Montenegro’s Membership in NATO Poses no Threat to Russia; NATO-Russia Security Cooperation is Critical

December 4, 2015

By Sharyl Cross

The collective decision of the NATO Alliance on Wednesday to extend an invitation to Montenegro to begin accession talks toward NATO membership represents formal recognition of Montenegro’s accomplishments in fulfilling a range of demanding reforms and requirements for membership over the past decade. Montenegro’s membership in the Alliance is not about attempting to provoke Russia or to counter or undermine Russia’s interests. Although the “historic” decision comes at a time of high tension for the NATO-Russia relationship, the invitation results from the culmination of a process that was initiated long before the crisis in Ukraine, tensions over Syria and NATO member Turkey’s downing of the Russian aircraft.

Russia’s security would by no means be diminished as a result of Montenegro’s membership in NATO. However, NATO membership should contribute significantly to security in Montenegro and the wider, historically war-torn Balkan region. Particularly for a small nation, participating in cooperative defense and security efforts with NATO partners that involves sharing resources, expertise, and consultative decision making on a broad range of security areas can only benefit Montenegro and its neighbors.

Most important, these are decisions to be made by the members of the NATO Alliance and the population of Montenegro. Nations that are not involved in this process should not be able to delay or veto the decisions or to jeopardize the progress of aspiring NATO member nations.

Russia and Montenegro share close and important historic, cultural and religious ties, and Russian investment in Montenegro has been significant. Russia’s sensitivity regarding NATO enlargement is understandable given the legacies of the Cold War. However, the bifurcated vision of East-West blocs and division was a part of the past that is no longer suited to meet the daunting shared challenges that nations of Europe (and Russia is of course a part of Europe) confront in the emerging complex and inter-connected security environment. Largely due to images from the past, Moscow can’t appreciate the many valuable practical contributions and resources that NATO has provided over the past several years to support processes of democratization and defense transformation among nations that willingly elected to aspire to achieve enhanced integration in the Euro-Atlantic security community.

NATO member-nations and Russia should be joining forces to address a broad agenda of common security challenges, especially terrorism and violent extremism.

For more than two decades, NATO had placed a high priority on developing a security partnership with Russia and had been collaborating with Russia on a range of practical security areas (countering terrorism, nuclear proliferation, maritime, cyber, etc.). NATO member-nations and Russia should be joining forces to address a broad agenda of common security challenges confronting their societies—especially cooperating in countering the grave threat to humanity posed by terrorism and violent extremism. NATO-Russia cooperation might seem difficult to imagine given the serious escalation of tension in the aftermath of Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Nevertheless, NATO nations and Russia can only benefit by dealing with their inevitable differences and combining capacities to address common security issues that they cannot manage alone.

The current climate of high tension in the NATO-Russia relationship entails significant risks and potentially dangerous consequences. The enlargement of NATO over the past two decades has only enhanced the diversity and capacity of the Alliance to serve to bring member and partner nations together in a trusted network to contribute to security and stability. Rather than embracing the rekindling of East-West confrontation, we should all be thinking more about how to return the NATO-Russia relationship to a more constructive trajectory.

Perhaps the small, predominantly Orthodox Christian nation of Montenegro might take on the first huge task as the 29th member of the Alliance in offering suggestions and support toward alleviating NATO-Russia tensions—nothing could be more important for the future of security in Europe and far beyond. Hopefully, Montenegro’s society will not suffer adverse reprisals for electing to pursue a path of greater Euro-Atlantic integration that should only contribute to national and regional security today and for generations to come.


Sharyl Cross is Director of the Kozmetsky Center at  St. Edward’s University and a Global Policy Fellow at the Kennan Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

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