NATO’s Door is Open: Montenegro On its Way to Become 29th Member

  • By defencematters

Montenegro is on the path for NATO accession

Andrej Matisak

It will still take some time, but Montenegro is on the path for NATO accession as announced. But of course the Alliance has some very complicated debates on the horizon, especially about the future status of Georgia, FYROM, Bosnia, as well as the Ukraine amongst others.

How important is it for NATO to stick with its open-door policy?

Read what the experts told us:

Daniel Serwer, Senior Research Professor of Conflict Management, Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, John Hopkins University, Scholar, Middle East Institute

I think it vital that NATO stick with its open-door policy, which gives lots of countries an incentive to improve their military performance, establish civilian control and ensure progress towards democracy. That doesn’t mean the Alliance will necessarily take in Georgia or Ukraine. Each case has to be considered on its merits when it is ready. But Russia should be allowed no veto over NATO enlargement.


Davide Denti, PhD student, School of International Studies, University of Trento, Editor for East Journal

The invitation to Montenegro to join NATO shows that the Western military alliance is still open and that Atlantic integration runs on a parallel path to EU integration for the Western Balkan countries. Notwithstanding recurrent pro-Russian rhetoric to appease public opinions, even those countries of the region that are deemed less likely to join the Alliance one day (Serbia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina) have built up important bilateral relations with the Alliance (an Individual Partnership Action Plan was signed with Serbia in January 2015, and a Membership Action Plan with Bosnia and Herzegovina since 2008).

While further NATO enlargement to the East remains on hold (concerning Ukraine or Georgia), and consolidation of NATO presence with ground troops in Central and Eastern European member states is being debated, the main issues for the credibility of NATO remain open in South East Europe and linked to Greece: in particular the cases of Cyprus and of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Cyprus shows how two NATO member states can still be hostile to each other after half a century of participation in a common defence alliance, thus questioning the presence of any NATO “transformative power”, though a long-hoped reunification in 2016 following the Anastasiades/Akinci talks could ease the tensions in the East Mediterranean. The “name issue” between Greece and Macedonia instead shows how one NATO member state can hold all the Alliance to ransom over one bilateral issue, notwithstanding the 2011 ICJ opinion against the legality of such veto. The continued presence of right-wing nationalists in the Tsipras governments have till now defused any hope for a breakthrough on this.

The domestic situation in Montenegro and FYROM remains anyway contentious. In FYROM, the Przino agreement to solve last year’s political crisis is being slowly implemented but its success is not yet secured. In Montenegro, the same political elites rules the country since the late 1980s in continuity with the Yugoslav political class. Montenegro still has to develop a democratic alternance in power, and the street protests of October/November show how democracy is not yet consolidated. Improvements in the rule of law in the country were deemed as a condition for a NATO invitation too.

In both cases of Montenegro and FYROM, Russia tried to play on domestic instability to claim that NATO accession is a contentious issue within societies. It is not necessarily so. The Montenegrin opposition was fast in reassuring about its support to the process, whileFYROM’s Gruevski government – backed by Moscow during the protests – has been the driving force of 10 years of attempts of FYROM to join the Alliance. Rather, Moscow is playing its last cards as a spoiler in the Balkans, without particular success until now.


Igor Merheim-Eyre, PhD Candidate in International Relations, School of Politics and International Relations, University of Kent

NATO’s open-door policy is a double-edged sword – it’s a source of security and reassurance on one hand, and insecurity and unease on the other.

Unfortunately, finding the right balance here is not easy, especially when one takes into question the number of security hotspots on the continent. Frankly, while small Montenegro is not really an issue, I do not see the logic of NATO expanding into the zones of instability, be it Ukraine or the Caucasus. Strategically, there is little to be gained from such enlargement, other than further antagonisement of Russia.

If Georgia or Ukraine wish to take part in NATO exercises and therefore strengthen their capabilities, then that should be strongly encouraged. On the other side, this can be done without enlargement. After all, NATO still has a lot of consolidation and soul-searching to do, without expanding into new areas, and face ever new situations.


Artur Gruszczak, Centre for European Studies, Jagiellonian University in Krakow

This decision confirms NATO’s interest in consolidating its position in the Balkans. It also could be seen as a stimulus for other countries, especially Serbia, to stick to NATO standards in their internal reforms and external policies. So, the Balkans are the ‘natural’ area of NATO’s activities, regardless of the tricky question of Macedonia’s (FYROM) official name and fragility of Kosovo. However, it seems that open-door policy ends in that region. Prospects for Georgia and Ukraine are bleak. NATO won’t risk escalating tensions with Russia, especially now when signs of improvement in mutual relations have appeared. Moreover, from the strategic point of view the value of Georgia is questionable and Ukrainian politics is too complex and risky.