Montenegro has officially become the 29th member of NATO after a process that saw a failed coup attempt believed to be supported by Russia, and U.S. senators hurling invectives.
The tiny Balkan nation on the Adriatic Sea officially joined the alliance in a ceremony Monday at the State Department, where officials hailed the strength of the alliance.
“Montenegro’s accession sends a strong message of strength to the region and makes clear to our allies that the United States remains as committed as ever to the principal of collective defense as enshrined in Article 5 of the Washington Treaty,” Thomas Shannon, undersecretary of State, said at the ceremony.
The growth of NATO comes as President Trump’s commitment to the alliance continues to be called into question.
During his first alliance meeting, Trump chastised allies for not paying enough for their defense. He also did not explicitly endorse Article 5, the mutual defense clause, despite such an affirmation reportedly being part of his written speech.
Administration officials have since said Trump is committed to Article 5, but Trump has yet to say so himself.
Trump also caused a stir when he appeared to push aside the prime minister of Montenegro so that he could be in the front of a photo of NATO leaders.
In March, the Senate approved Montenegro’s bid to join the alliance in a 97-2 vote.
Despite the strong support, the vote caused some turmoil in the chamber. Sen. Rand PaulRand PaulMontenegro officially joins NATO The Hill’s 12:30 Report This week: Comey breaks his silence MORE (R-Ky.) had earlier blocked a vote on the treaty, arguing that allowing the country into the alliance would add to America’s military burden.
Paul’s move prompted Sen. John McCainJohn McCainMontenegro officially joins NATO Economists support Trump’s pick to lead White House economic council Week ahead: Work ramps up on annual defense bill MORE (R-Ariz.) to lament that his colleague “is now working for [Russian President] Vladimir Putin.”
Monday’s ceremony is the culmination of seven years of work for Montenegro.
The process endured a coup attempt in October 2016 that Montenegrin and U.S. officials have said was sponsored by Russia.
In Monday’s ceremony, Shannon commended Montenegro for joining the alliance in the face of “concerted foreign pressure.”
He also highlighted Montenegro’s commitment to spending, saying it will spend 1.7 percent of its gross domestic product on defense and envisions spending 2 percent by 2024.
Montenegro has also contributed to the wars in Afghanistan and against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, Shannon added.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who was at the ceremony, said Montenegro’s accession sends a message to other countries hoping to join the alliance.
“Montenegro’s accession sends a signal to other states that seek membership,” he said, “that if a country truly reforms, if it promotes democracy, strengthens the rule of law, modernizes its armed forces and contributes to our collective defense, it too can join the alliance.”