For the first time in six years, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization announced that it would expand its membership, inviting Montenegro to join the alliance. Only 16 years ago, NATO was bombing the small western Balkan nation as part of its intervention in Kosovo.
With a standing military of only 2,000, Montenegro’s membership will have little impact on the alliance’s military strength. But the move has profound political consequences. It illustrates the progress that the western Balkans, and Montenegro in particular, have made since the bloody and traumatizing wars of the 1990s. To receive the invitation, Montenegro had to undertake a series of political, legal, and military reforms under the auspices of NATO’s Membership Action Plan, a program that offers assistance and support for countries seeking to join the alliance.
That a newly independent country could reach these standards in such a short time frame speaks to the enduring and powerful draw of the Euro-Atlantic community. In that sense, this remarkable success story comes at an opportune time—it is a bright spot in Europe’s otherwise dark political terrain of internal strain, the refugee crisis, and the war in Ukraine.
Montenegro’s membership also represents a major step toward consolidating political stability and democracy in the western Balkans; the reforms it undertook to reach this point include strengthening its governing structures and democratic institutions, as well as bringing its military up to NATO standards. NATO membership would also turn Montenegro into a regional leader and an example of how a small country, not even a decade old, can make great strides so long as it has enough political ambition. The move could inspire others, such as Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, to reenergize necessary reforms for eventual membership, a process that
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