Will Montenegro become a NATO member in 2016?

If I’d been asked before December 2015 how likely it was that Montenegro would have been offered an invitation to join NATO, I would have been a little pessimistic. After all, there have been no new NATO members since 2009 (Albania and Croatia), and there has been no single nation entries since 1984 (Spain). But here we are.

Montenegro applied for NATO membership in 2003 and has been moving forward with this process (more or less) steadily since then[1]. NATO issued a formal invitation to Montenegro in December of 2015, beginning the final accession talks which could be concluded at the summit in Warsaw during July of 2016[2]. Clearly, things have changed a lot since NATO bombed Montenegro 17 years ago as part of Kosovo War[3].

So – given what we now know – how likely is it that Montenegro will join in the remainder of 2016? As far as I can tell, no country that has been formally offered NATO membership has rejected it, though, of course, France left NATO in 1966, only to return later[4]. Still, I’d hesitate to assign an initial probability of 1.0 to Montenegro’s accepting NATO’s invitation. Instead, call it 0.98. The process of moving from invitation to acceptance usually takes 12-18 months[5]. I suspect that the best way to read that fact is that the odds of acceptance during the first 6 months are pretty low, the odds go way up for the next 2 sets of 6 months, and then get a bit lower during the following set of 6 months. That looks something like this:

  • Jan-June 2016: 0.04 (just too quick, I think)
  • July-Dec 2016: 0.41
  • Jan-June 2017: 0.41
  • July-Dec 2017: 0.12
  • Black Swan: 0.02

So I think the baseline is a 0.45 probability that Montenegro will join in 2016. But there are some reasons for thinking that the smart prediction should be lower, and there are some reasons for thinking it should be higher. I’ll go through each set.

Let’s start with reasons for thinking that the smart prediction should be lower. Russia is not happy about Montenegro joining NATO[6]. Of course, Russia doesn’t have a formal veto. Now, Russia might use military force to try to scare Montenegro into backing away from NATO, but any attempt to do so is likely to cause Montenegro to want NATO’s protection even more. And Russia might try to use more subtle pressure (economic boycotts, cyber espionage, perhaps even targeted assassinations), yet Mr. Putin hasn’t shown it can do subtle terribly well, so I remain doubtful. The Democratic Party of Socialists of Montenegro and the Social Democratic Party of Montenegro want Montenegro to become NATO member state, but the Socialist People’s Party of Montenegro is less enthusiastic. The polls have been all over the place and seem to me to be less than predictive. At any rate, I don’t think the ruling parties need a plebiscite in order to continue with NATO membership, so unless the country becomes unstable because of street-level opposition, I don’t think that this will slow down the process. To sum up:

  • External Causes (i.e., Russia) = -0.08
  • Internal Causes (i.e., Montenegrin opposition) = -0.01

That gives us the following results:

  • Jan-June 2016: 0.036
  • July-Dec 2016: 0.373
  • Jan-June 2017: 0.373
  • July-Dec 2017: 0.109
  • Black Swan or Offer Rejected for External or Internal Causes: 0.11

Hence, the first adjustment to the baseline =.4095.

Now let’s turn to the reasons for thinking that the smart prediction should be higher. It’s worth noting that Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic survived a no-confidence vote on January 27, so he’s likely to feel like he has something of a mandate to implement his agenda right now[7], before the elections in late 2016. Moreover, NATO is holding a summit meeting in Poland this summer[8]. NATO summit meetings generally happen every other year (though there are certainly exceptions)[9]. In 2009, Albania and Croatia joined NATO just 2 days before the meeting[10], so it looks like the 2016 date of the summit meeting predicts Montenegro’s joining this year. However, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania joined a good 4 months before the 2004 NATO summit meeting[11]. Hence, the connection seems a little tenuous. Given the upheavals that Europe has been growing through of late, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise if there was a 2017 NATO summit meeting as well.

 

  • Survival of no-confidence vote: +0.05
  • 2016 date of NATO summit meeting: +0.01

Thus, the smart prediction =0.4695 (which we can call 0.47).

But here’s another data point to throw a spanner in the works:

Montenegro’s ambassador to Italy, Antun Sbutega, said at an event held by Istituto Affari Internazionali on Wednesday that the country would become a NATO member in 2017 ”barring unforeseen circumstances”.[12]

Whoa, if true. I can’t find any confirmation of this in any language I speak, but it only happened on Tuesday, so let’s just see what happens. If there’s any confirmation, then I’ll adjust my forecast. If there’s no confirmation, I’ll carry on like I didn’t see anything.

 

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Accession_of_Montenegro_to_NATO

[2] http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/news_125370.htm

[3] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/03/11/AR2009031100547.html

[4] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/inatl/longterm/balkans/stories/montenegro050399.htm

[5] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/dec/01/nato-to-ask-montenegro-to-join-alliance

[6] https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/yugoslavia-montenegro/2015-12-24/new-thorn-russias-side

[7] http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-01-27/montenegro-pm-wins-vote-of-confidence-after-offering-concessions

[8] http://www.mfa.gov.pl/en/news/first_meeting_of_inter_ministerial_group_for_preparing_nato_summit_in_warsaw

[9] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NATO_summit

[10] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2009_Strasbourg%E2%80%93Kehl_summit

[11] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2004_Istanbul_summit

[12] http://www.ansamed.info/ansamed/en/news/sections/politics/2016/02/17/montenegro-to-join-nato-in-2017_eee4d6f9-19c8-46a9-8c22-1d9a6d155ef2.html

 

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