Obama should make clear to Greece that Macedonian membership in NATO is non-negotiable, says FPI Policy Analyst Evan Moore

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Last week, 54 members of Congress sent a letter to President Obama urging the administration to “make sure that NATO finally offers the Republic of Macedonia its well-deserved formal invitation to join the Alliance” during next month’s Chicago summit. As the letter states:

“It is our strong belief that an invitation to Macedonia to join the Alliance will benefit U.S. national security interests and NATO’s global mission. Recently, your Administration outlined America’s new global posture. As we expand our resources away from Europe we must ensure that NATO is capable as ever to deter foreign and regional threats.”

Although Macedonia’s population numbers less than three million, the Balkan nation has proven a stalwart friend of the United States and NATO alliance since seeking membership into the military alliance in the mid-1990s. As the lawmakers note, “Macedonia has contributed to the peace, democracy, stability, and security in Southeast Europe despite not being a NATO member.” 

Indeed, Macedonia served as a staging area for NATO forces and refugee safe-haven during the 1999 Kosovo conflict. Yet the Balkan nation has proven a critical partner beyond Europe’s borders as well. Macedonian troops fought alongside NATO allies in Operation Iraqi Freedom from 2003 to 2008, and continue to work alongside ISAF partners in Afghanistan:

“Macedonia is currently the fourth largest contributor per capita to our mission in Afghanistan. Macedonian troops patrol the ISAF headquarters in Kabul and work alongside our American officers and troops there. If Macedonia can protect the tent of NATO, Macedonia should be able to sleep in the tent of NATO.”

Furthermore, Macedonian membership would further a process begun in 1999 with the first incorporation of former Soviet satellite states: the addition of “New Europe” countries that have first-hand experience with authoritarian rule, and bring much-needed enthusiasm for the collective security partnership. Macedonia’s relatively-high military spending compared to its GDP would be a welcome example to many countries in the alliance that fail to meet their minimum target of two percent.

President Obama supports Macedonia’s bid to join NATO, yet accession continues to hinge upon the approval of its neighbour, Greece. In 2008, Athens blocked Macedonia’s accession due to a belief that the country’s name implies a territorial claim on its own province named Macedonia. Greece insisted on using a qualifier, such as “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” in its accession bid.

Ahead of next month’s NATO summit in Chicago, President Obama—and other NATO leaders—should make clear to diplomats in Greece that Macedonia’s membership is not negotiable. While Macedonia’s military power may be small, its membership into NATO will renew the alliance’s strength in the face of the existential security challenges of the 21st century.

 - Originally written for The Commentator

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