The small state Montenegro (=the black mountain) in the middle of the Balkan has a long history of changing governments and changing states. Unlike the Kosovo, Montenegro was able to leave the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro and was fast accepted by the majority of the UN-member states and even by Serbia. As Montenegro had a long historical and ethnical connection with Serbia, it’s not a big surprise that the population is mainly divided between Montenegrins (45%), Serbs (28,7%), Bosniaks (8,6%) and Albanians (4,9%). Although the only official language is Montenegrin, other languages like Serbian, Bosnian and Croatian are in use and widely understood. While Montenegro tries to establish good relationships with other former members of Yugoslavia, it is following the strategic goal to enter the EU and the NATO. Now, on the 5th of June 2017 Montenegro has finally joined the NATO and has therefore chosen another path like Serbia, which rather moves closer to Russia and a loose unnamed alliance of states that oppose the NATO on a political level. Now with Montenegro as a new member the NATO controls the entire northern part of the Mediterranean Sea (with the exception of a small coast line belonging to Bosnia & Herzegovina). On the other side is Russia continuously warning countries of a membership, but the government in the Kremlin fails to establish another similar organization. One try is the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which indeed has some similarities, but apart from economic cooperation and cooperation in fighting secession movements the cooperation can be called rather weak. But why is Russia now, 25 years after the East-West-Conflict, opposing still the NATO? To understand the NATO today it is important to have a brief look into its history, with a stress on the recent developments.
Two Defensive Alliances
The NATO was established in 1949 as North Atlantic Treaty Organization to form a defense alliance for capitalistic western states. While the USA hoped to gain influence on other smaller states and to keep the capitalistic west together, the smaller states saw the opportunity to find a guarantee for their sovereignty. This was from high importance as the Soviet Union seemed to move forward and install puppet governments in its area of influence.
In 1955 the US government proposed the membership to the Federal German Republic. Germany which showed great efforts to integrate as fast as possible within the west and its treaties signed the treaty on May 9th. Only five days later the Warsaw Pact was established between the Soviet Union and its allies. To sum it up it can be described as another defensive military alliance treaty like the NATO. The Warsaw Pact had only socialistic countries that followed the leadership of the Soviet Union, the NATO only capitalistic countries under the leadership of the USA. Military alliances always require a certain amount of trust as a state puts its own security in the hands of another state, allows therefore another state to station troops and take defensive tasks. This trust had to be founded. The NATO solved this issue with the famous Article 5. If any member state is attacked, the other members are obliged to help with military or with logistics. In the unlikely happening that a member state attacks another member states, the alliance has to help the attacked one. The NATO is according to its treaty a purely defensive alliance. The Article 5 is more a warning and a threat to potential aggressors, and so it does not define what an actual attack is. So far the Article 5 was triggered only once, and that in a rather aggressive and definitely very creative way: In response to the 9/11 attack the USA triggered the Article 5 and declared the terroristic act as an act of war. Afghanistan and the Taliban who hosted and supported the terror group Al-Qaeda were seen as the attackers. When the USA called for aid, the alliance followed. The War on Terror and the following aftermath damaged the reputation of the NATO entirely. Shortly after the declaration of war, the invasion started and the Article 5 of the NATO-Treaty was in force for the first and yet only time.
The NATO was founded as an Anti-Soviet Union alliance and some experts see the NATO and especially the NATO Double-Track Decision (another reason for the strong loss of reputation) as some reasons that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. And so the NATO lost 1992 the NATO lost its purpose as the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact just didn’t exist anymore. The search for new tasks and challenges for the NATO began. With the war and the attempted genocide in Yugoslavia the NATO found a new occupation and tried to protect the peace and the endangered minorities. While some politicians and experts saw this as a new task of the alliance, it changed in 2002 when the War on Terror began. Now over 25 years after the end of the Cold War it seems that the old tasks are indeed coming back – or where never gone.
With the gained independence and full sovereignty the states of the former Warsaw Pact immediately pursued the path into NATO and EU. It was a decision in the state that was carried by the governments and the majorities of the population. In the first wave in 1999 Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland joined the NATO and only five years later the three Baltic States, Romania, Bulgaria and Slovenia entered the NATO. Finally in 2009 also Albania and Croatia joined. All these countries put the membership as a priority in their foreign policy. While the NATO membership requires only reforms in the military and foreign policy sector, the membership in the EU requires hundreds of reforms in the domestic policy as every new member state has to adopt every single law that the EU has ever passed, which might sometimes stand against the interest of country or population. That’s why the candidates have to show a very serious commitment for years and different governments have to share the same ideas. Usually this goes with a high consensus and it should be stated that every member and every candidate does it voluntarily. When Georgia (2008) and Ukraine (2013) both showed interest in joining the NATO, Russia supported independence movements, which harmed their territorial integrity and evolved in a territorial dispute, which makes it impossible for them to enter the NATO or EU.
The Membership Danger
The Russia government has several times opposed the NATO-membership of post-communist and post-soviet states as it claims that the NATO has promised in the Two-Plus-Four-Contract, that it won’t move to the east, if the Russian government accepts the re-union of Germany. This promise was though never written down and is not confirmed by any politician outside of Russia. Of course some politicians warned the NATO of approving states from the post-communist space. These politicians and experts, who came mostly from the USA stated that the enlargement would lead to several problems:
- An enlargement would strengthen the instability in Europe and block necessary reforms as it draws a line between members and non-members.
- The military costs would grow for the stronger members as more regions would be vulnerable or would have to be defended.
- The NATO would lose its reputation and could be seen as an expansive alliance instead of a defensive one.
- A lot of new states with serious domestic, secession and border problems would be approved, which would lead to new challenges and dangers for the NATO.
- Russia could feel threatened by an expansive NATO and therefore withdraw from disarmament agreements.
- Nationalistic and non-democratic movements could gain strength in Russia and in other non-member states could nationalistic as they would feel excluded and threatened by the NATO.
Indeed a lot of these fears have been proven right as most non-members in Europe that were part of the post-communist region show signs of political instability. And also Russia demonstrates against the new memberships as it views it as an aggression and political isolation. But the reality showed that the states of the post-communist space craved for the membership as they emphasized constantly that only with the protection of the NATO their state can survive. The fear of an expansive Russia is still alive in most of the post-communist countries and it was especially growing after the Russo-Georgian War in 2008, the annexation of the Crimea and the war in Donbas.
A coup and the fight against NATO
Now Montenegro has finally achieved its approval in the NATO, but the way to this membership was not as clear and safe as it might be seen at first. In October 2016 the citizens of Montenegro voted if Montenegro should join the NATO or if it should move closer to Russia, like Serbia.
While the pro-NATO party won the election, the pro-Russia party gained barely one fifth of the votes. But an incident might have influenced the result fairly: Just one day before the election was held the police found an extremist Serbian group that prepared a coup, if the pro-western party of Milo Djukanovic would win. While one group should attack the crowd in front of the parliament another should storm the parliament and take Djukanovic as a prisoner. Montenegro immediately blamed Russia for the coup. This claim was surprisingly supported by the Serbian government who announced that they also have imprisoned an extremist group in Serbia, which prepared a coup in Montenegro. Although a connection could not yet be confirmed between these two groups, the investigation in Montenegro found out that the group was led by a Russian citizen, who is searched by Interpol with several identities. The Russian government though blames Djukanovic with the theory that the failed coup has helped him to win the election. Due to leaked emails a German journalist group was able to find out who supported the group in Montenegro with the necessary money: The Belarusian citizen Alexander Usowskji, and the Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofejew are accused of having funded the group in Montenegro. But these two people are well known for funding also other anti-democratic and anti-western groups in Europe. Malofejew is even proud to say that he is funding left-and right-wing extremists in the Czech Republic and in Slovakia in order to weaken the political system in these two states. So far the investigations in Montenegro were unable to find ties between the group, Usowskji and Malofejew to the Kremlin. And so stands the accusation from Montenegro that the Russian government is behind the coup on weak legs. At the moment it seems that the truth may not be found in the next time.
But the incident in Montenegro is again a strong sign that Russia or at least Russian oligarchs are ready to interfere in the intern affairs of other countries. The fear of neighboring countries has once again risen because of the situation in Montenegro. And therefore the question remains the same: Are we again in a cold war? Are again secret agencies trying to shape countries and its politics? The only answers that were found are that the time of neutrality is over, and the states of the post-communist space have to decide fast which path they want to go. Most have chosen the NATO voluntary, but have they chosen right? So far they can only hope to have chosen the right decision. No Alternatives To Optimism.