Albanians in Montenegro Backed NATO Accession
By Genc Mlloja
Albanian Daily News
Published June 15, 2017
Montenegro has considered the accession to NATO as one of the most crucial events in its modern history, an accomplishment achieved thanks to the implementation of comprehensive political, economic and security reforms in the process of Euro-Atlantic integration, noting that their constructive suggestions, advice and assistance have been of great importance.
This tiny Balkan country became NATO's newest member on June 5, 2017, taking to 29 the number of member countries, upon depositing its instrument of accession to the North Atlantic Treaty with the US State Department in Washington DC. The flag of Montenegro was raised at NATO Headquarters on Wednesday (June 7, 2017) in a special ceremony to mark the country's accession to NATO. Flag raising ceremonies were also held simultaneously at Allied Command Operations (SHAPE) in Mons and Allied Command Transformation in Norfolk, Virginia.
Allied foreign ministers signed Montenegro's Accession Protocol in May 2016, after which all 28 national parliaments voted to ratify its membership. Montenegro's accession represents NATO's first enlargement since April 1, 2009, when Albania and Croatia joined the Alliance.
According to official Podgorica, Montenegro's membership in NATO is a positive signal for the entire region of the Western Balkans, adding that the integration into the Euro-Atlantic and European structures is of crucial importance for the stabilization and economic development of the region.
At a ceremony marking the occasion, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg underlined that Montenegro's accession to the Alliance contributes to international peace and security, and sends a strong signal that NATO's door remains open. Stoltenberg pointed out, "We value Montenegro, and recognize the unique contribution you make to the Alliance." In terms of muscle, Montenegro does not add much to NATO's strength. It has 1,950 military personnel, 13 helicopters, two frigates and three patrol ships. Its defense budget is 50m euros, or 1.7 percent of GDP. But its soldiers have taken part in NATO, European Union and UN operations, including the war in Afghanistan.
Albanian population in support of membership
Montenegro has joined NATO, looking toward more security guarantees and to attract more investments although not all the segments of the population of that country endorsed the membership in the Alliance. Its accession has been neither straightforward nor substantially embraced by its population of around 670,000. Its mix of ethnicities - Montenegrins constitute 45 percent, Serbs about 28 percent and Albanians just around 5 percent - has contributed to the ambivalent response to NATO. The Albanian population has tended to support the membership, while most of the Serbs were opposed to it in NATO referendums.
"It is our definite departure to the west, to the family of democracies to the Euro-Atlantic family. And this is the biggest achievement for our country since we regained our independence in 2006," Foreign Minister Srdjan Darmanovic has told Deutsche Welle "There was a coup attempt in October and they've been interfering in our affairs by supporting the opposition; they are doing this in continuation. They are gathering opposition to the presidential race next year already. They are issuing statements about our NATO membership," said Darmanovic. According to him, Montenegro is definitely not any threat for Russia. "But we still have to cope with that. What we wanted was to decide by ourselves by our own," he said.
It has not been an easy decision for Montenegro to come to this point as around 40 percent of the public is not sure that the NATO membership would be the right course. Some analysts have raised the question if the decision was an irreversible one because politics could change in a way in face of the elections to be held in that country next year.
But prime minister of Montenegro Dusko Markovic speaking to Politico on June 12, 2017 was sharp and cut in his answer by saying: "So throughout this entire course of dialogue, we were very transparent, and this dialogue was completely public. We presented both the pros and cons in terms of NATO accession. And now I can tell you that this overwhelming majority of our population is in favor of NATO, namely, two-thirds of the MPs who currently are in parliament are in favor of NATO. Part of our MPs are boycotting the parliament in the aftermath of the elections of October 16th. So as far as your question concerning the irreversibility of the decision is concerned, I have to say that this is a decision that is permanent. It cannot be brought into question, and it is completely irreversible." In addition he said that the next elections expected to take place in 2018 will not change anything in terms of Montenegrins' aspirations and goals and in terms of quality of life of the citizens of that Balkan country.
With Montenegro NATO Controls All Adriatic
Montenegro borders NATO members Croatia and Albania, which is a big plus both for these three countries and the alliance itself strengthening the security situation in the region. On the other hand, its 293-kilometer coastline does give Montenegro some importance as a strategic parcel of real estate, since it's the penultimate piece in the Adriatic puzzle. With Montenegro as a member, NATO will control the entire coast of the Adriatic, from the heel of Italy's boot to the rugged shores of Greece, save for a 20-kilometer stretch of land held by Bosnia-Herzegovina. Moreover, Montenegro hosts the Bar and Kotor naval bases, once key facilities for the defunct Yugoslav armed forces that analysts say may be part of the alliance's future plans.
"It is difficult to say now whether any NATO combat facilities will be deployed in Montenegro. But militarily, I can say that the base in Kotor was one the chief ones among the former Yugoslav armed forces. It was well-equipped and there were ships which controlled major part of the Adriatic," Colonel Boris Podoprigora, president of the St. Petersburg Conflict Resolution Club says. "As far as I know, there are no serious bases on the opposite side, in Italy. They are all on the opposite side of Italy, mainly near Naples. However, I can confirm that Montenegro is an important strategic point of the region. It is quite an important geographical unit in the NATO conglomerate."
The Kremlin has warned Montenegro in no uncertain terms that they consider its NATO membership a hostile path that Montenegro was taking. Not mentioning Montenegro by name the Russian Ambassador to Albania, Aleksander Karpushin told Albanian Daily News on June 12, 2017 that the Russian Federation was only against the enlargement of NATO which was established at the beginning as a counter-balance towards the Warsaw Treaty. "After the dissolution of the latter we have heard many promises from the Western partners that NATO will not enlarge and will not carry out military activities near Russia. But now the Alliance has got closer to the Russian borders and the troops of NATO are stationed at the border of the Russian Federation," said Ambassador Karpushin, who hastened to point out that his country was in favor of EU integration and membership in it of the Western Balkan countries.
The future Serbian view of the Alliance
Many analysts believe that Serbia, a staunch ally of Russia, might be one of the countries that has been taking very seriously such a development and Montenegro's membership in NATO could change the way Serbians view the alliance. While it is making steps to continue the EU accession, the question of membership in NATO is another story.
But, according to Janusz Bugajski, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA), the NATO membership itself is another stepping stone towards EU membership. "I think all those things serve as a potential example to Serbian citizens. I personally do not buy this idea that Serbia wants to be neutral, because remember, Yugoslavia under Tito was non-aligned, was neutral. But sooner or later, you have to choose. You are not Switzerland - you are not a rich country with a specific niche. Serbia is a country which will be surrounded by NATO countries and it will fall behind in its military reform, in its modernization programs, if it does not become a part of NATO," said Bugajski, an expert on Balkan and Albanian affairs.
Asked whether it was possible for Western Balkan countries to join the EU without accession to NATO, the American analyst replied, "Yes, it is possible, and it depends on the EU. Serbia could be an example of entering the EU before entering NATO. Then the question for Serbia will, of course, be Kosovo. Kosovo wants to be a member of both. And if Kosovo builds its military, I think they are going to invest a lot of resources in trying to become a NATO member, as soon as they are allowed to. That is going to create a problem in a way for Serbia because Serbia may even have Kosovo in NATO, and it will be outside the Alliance."
An Added Value to Relations with Albania
It goes without saying that Montenegro's accession to NATO is an added value in the bilateral relations between that country and its neighbor Albania, which, although a small country itself, has always supported Podgorica's drive to join the Alliance. In addition both of them strive to join the European Union. "The relations between our two countries are excellent. We belong to countries with democratic freedom," said Premier Edi Rama when he visited Podgorica where he met his counterpart Dushko Markovic at the beginning of April this year. It was announced after their talks that the two governments will hold a joint meeting next October. "There are no open questions between Montenegro and Albania. We will hold a joint session of the two government cabinets in October."
In the meantime by the end of May this year it was announced that Minister of Interior of Montenegro Mevludin Nuhodjic, Minister of Interior of Albania Dritan Demiraj and Deputy Minister of Interior of Kosovo Valdet Hoxha signed a protocol on the establishment of the Joint Centre for Police Cooperation at the ceremony which took place in Plava, Montenegro. This document will contribute to improving the cross-border cooperation in the fight against crime throughout more intensive exchange of operative information and more efficient coordination of the joint activities along the state border.
Montenegrin Minister of Interior Nuhodjic noted that this trilateral Centre in a symbolic way represents commitment to the fight against transnational organised crime and the joint contribution to strengthening the security of the region. He stressed that the Centre will boost the joint exchange of information and increase security of the joint borders in terms of meeting the Schengen standards. Minister Nuhodjic said that the Centre will work in accordance with the principle of continuous duty, which is a wide spread model in the EU member states.
Deputy Minister of Interior of Kosovo Valdet Hoxha highlighted that signing of the trilateral Protocol demonstrates the commitment of the three countries to cherishing the mutual cooperation and strengthening interstate mechanisms aimed at fighting organised crime, cross-border crime, illegal migration and terrorism.
German Ambassador to Montenegro Hans Gunther congratulated the governments of Montenegro, Albania and Kosovo on the achieved and promising results in terms of cherishing the regional cooperation. Germany will continue supporting the trilateral cooperation of the border police authorities in the coming period, German Ambassador Gunther outlined. The US Ambassador to Montenegro Margaret Ann Uyehara thanked for the contribution and cooperation demonstrated in pursuing the joint goals, voicing belief that the new trilateral Centre will provide support to the regional police agencies in the fight against all types of international cross-border crime.
The connection of Montenegro and Albania with Brussels doesn't stop with NATO. Not far away from the NATO headquarters, there are the EU institutions. Albania and Montenegro have been pursuing membership here too, and in the not-too-distant future, the flags of both countries will be hoisted at EU Headquarters - the membership in NATO is a steady natural step towards EU accession.