Experience of Montenegro: NATO enlargement for enhancing security

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Throughout history, the Western Balkans have been known as a place where different cultures, religions and ways of life intersect. Nevertheless, its peoples have managed to live and sustain in all their differences. These experiences were crucial when it comes to Montenegro’s determination to choose the path of Euro-Atlantic integration, as a platform for its development and progress.

In the current geostrategic circumstances, the Western Balkans is still a “soft belly” of  Europe, which makes the whole region important from the aspect of Euro-Atlantic stability. It is in this context that Montenegro’s membership in NATO is extremely valuable as it improves the overall security architecture of the Region. Today, as a full-fledged member of NATO Alliance, we have the op-portunity to fully exercise our sovereignty and on an equal footing define our national positions while designing solutions that contributes to the stability and security of Europe and all our Allies. In doing so, partnerships and cooperation are built starting from the shared values which relate primarily to equality, tol-erance, solidarity, democracy, freedom of speech, respect for human rights and the rule of law.

After departing from the destructive nature of Milošević’s policy in 1997, Mon-tenegro restored its independence in 2006. Back then, we defined Euro and Euro-Atlantic integrations as strategic priorities of national importance. From that time on, Montenegro has advanced the furthest, among the Western Bal-kan countries, in implementing reforms towards the adoption of the legislation and institutional infrastructure, securing its leading position in the EU integra-tion process. The minorities have obtained their full affirmation. The ideological orientation towards the Western values, reflected in its educational system, co-operation with neighboring countries, and openness  of our economy, has deliv-ered significant results to Montenegro, such as its status as a ‘stability anchor’ of the Region. All that led to an invitation to join NATO in 2015, what has been of-ficially realised through full-fledged membership in June 2017.  In that man-ner, Montenegro was recognised as reliable partner in preserving and promot-ing democratic values, dedicated to European and Euro-Atlantic integrations, which came as a result of strong commitment and long-term engagement on comprehensive reforms across all sectors of the society.

Participation in the collective security system has been considered as a kind of a “seal” on Montenegro’s independence, what is of the utmost importance in the region of Western Balkans, which has made significant progress compared to the 1990s, but still has a large number of issues which has to be addressed.  To that end, integrations are unavoidable and an irreplaceable prerequisite to the stabilization, but also the only possible answer to the growing dangers of mod-ern security challenges. Increasing exposure to direct and hybrid threats at the global level, which are not individual, but common, require a common response, which could be only effective within the framework offered by the collective de-fense & security  environment.

Therefore, proactive NATO strategy on its eastern and southern flanks, shaped in its 360 degrees approach,  is necessary for building further the vision of free Europe united in peace, democracy and common values. The NATO “open door” policy proved to be one of its main strengths in promoting stability and coopera-tion in Europe. It is important to keep reiterating that NATO’s enlargement pro-cess does not pose a threat to any country. There should be no compromise with the right of every sovereign nation to choose its own path and of the prin-ciple that the 30 Allies decide when a country is ready to join the Alliance. In the current developments in and around Ukraine, these principles have to be strictly followed, even if membership of Ukraine is not on the immediate agen-da, with the full awareness that by threatening Ukraine, Russia is trying to reas-sert its geopolitical relevance and create a new international order.

The report “Russia’s role in the Balkans: The Case of Montenegro” by Digital Fo-rensic Center – Atlantic Council of Montenegro (https://dfcme.me/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Studija-ruski-uticaj-ENG-online-1.pdf) describes in a comprehensive manner Russian activities in obstructing efforts of Montenegro and other Western Balkan’s countries to integrate into NATO and the EU, which  have been intensified after the intervention in Ukraine and the Crimea annexa-tion. The Kremlin responded to the sanctions imposed by the EU and the Unit-ed States by infiltrating the region and sawing discord whenever possible, using the fact that societies in the Western Balkan’s countries are highly polarized and divided on various matters, characterized by ethnic divisions, weak and insuffi-ciently developed institutions, and controversial media scene.

The Report refers that from the Moscow perspective, presence in the Region is a sort of response to EU and NATO, which are strengthening their engagement in the democratization of Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine, and other countries consid-ered as a part of the Russian World.  Historical, cultural, and religious ties are actively propagated and sometimes even exaggerated by the efforts of the Rus-sian public diplomacy and the narratives of their subsidiaries and proxies. A set of tools from the soft power box is large and includes economic instruments – particularly regarding the energy sector, strong media presence, disinfor-mation, the Church, intelligence network, far-right organizations, the influence exercised through “friendly” politicians, political parties, and non-governmental sector, while playing on the card of rooted narrative about the common history and traditionally good, fraternal relations with the Orthodox countries.

Combination of those diverse influences in political and electoral environment at the financial, media, intelligence and logistic levels, led a year ago, to the new Government of Montenegro, which was formed under the auspices of the Serbi-an Orthodox Church, being one of the proxies of the Russian World in the Re-gion. It was realistic to expect that change of dominantly one party’s rule,  all the way from the beginning of 1990s, would bring numerous issues and chal-lenges, both in political, economic and social context. What hasn’t been ex-pected is that circumstances and the platform for the change would be threat-ening to jeopardise Montenegro’s dynamic reform processes and its position of the leader in EU integration. However, it is of a great importance that a political-ly divided and polarized country continues to consider membership in NATO as a pillar of its stability. Also, when it comes to the security of our society, even in the current circumstances marked with numerous challenges, we are witness-ing the reassurance that our decision to join the Alliance was the right one.

Experiences of Montenegro and other Western Balkan countries are directly justifying that a lack of focused, coherent and consistent approach, is giving enough space for activities and interference targeted to undermine efforts of EU, NATO, and the USA, in combination with promoting another political, mili-tary, and economic alternative. Lessons learned in the Region could definitely be useful for those countries bordering Russia and being at the forefront of countering different forms of  threats and malign influences to explore, strengthen their capacities and acquire additional  knowledge  about  hybrid modus operandi of Kremlin.

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H. E. Milica Pejanovic-Djurisic has previously served as Minister of Defense and Permanent Representative of Montenegro to the UN in NY

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