When it comes to defending our country, what Montenegro lacks in size we make up for in courage. It’s no accident that Montenegrins were the only people in the Balkans that managed to keep self-rule under the Ottomans half a millennium ago: The invaders took one look at our mountains (and the fighters standing on top) and decided to let discretion be the better part of valor. Our nation has survived because we protect our own.
It is therefore understandable that some of my countrymen are now questioning why we are sending our soldiers into harm’s way in Afghanistan, a distant country that has never posed any threat to us. They may find it even more puzzling – if not treacherous – that our soldiers are fighting alongside NATO, which bombed our territory just a decade ago. Indeed, one of our government’s chief foreign policy goals is to becoming a full-fledged member of NATO. Opinion polls show that many Montenegrins do not support us in this aim.
My friends who want Montenegro to stay out of NATO are missing an important fact: Countries in 2010 face security challenges that few of us could foresee even 10 years ago. Gone are the days when Montenegro could face down a much larger enemy, either on its own or in ad-hoc alliances. Global security policy has entered a new phase.
The world was thrust into this new era when al-Qaeda attacked New York and Washington, D.C. on September 11, 2001. The main lesson was not that 2,977 innocent lives could be snuffed out in a matter of minutes; sadly, this comes as no surprise to anyone who is familiar with 20th century Balkan history. The most shocking thing about September 11 was that modern technology makes it possible for a rag-tag group of men to strike at the very heart of global military and economic power. It no longer takes an army or even military training – just an internet connection and a heart full of hate. Not even the great Durmitor Mountain could protect us from this kind of menace.
Of course, Montenegro is not at risk. We have no tangible enemies anywhere in the world. The major NATO powers do. So why should we throw our lot in with precisely these countries?
For one, there is no telling what is going mobilize future threats against us. According to the U.S. State Department, al-Qaeda considers Spain a target – not because of Spanish government policies, but because they are still upset about the loss of Andalusia, which Spain seized from the Moors more than 500 years ago. Countries can become targets without doing anything at all.
People who live in the former Yugoslavia need no reminding that conflicts can arise out of nowhere: In the mid-1980s, people who warned that Yugoslavia would soon become the scene of horrific bloodshed were considered isolated eccentrics. Those modern-day Cassandras proved all too prescient. Today, the Western Balkans remains unstable, with political leaders who are all too willing to fan the flames of ethnic prejudice. Large-scale ethnic conflict will be unlikely, if not impossible, if all our countries are united in the same military alliance. NATO helps countries deter unseen dangers and react to the visible ones.
The principal reason is values. NATO protects not only the lives of its citizens, but provides the security shield that allows free-market democracy to flourish. Montenegro embraces these values. We are linked to our countrymen by blood and to the Euro-Atlantic community in mind. And if we cherish these beliefs, we must be willing to stand up for them. It doesn’t matter whether the adversary is another country, religious radicals or a political movement like 1930s fascism. In political and military terms, we will respond to an attack on Paris just as we would an attack on Podgorica.
NATO does not reduce our liberty, it helps us preserve it. In Afghanistan, a deadly threat to Western security was allowed to thrive. We cannot countenance these forces rising up again. That is why 31 of our troops and medics are currently serving alongside NATO’s International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. And that is why Montenegro wants to join Croatia and Albania in taking a seat at NATO’s table.