President Donald Trump has approved of an invitation for Montenegro to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The Balkan country will need several more NATO members to sign off on its inclusion before being formally inducted.
On April 11, Trump signed the U.S. instrument of ratification for Montenegro that had been advanced by the Senate in March by a vote of 97 to 2.
Montenegro would be the 29th country to join the NATO alliance. Its inclusion would likely incense Russian President Vladimir Putin's government, which has asserted that the Balkans fall under Russian sovereignty. Two other countries in the region, Albania and Croatia, joined NATO in 2009, reports Business Insider.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer released an official statement asserting that Trump "looks forward to the May 25 NATO Leaders Meeting in Brussels and the opportunity to reaffirm those fundamental and enduring transatlantic values."
The press release added: "Montenegro will be there as well, signaling to other NATO aspirants that the door to membership in the Euro-Atlantic community of nations remains open and that countries in the Western Balkans are free to choose their own future and select their own partners without outside interference or intimidation."
Twenty-one of the 28 countries allied with NATO have already approved of Montenegro's accession. The remainder will need to ratify its inclusion before the Balkan country can formally become a part of the alliance.
On March 28, Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona urged his colleagues to pass the instrument for ratification for Montenegro on the day that the chamber held a vote on the measure, asserting that the Balkan country needed to be protected from the Russian government's interference.
"It is a nation in this contest that we are now engaged in with Vladimir Putin, who has committed to extending the reach and influence of the Russian government ... to the point where he attempted a coup to overthrow the freely elected government of Montenegro," McCain said. "If we turn down Montenegro, it will not remain the democracy that it is today."
Chief special prosecutor Milivoje Katnic of Montenegro has accused the Russian government of attempting to stage a coup against his country in October 2016. The Putin government has denied the accusation, Newsweek reports.
Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky was one of only two Senate dissenters against allowing Montenegro to join NATO.
"The other NATO countries have largely hitched a ride to the U.S. train that subsidizes their defenses and allows them to direct their revenues to domestic pursuits," Paul wrote in an editorial for Time. "Adding a country with fewer than 2,000 soldiers to NATO is not in our self-interest."
Paul added that if Montenegro joins the alliance, "it will be a one-way street with the U.S. committing to defend yet another country."
In a letter to the Senate, Trump asserted that including Montenegro in the NATO alliance "will not have the effect on increasing the overall percentage share of the United States in the common budgets of NATO."
On the campaign trail, Trump had been a vocal critic of NATO, accusing other members of the alliance of not paying enough for defense and suggesting that the whole endeavor could be obsolete, reports The Daily Caller.
On Feb. 7, the president unveiled a new posture towards NATO during a speech at the U.S. Central Command in Florida.
"We strongly support NATO," Trump said, according to CNN. "We only ask that all of the NATO members make their full and proper financial contributions to the NATO alliance ... they have to do that."