Prior to formally breaking with its traditional ally Serbia in 2006, the armed forces of the tiny Western Balkan nation of Montenegro hadn’t existed since their abolition following the end of the First World War and the establishment of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.

A century later, and less than a dozen short years after gaining its independence, Montenegro became the 29th member of NATO in June 2017. In a symbolic move that capped off Montenegrin government’s ascension to the Western military alliance, Italian and Greek air force jets began patrolling the country’s skies on June 5 – a testament to the commitment of the Montenegrin government’s commitment to its European integration, as well as the operational limitations that plague the country’s military.

With only 1,950 active duty personnel and no fixed-wing aircraft, the government in the Montenegrin capital Podgorica was forced to seek the help of the formidable air defence forces of its neighbours in Rome and Athens to help patrol its own airspace.

A Montenegro government press release called the air policing mission “one of the most important forms of direct benefit” of Montenegro’s membership in NATO.

The alliance’s regulations require that each member must have at least two fighter aircraft on a 24-hour full alert. For nations like Montenegro that are without fighter aircraft capabilities of their own, this standard can be met through multinational cooperation.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Montenegrin President Milo Đukanović discussed the current situation with Russia during a June 4 meeting between the two leaders at NATO’s headquarters in Brussels.

Russia so vehemently opposed to Montenegro’s NATO membership that it attempted to carry out an alleged coup d’etat in October 2016 involving black op specialists from Moscow’s FSB intelligence services and pro-Russian Serbian and Montenegrin ultranationalists that would have overthrown Đukanović’s government in favour of one that would put an end to Podgorica’s NATO ambitions and align the former Yugoslav republic with the Kremlin’s interests.

Stoltenberg noted that the two had agreed on a “dual-track policy of deterrence and dialogue” towards Russia, a sentiment echoed by Đukanović who said his country is “decisively committed to NATO’s objectives” and reiterated that his government hopes “cooperate and harmonise as much as possible” with the other alliance members in their efforts to counter Moscow’s increasingly aggressive posture towards the West.

Montenegro earned high praise from Stoltenberg during the tête-à-tête Đukanović, calling the nation a “very solid and very reliable member”, noting that Podgorica has Montenegro’s clear plan to invest 2% of its GDP to defence by 2024 and to increase its contributions to NATO counter-terrorism mission in Afghanistan.