The US Senate has overwhelmingly voted to back the expansion of NATO by approving Montenegro’s admission to join the military alliance, in what many lawmakers viewed as a message to Russia.
The ratification was approved by a vote of 97-2, well above the two-thirds majority needed in the 100-member chamber.
Only Republican Senators Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah voted against Montenegro’s membership.
Sen. Paul argued that joining NATO would bring the tiny Balkan nation under the United States
’ security blanket with little in return.
“Montenegro in NATO will antagonize Russia while doing nothing to advance US national security,” he said. “Most Americans can’t find Montenegro on a map. Are you willing to send your kids there to fight?”
Montenegro will officially become the 29th member of NATO if the Netherlands and Spain approve the accession later this year.
Those senators who voted in favor of NATO expansion said that Montenegro has already contributed much to the alliance.
“Montenegro actively supported the NATO-led operation in Afghanistan,” said Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “Montenegro has taken these steps despite Russia’s best efforts to undermine their progress every step of the way.”
Senator John McCain accused Paul of “working” for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“This is more than the accession or non-accession of a small, 650,000-person nation. It is a test in this contest we are now engaged in with Vladimir Putin,” the Arizona Republican said on the Senate floor.
US Senator John McCain (R-AZ) takes his seat before hearing testimony to the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, February 28, 2017. (Photo by Reuters)
South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham also said that “Montenegro is trying to do everything that Putin hates. Alliances of democracy are his worst nightmare.”
The Kremlin has opposed Montenegro joining NATO, calling it a “provocation” that would reinforce the alliance’s presence in the Balkans.
There was no immediate confirmation of whether President Donald Trump would sign the ratification and complete the US process.
Trump has frequently suggested that US defense of a NATO member would depend on its contributions to the alliance.
However, his administration has backed NATO membership for Montenegro, one of Europe’s smallest nations.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson wrote to Senate leaders earlier this month, saying the accession was “strongly in the interests of the US.”