Russia just got Montenegro admitted to NATO. At the meeting of its foreign ministers on December 1, the NATO alliance agreed to extend an invitation of membership to a country with which it was at war in 1999.
The Montenegro government has been seeking to join NATO since 2006; it was the existing NATO members that hesitated. The Western alliance had been stalling — setting high standards of internal transparency and reform, requiring applicants to resolve any existing border disputes with their neighbors, and mandating that potential new members become “net contributors of security” to reduce the risks associated with expansion.
But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, provocative military acts and exercises, relentless propaganda, and funding for nativist political groups such as France’s National Front have so alarmed Western countries that they are coalescing around anti-Russian policies.
This is, needless to say, not what the government of Vladimir Putin intended. Russia threatens countries that try to associate themselves with the West. Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov tried to prevent NATO’s invitation to Montenegro by warning that Russia would consider it “a provocation.” Putin’s spokesman announced there would be “retaliatory actions” against Montenegro.
Montenegro will add only 2,000 troops to NATO’s armed forces of 3,375,000; its defense budget will add only $5 billion to the NATO pool of $892 billion. Yet Russia claims the tiny country’s inclusion in NATO is a threat.
#share#And in an important way, it is a threat to Russia: Montenegro’s desire to be claimed as Western is a refutation of the European order Russia is seeking. The Russian order is one where strong states prey upon their weaker neighbors, where the rules they force on others don’t apply to Russia, where the state determines who can have access to political and economic opportunity, where there are no rights superior to the power of the state and no checks on that power.
The European order America fought to establish — and has persevered with its allies to sustain — is an order of voluntary accession to mutually agreed rules. The American order gives weak states a voice in the making of those rules and a responsibility in their enforcement, so power is legitimated by consent. The countries in the American order are the world’s freest and most prosperous, the most adaptive in the face of change. And that is what Russia is really afraid of.
#related#The transition from poor, Communist countries to prosperous democracies has been made spectacularly by numerous countries that emerged from under Soviet control after the Cold War. Those that have faltered or failed in transition are those with the greatest latent Russian influence — which, of course, includes Russia itself. It is a mark of the darker side of the Russian vision that they seek to force other countries into similar failure.
NATO’s 28 allied countries are to be commended for holding the door open for others who seek the opportunity that freedom provides. Let us hope that the Putin government realizes that it is the architect of Western solidarity through its predatory behavior.