This week, the annual meeting of the NATO Heads of State and Government is set to take place in Brussels, Belgium. This vital alliance has served as one of the key global institutions that has helped uphold the international order and foster transatlantic peace for over a half century since the cataclysm of World War II.
In the years since its founding in 1949, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has well-served its purpose: knitting together the security of its member countries and societies on the basis of shared values, enabling an incomparable era of security, prosperity, and freedom on both sides of the Atlantic. Beginning with its founding membership of 12 nations, the Alliance has since grown, with new countries joining NATO after their historic transitions to freedom and democracy following years of authoritarian rule and planned economies. Today, NATO has 29 member states.
At this year’s Summit, a vital opportunity now exists: for the Alliance to admit the Republic of Macedonia as a new member state. It should do so without further delay. Macedonia has fulfilled all of its obligations for NATO membership, including participating in the Alliance’s Membership Action Plan and closing its 17th NATO MAP cycle in 2017.
Since declaring its independence in 1991 from the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and becoming a member state of the United Nations in 1993, Macedonia has charted a course towards full European and transatlantic integration, making EU and NATO membership a key strategic priority. It joined NATO’s Partnership for Peace back in 1995 and commenced its first NATO MAP in 1999. Macedonia is on the current agenda for future enlargement of the EU, having submitted its membership application in 2004.
For the past 20 years though, Macedonia’s path towards EU and NATO membership has been repeatedly blocked for one reason only: the ongoing objection of one country—Greece—over the official name of the country. Greece has long argued that the name of the independent country implies territorial ambitions towards Greece’s own Northern region, also named Macedonia.
In 2011, the International Court of Justice ruled in favor of Macedonia, stating that by objecting to its admission to NATO, Greece was in breach of its bilateral agreement obligations. While recognizing the ICJ ruling, NATO decided that an invitation would only be extended to Macedonia after a “mutually acceptable solution to the name issue” could be reached between the two parties.
This left Macedonia in the lurch as no one could foresee flexibility in either country’s position.
Yet this June, and under the supervision of a UN negotiations process, an historic accord was reached by Macedonia and Greece, under which Macedonia agreed to change the name of the country to “Republic of North Macedonia,” effectively unblocking Greece’s continued objection. The agreement has been approved by Macedonia’s parliament and a nationwide referendum is scheduled for the fall, after which Greek lawmakers must also ratify it. Nevertheless, with this agreement in place, NATO should send a strong signal and open an unconditional invitation in support of Macedonia’s accession to the Alliance.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the failed 2008 NATO Bucharest Summit where Macedonia was blocked in its accession process due to the unresolved name issue with Greece. Although Croatia and Albania successfully joined the Alliance and Montenegro was admitted in 2014, Macedonia remained on the doorstep. For an organization devoted to maintaining the collective security of its members, this was both a procedural failure as well as a failure to adhere to its principles, where one member’s political veto was able to derail another’s justified aspirations.
Four NATO Summits and five NATO Ministerial meetings have since gone by and Macedonia still remains outside of NATO—and yet it serves as an active contributor to the Alliance’s peacekeeping missions. The 2018 Summit is an opportunity for NATO to send a strong message to the world that the Alliance remains open to enlargement.
This is indeed an historic Summit, and in a turbulent time, NATO should unanimously extend an invitation to Macedonia to join the Alliance.