Ahead of the U.S. Senate’s procedural vote to consider the Montenegro Treaty, Senator Marco Rubio, R-Fla., spoke on the Senate floor on Monday and urged his colleagues to support the accession of Montenegro to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Last week, Rubio met with Montenegrin Foreign Minister Srdjan Darmanovic and reiterated his support for the country to join NATO, which will help counter Russian aggression in Eastern Europe. Rubio’s remarks are below:
I am pleased that we are in the Senate here about to take a vote on ratifying the protocol of the accession of Montenegro to NATO. And what I wanted to do is take a few moments to explain to people why I think this is an important vote, and an important moment, both for our security as a nation but also to protect our interests abroad and that of our allies. We all know NATO was started right after World War II as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization that was primarily designed in the Cold War to confront the threats posed by the Soviet Union and its allies in the Warsaw Pact. And, of course, those threats have changed since the end of that Cold War.
Here's what hasn't changed. What hasn't changed is the need for America and for her allies, in a strong way, to remain engaged in the world. That need has not changed. What has not changed is the need for democracies to be able to come together and collectively not just defend their interests but the interests of all people around the world where freedom is threatened. Because the difficult, painful lesson of history is that dictators, tyrants, they are never pleased with what they have. They always want more. They always need more. And that's why it's so important that those nations on Earth, luckily and in a blessed way, more nations than ever before, find themselves living in societies where people get to choose their leaders.
These alliances that we have around the world, NATO being chief among them, they help advance our strategic and our economic interests, but most importantly, they help to keep our country safe. Now, there’s a lot of talk about how much countries are paying into NATO, and it is true the United States is by far the largest contributor to NATO. I think that is a combination of two things. One, decisions that were made by some of our allies in Europe with how they want to spend their government money, but the other is just the reality that we're the United States of America, and as the United States of America, you will always find that we are always making a disproportionate share of contribution on everything, from global aid to fight off hunger and disease to collective security. But while we can urge our allies, encourage our allies and ask our allies to make a greater contribution to their own defense, we should also not fall into the trap of diminishing what they are doing and what they have done.
First of all, in Europe today, many of our NATO allies are increasing their defense spending, and they're doing so in response to Russia's aggression in Ukraine and its increased aggression elsewhere in the region. Their soldiers are joining ours in deploying to Central and Eastern Europe to reassure our allies who are facing aggression and potential aggression from Vladimir Putin. But I also think it's important to take a moment with all this talk about NATO and money and how much everyone's giving, to also understand that our NATO allies have fought beside us and have died beside Americans in Afghanistan, where more than 1,100 soldiers of the NATO-led coalition paid the ultimate price with their lives.
It is important to note this because on September 11th of 2001, Paris was not attacked, Berlin was not attacked, London was not attacked on that horrible day. And yet these nations and others, our partners, invoked a shared commitment that led them to stand beside us on the other side of the world in an effort to prevent another attack like September 11th from taking place again on American soil or anywhere in the world.
Montenegro is not even a member of NATO yet, and yet it's sent hundreds of service members to join the American-led coalition in Afghanistan. Now, I have always argued that when our alliances such as NATO are under pressure from our potential adversaries and foes, we need to continue to expand and allow countries who meet the standards set by the alliance to join. That has never been more important than it is now, given the uncertainty and the security challenges that we face in Europe, especially as Vladimir Putin continues his aggression and continues to threaten stability in the region.
To be frank, Putin would love nothing more than to destroy NATO. In fact, you can see him trying to do that on a regular basis, divide these countries against each other, support candidates throughout Europe that would take their countries out of NATO, constantly calling into question its viability. He wants countries like Montenegro to remain in his, Vladimir Putin's, sphere of influence and I would call, sphere of threat. As his recent attempts to deploy his asymmetrical tools to influence their politics have shown. And that is why it is so important that we are moving to ratify Montenegro's access to NATO and to strengthen our relationship with Montenegro through NATO. We as a Senate and as a country are sending a clear message to Vladimir Putin that we will not accept the establishment of Russian sphere of influence over countries that desire to ally themselves with the free and democratic community of nations
Now today I have tried to refrain from using the terms ‘Russian sphere of influence,’ or ‘Russia,’ because the fact of the matter is, as I said to someone earlier today or yesterday, there is a difference between Russia and Vladimir Putin. And the events of the last 48 hours remind us of that. We are watching, as many Russians, who also desire to join the community of nations, have turned out in cities and places across Moscow and in other places in the thousands. They’ve turned out to protest the rampant corruption that fuels the Putin regime. And the Putin regime, as all totalitarian regimes do, have cracked down. They have arrested, they have detained hundreds of peaceful protesters.
And I ask you to compare that to Montenegro whose membership in NATO will help the United States and Montenegro deepen our already strong bilateral relationship. The stakes here are extraordinarily high for the United States, for our European allies. The Senate needs to send a strong message of solidarity with those in Europe who are standing up to the antidemocratic tactics of Vladimir Putin and his cronies, and that's why today I will be proud to cast my vote in support of Montenegrin accession to NATO, and I hope that my colleagues here in the Senate will do the same and join us in doing so as well.
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., was first elected to the Senate in 2010.