the Alliance’s south-east European flank, especially with a view to developments and future potential risks in the Middle East. The Alliance is now demonstrating to the remaining countries in the Western Balkans that membership is attainable, which is having an immediate stabilising effect.
Although a small country, joining NATO has special significance for its latest member, as well as for south-east Europe and the other NATO members in general. It has demonstrated the superiority of Western values, and the principles of democracy, rule of law, fundamental human rights and market economics, as well as the supremacy of the NATO security and defence framework.
Membership has strengthened NATO by demonstrating this is something many countries can aspire to, and that the alliance can grow and expand, even while countering those wider threats and instabilities that surround it. In addition, it has shown that the enlargement process itself can bring about improvements in candidate countries; Montenegro is one of the best examples of this transformative power.
Finally, the process should not stop with Montenegro. This win-win situation for NATO needs to continue and allow us to further construct and strengthen the robust security and stability framework of our common values in an increasingly unstable world.