Montenegro, once a former adversary as part of former Yugoslavia, is now being valorized as a NATO partner. Yet the tiny Balkan country will not likely find inner peace with the decision, says Dragoslav Dedovic.
During the 1999 Kosovo War, NATO conducted heavy bombing raids against Serbia and Montenegro - at that time both united in a state called the "Federal Republic of Yugoslavia." During the war, Montenegro was much less often a target than Serbia, which the West viewed as the main problem in the conflict under its autocratic President Slobodan Milosevic. That military focus on Serbia irritated many Montenegrins, since military bravery is a celebrated aspect of Montenegro's self-image.
Now, the days of enmity are over. The Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic can be satisfied: his tiny country, situated on the Adriatic coast between NATO member states Croatia and Albania, has now been offered full NATO membership itself.
First Djukanovic distanced himself from Slobodan Milosevic, then from democratic Serbia altogether after the strongman's fall, and later he led Montenegro to independence in 2006. His clear goal: EU and NATO membership.
Djukanovic's leadership has been stable for years, although it remains controversial: He is said to have been deeply involved in large-scale cigarette smuggling activities, and to have very good contacts to the Italian mafia. As Milosevic's hawk, he ideologically armed the Montenegrin irregulars that pushed forward into Croatian Dubrovnik during the 1991 Wars of Yugoslav Secession. Some went so far as to call what he did incitement to war crimes - war crimes against Croatia, a country to which Montenegro will be bound as a NATO partner in the future.
Nevertheless, Djukanovic has always proclaimed his innocence. With the invitation to join NATO, he will no doubt feel vindicated in his claims of being a "flawless democrat" in the Western Balkans, and will act accordingly. If at some point in the future the notoriously fractured opposition in Montenegro should become radicalized, one will certainly be able to view that fact as a side effect of this decision. The main thing is that Djukanovic keeps the Russians away from the Adriatic. The same Russians that Djukanovic greeted with open arms just a few years ago, calling them Montenegro's traditional friends - from sunbathing tourists to businessmen.
Advantages for Djukanovic and NATO
The loud disapproval of Montenegro's NATO ambitions currently emanating from Moscow are most likely as unsettling to Djukanovic as the protests of aggressive opponents in front of the parliament in Podgorica. Yet the prospects of immunity, even after the end of his almost princely 25-year reign, as well as the added bonus of international legitimacy, are both much more important to him.
NATO, on the other hand, seals a potential geo-strategic gap by securing its dominance in the Adriatic - nothing more. The Montenegrins are undoubtedly courageous soldiers, but they are militarily irrelevant: Even if Montenegro were to send its entire army - around 2,000 men - into a war zone, it would certainly not be decisive to the outcome.
NATO membership has never helped modernize a country
Might NATO at least serve as a motor for modernization? That would be a nice idea, but no. The claim that NATO membership makes Westward orientation and the acceptance of Western values irreversible in countries that accept the invitation to join the alliance simply lacks any basis in reality.
NATO is adopting a problem child, even though it happens to be one that is currently deserving of much praise. The PR departments in Podgorica and Brussels are no doubt honing the fable of a state that has been successfully transformed. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has already led by example, stating: "This is the beginning of a very beautiful alliance." Still, the decision will never help Montenegro find inner peace.
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