With their almost 27-year dispute finally resolved, Greece and Macedonia signed a historic agreement on June 12 to rename the latter the Republic of North Macedonia. This paves the way for Skopje to join NATO and the EU. The agreement still has to be ratified by both countries' parliaments and win approval in a referendum in Macedonia. The process is not going smoothly. The country’s president has refused to sign off on the deal, so it must face another vote in parliament. Plus, the police have yet to quell the street protests.
Actually, the North Atlantic Alliance was ready to back the idea of initiating the membership procedures at its summit in 2008, but the name dispute with Greece obstructed the process. NATO can extend a membership invitation at its July 11-12 summit. Macedonia was given its Membership Action Plan (MAP) in 1999. The EU summit, which is scheduled for June 28-29, will decide whether to offer a green light for the membership talks to begin. Moscow is an important trade partner for Skopje. EU membership means joining the anti-Russian sanctions and suffering the inevitable financial losses.
NATO evidently wants to speed the process up. Its top leaders, including the Secretary General, exerted pressure on Macedonia and Greece to encourage them to remove the main obstacle to that membership as quickly as possible. US officials openly admit that Washington played a silent role in the process of resolving the name dispute between Macedonia and Greece. Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasia Wess Mitchell believes that NATO should be more active in the Western Balkans in order to counter Russia’s influence. “Greece and the United States share strongly a vision of deeper integration of the Western Balkans into European and Euro Atlantic Institutions,” said US Ambassador to Greece Jeffrey Pyatt just a few days before the agreement was reached.
According to Richard Hooker, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Europe and Russia with the National Security Council, the Trump administration would welcome Macedonia’s entry into NATO. Kay Bailey Hutchison, America’s ambassador to NATO, explained that the US and the allies are in favor of expansion as a way to keep those countries out of what she called “the Russian sphere.” She thinks Macedonia meets the standards and is genuinely close to membership. The ambassador complacently avoids any discussion of Macedonia’s rampant corruption and lingering ethnic tensions.
So, it’s not about making a contribution to NATO or meeting certain standards, the real goal is to keep Moscow at a distance. Croatia and Albania joined the bloc in 2009. Montenegro entered in 2017. New members are needed now so as to make the process unstoppable. Besides, the Vardar River links Central Europe and the Aegean Sea. The plans for the expansion of the Turkish Stream gas project include passage through Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, and Hungary to reach Central Europe. Skopje will benefit as a transit country. It is in the Americans’ best interests to deny Russia and Turkey this route, as it wants no rivals able to challenge American shale gas exports to Europe.
The landlocked country of Macedonia cannot offer any serious contribution to the bloc’s military might, with an army of 8,000 and no navy or air force. Its weapons systems and equipment are obsolete. The inadequate standards there pose a very serious problem. This means that militarily, Macedonia is more of a burden that must be shouldered than an asset. And at the current time NATO is facing an ongoing rift, as the majority of its member states are reluctant to give in to US pressure and raise their military expenditures to 2% of their GDP.
And that’s not all. The interethnic conflicts in Macedonia will become NATO’s headache. Skopje has a problem with its ethnic Albanian community that makes up a quarter of the country’s population. The North Atlantic Alliance has severed Kosovo from Serbia. This means that one potential scenario would see Macedonia losing some of its northwestern regions that have a predominantly ethnic Albanian population. Why not? They did it once — they’ll do it again. It’ll be a great tragedy and a serious problem for Macedonia but not for America, which is obsessed with driving Russia out of that region at any cost.
The hope is that Serbia can be made more pro-Western and vulnerable to pressure if it is surrounded by NATO members. Macedonia’s accession will serve that goal. It’ll be used.
But membership will complicate NATO’s decision-making process even more. Skopje’s accession was blocked by only one member — Greece. A single government holds veto power over the alliance. Their interests do not always coincide. Just remember 2003, when the US invasion of Iraq was opposed by France and Germany, thus preventing it from becoming a NATO operation. What if a small country like Macedonia were to block a decision that was important for the US? An increased number of members means an increased risk of gridlock.
What the people of that country will gain is unclear. Their national interests will be eclipsed by the foreign-policy goals of other major players.
So, expansion for the sake of expansion is a very dubious policy that is of benefit to neither NATO nor Macedonia. The constantly growing number of member states does not make NATO stronger, quite the opposite. Skopje hardly needs the protection offered under Article 5 of the Washington Treaty. Who could invade it? And everything else could can be achieved just with special status in the organization, thus leaving more wiggle room for independent foreign-policy decisions. Membership has its downsides, which are being ignored by both NATO and Macedonia. In the end, Skopje’s integration into NATO does not look like a win-win decision.