Policy

Will the Senate Keep Montenegro Out of NATO?

Democrats question if Corker is slowing the Senate’s advice and consent

Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker made a campaign appearance with President-elect Donald Trump this summer in neighboring North Carolina. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Donald Trump’s election may have put a Balkan state’s admission to NATO on ice.

President Barack Obama has sent the Senate a proposed protocol to approve the accession of Montenegro to the alliance. But adopting the new protocol to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization requires the advice and consent of the Senate, and work on a resolution supporting ratification appears to have stalled.

A resolution has yet to be adopted by the Foreign Relations Committee.

That is cause for concern for Foreign Relations ranking Democrat Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland, eager to see the Senate take up the measure before it adjourns next month.

“The accession of Montenegro of NATO should be noncontroversial, and we still have time to get it done in this lame duck session of Congress. It’s up to the Republican leadership to allow that to happen and I’ve made my views clear that the vote should take place as soon as possible,” Cardin said in a statement.

“If we don’t, we play right into [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s hands,” Cardin said. “Putin did everything he could to disrupt the Montenegro Parliamentary elections in an effort to stop the expansion of NATO.”

Cardin’s statement to Roll Call came on a day that Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker of Tennessee, was visiting Trump Tower in New York to meet with the president-elect, who has emphasized a desire for closer relations with Russia.

Corker is said to be under consideration for the role of secretary of State in the Trump administration. He would likely enjoy broad, bipartisan support for that role among his Senate colleagues.

“I enjoyed the opportunity to be here, it’s an honor,” Corker told reporters in New York. “I know he has a number of outstanding individuals that he’s talking with. I was glad to be here and glad to see more fully some of what his views about the world are.”

Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain said Tuesday that he wants the addition to the alliance to be approved this year.

“I’d love to see it happen,” the Arizona Republican said. “I haven’t had a chance to talk to Senator Corker, but I hope that we could act on it as soon as possible.”

Delaware Democratic Sen. Chris Coons said that he did not know a cause for delay prompted by Corker or otherwise.

“I think it is important to continue not to send signals, but to take actions that strengthen the vitality of NATO, that shows a bipartisan willingness to push back on Russia’s threats against Ukraine and actions in the Middle East, and I’m hopeful that we can get this done in the lame duck,” Coons said. 

Corker’s office did not immediately provide comment.

Putin has reportedly announced plans for “countermeasures” to respond to any expansion of NATO.

The concern about the admission of Montenegro to NATO follows reports of Russian efforts to destabilize the country. The alleged plot, as described by The New York Times, involved assassinating the prime minister and a takeover of parliament.

Democratic sources pointed to Corker more than other Republican leaders as the one with immediate responsibility for any delay. Corker actually walked away from a resolution planned for the lame-duck session, a senior Senate Democratic aide said.

President Barack Obama sent the treaty document to the Senate in late June, at which point the chamber took customary action to remove the injunction of secrecy.

“Montenegro’s accession to NATO will demonstrate to other countries in the Balkans and beyond that NATO’s door remains open to nations that undertake the reforms necessary to meet NATO’s requirements and contribute to the security of the alliance, and is yet another milestone in advancing the Euro-Atlantic integration of the Balkans,” Obama said in his message to the Senate.

“I ask the Senate to continue working with me in advancing a Europe whole, free, and at peace by providing its prompt advice and consent to ratification for this protocol of accession,” Obama said. “My administration stands ready to brief and assist you in your deliberations.”

The Trump transition team did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether the president-elect would support Montenegro’s NATO accession being approved by the Senate before he takes office on Jan. 20.

John T. Bennett contributed to this report.

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