Speeches

The most solemn and serious act that the United States government can undertake is the decision to send Americans to war. From time to time, war is an unfortunate but necessary function of a Republic in order to safeguard the rights and freedoms of its citizens from foreign threats. Yet we should enter into wars, and alliances that could lead to war, only after utmost deliberation and strategic consideration focusing on the wellbeing of American citizens.

This is why, for the past several months, I have asked that the Senate have a roll call vote on the measure to ratify Montenegro’s accession to the North Atlantic Treaty, and why I will be casting my vote against expanding NATO today.

Of course, treaties and alliances with other countries can be beneficial, but the founders of this country understood their seriousness as well as going to war. That is why both of these powers-the power to make and ratify treaties and the power to declare and execute a war- are shared by the legislative and executive branches, and treaty ratification must be achieved by a supermajority in the Senate.

The United States should enter into treaties and alliances with foreign nations that will enhance the ability of American citizens to exercise their rights and freedoms. At the heart of the NATO alliance is the Article V guarantee for collective defense- stating that an attack against one NATO ally is an attack against all. This means that the United States is obligated by treaty to make war because of an attack on an ally, and those allies are obligated to us for the same purpose. This is a significant commitment.

Simply put, I do not see how the accession of Montenegro- a country with a population smaller than most congressional districts and a military smaller than the District of Columbia’s police force - is beneficial enough that we should share an agreement for collective defense. Montenegro becoming a member of NATO is certainly attractive to European countries because it makes the United States the security guarantor of another country in a region prone to instability and ethnic unrest, but that does not automatically make it of interest to the American people.

On the other hand, I believe that the risks could outweigh the benefits to the detriment of the American people and result in more of our service-members being deployed overseas and at risk. The Resolution of Ratification on which the Senate is voting states that:

[Quote] “an attack against Montenegro, or its destabilization arising from external subversion, would threaten the security of Europe and jeopardize United States national security interests”.

This makes NATO responsible not only for external security, but combating destabilization in a historically volatile part of the world. Undertaking obligations like these only increases the likelihood of Americans being placed in harm’s way.

Further, expanding NATO does not address some of the systemic problems that U.S. administrations from both sides of the aisle have long- pressed to their European counterparts: the failure of many NATO countries to meet decades-old defense spending obligations and the increasingly concerning behavior of some NATO members.

For example, several weeks ago it was announced that American military personnel are now being used in northern Syria for the purpose of preventing infighting between one of our NATO allies – Turkey – and our Kurdish allies in the coalition against ISIS. This was followed in short order by a diplomatic crisis between Turkey and the Netherlands – both NATO allies – in which the Turkish president accused the Dutch government of fascism. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in February rejected calls from the Trump administration, which where similar to pleas from the Obama administration, for European countries to increase their defense spending.

Addressing such issues is much more vital to the future of NATO and American interests in Europe than further rounds of expansion.

Finally, some of my colleagues have argued that we should move forward with Montenegro’s accession into NATO because the Russians oppose it – just as the Russians have opposed all previous rounds of expansion. This is not the basis for a sound foreign policy.

While the United States should not let another country have a ‘veto’ over our national security decisions, it would be equally unwise for the United States simply to engage in certain actions because a geopolitical adversary opposes them. Such reactionary statecraft contradicts the ideals of prudence and practicality that our founders hoped would guide our foreign policy.

Further, elected officials should not have their patriotism or loyalty to country questioned because of their understandable concerns about national security, treaty obligations, and war. There are many thoughtful leaders and policy experts who have legitimate concerns both about Russia’s behavior and the direction of NATO, and who support meaningful pressure against Russia through economic and diplomatic means as well as the modernization of our strategic deterrent and missile defense systems.

This vote is likely to pass and Montenegro will become the newest member of NATO this year. It is my sincere hope that the country will be a constructive force in addressing the operational and mission problems that I have described and that the Trump administration will press for needed reforms. But I also hope that American diplomatic leaders and Congress will work to identify and act on the security interests most relevant to the American people, and think more strategically about our alliances and treaty partners in the future.