Becoming NATO’s Next Ally

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From Damon Wilson, the New Atlanticist:  When NATO leaders meet in Chicago this weekend, they will review the process of enlargement and the performance of candidate nations. While no invitations will be issued, the summit is an opportunity for allies to affirm that NATO will continue to enlarge and that Montenegro is on track to earn a place among their ranks. Indeed, Montenegro can become NATO’s next ally.

Montenegro regained independence only six years ago. In deciding to pursue membership in NATO, Montenegro’s leaders are putting the country on an irreversible path to ensure its sovereignty, deepen its democracy, and provide stability fostering economic growth. NATO after all is as much a community of shared values as one of shared interests.

Membership within an alliance of democracies is the best guarantee for the permanence of the Montenegrin state. As an ally, Montenegro–much like Estonia or Poland–would never again be concerned about its survival as a sovereign nation or domination by other states. . . .

Joining NATO is not easy. Alliance standards are high. Despite only beginning NATO’s Membership Action Plan (MAP) in 2010, Montenegro has made great progress in meeting the reform benchmarks and the responsibilities of membership.

The country has held free and fair elections, and has another opportunity to burnish its democratic credentials in parliamentary elections this fall. The voice of the opposition is heard. The country has worked to overcome the legacy of years of suffering under embargos targeting Milosevic by launching a serious effort to tackle organized crime, narcotics trafficking, and corruption. Montenegro has adopted the right legal framework and now the international community looks forward to demonstrable results. . . .

The day after Chicago, Montenegro’s goal becomes to secure an invitation for membership at the next NATO summit in 2014. To achieve this, Montenegrin advocates of NATO membership must do much more to educate the people of Montenegro about NATO – and dispel misperceptions.

NATO membership is not something nations can take lightly. It is not simply a stepping stone to membership in the European Union. Rather accession to NATO requires countries make a solemn pledge to consider an attack on one as an attack on all–that is, to commit to the pledge in Article 5 of the Washington Treaty. Such a profound commitment cannot be the commitment of one government or one political party. The Alliance must be confidant that an enduring majority of the people in Montenegro are committed to the values, interests, and institutions that define the transatlantic community.

NATO membership for Montenegro is possible, even likely. If Montenegro continues decisive reforms at home, maintains constructive relations in the region, and intensifies its public awareness campaign, it can become NATO’s next ally.

Damon Wilson is the executive vice president of the Atlantic Council and a former US National Security Council and NATO official who has worked on NATO enlargement since 1999. He led an Atlantic Council transatlantic assessment mission to Montenegro in April. A version of this essay appears today in newspapers across Montenegro.

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