On 6 February 2019, the Ambassadors of the 29 members of the Atlantic Alliance (NATO) signed the Accession Protocol of North Macedonia in Brussels headquarters. Skopje Foreign Minister, Nikola Dimitrov, and NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg signed the document. Presently, the parliaments of the 29 Member States of the Alliance should ratify the Accession Protocol. The signing took place after January, when Skopje and Athens ratified a historic agreement that put an end to a 27-year dispute that had prevented the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia joining NATO (and the EU). In this article, firstly, the long path followed by North Macedonia to succeed in becoming the thirtieth member of NATO will be illustrate. Then, the opinion of the experts on the causes and implications of the accession will be shown. Finally, the impact that the signature of the Protocol will have on the future of the country and on NATO prospects will be explained, in light of the Russian interference on both Macedonian and Greek politics.
1.The long path of North Macedonia for the Accession
“It is a great pleasure to welcome you all to this meeting on the North Atlantic Council and a very warm welcome to Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov. It is a great pleasure to see you here in this room once again. In a few minutes that 29 Allies will sign the protocol for the accession of North Macedonia to the Alliance” said NATO Secretary General during the ceremony for the signature. However, the path to reach the ratification has been long.
1. Signature of the Accession Protocol with Skopje
North Macedonia accession to NATO is based on five official texts:
- The Budapest Summit Declaration (2008), in which NATO recognized the Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’s efforts to support the Alliance’s operations in Afghanistan and Kosovo, and it agreed to invite Skopje to become a member, encouraging the negotiations,
- The Lisbon Summit Declaration (2010), which reaffirmed the agreement of the Bucharest hoping for a mutually acceptable solution to the issue of name in the UN framework. At the same time, the contribution of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to the NATO mission in Afghanistan (ISAF) was welcomed,
- The Chicago Summit Declaration (2012), which clarified that NATO encouraged the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to continue its efforts to accelerate the reforms necessary to join the Alliance.
- The Statement by NATO Foreign Ministers on “Open Door Policy”, where NATO’s commitment to the « open door » policy under Article 10 of the Washington Treaty and to Euro-Atlantic integration of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia were underlined, appreciating its contribution to operations and its commitment to the process of joining the Alliance.
- The Brussels Summit Declaration (2018), in which NATO welcomed the historic agreement between Athens and Skopje on the solution of the name problem and decided to invite the Skopje government to launch accession talks to become part of the Alliance.
Actually, as a partner country, North Macedonia had already cooperated with NATO. It supported and still supports the “Resolute Support” mission in Afghanistan, deploying troops. Furthermore, the country was a key partner in supporting NATO-led stabilization operations in Kosovo in 1999, when NATO forces settled in northern Macedonia to stop the spread of the conflict and to provide logistical support to the Kosovo Force (KFOR). Since 1999, NATO helped North Macedonia to develop its military capabilities as well as provide planning objectives that were fundamental for the security reforms. The country’s participation in the Defense Education Enhancement Program is helping to improve defense reform efforts. Furthermore, through participation in the Building Integrity Program, the country is working to strengthen good governance and security in the defense sector and reduce the risks of corruption within the institutions.
But the real turning point to accelerate accession took place after 11 January 2019, when the Parliament of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia adopted four amendments that changed the constitutional name of the Republic of Macedonia in the Republic of North Macedonia, as established by the Greek-Macedonian Prespa Agreement.
2.The opinion of the experts
The Prespa Agreement is a treaty concluded on 12 June 2018 between the Hellenic Republic and the Republic of Macedonia under the auspices of the United Nations (UN), to resolve the long-standing dispute over the name of Macedonia. It replaces the 1995 interim agreement and officially sees the name of the country in “Republic of North Macedonia” . For many years, after the fall of Yugoslavia, Greece did not recognized the existence of an independent state that bears the same name of Greek Macedonia (the region) – where Philip the Macedonian and Alexander the Great were born – because this would have entailed territorial, historical and cultural claims against the homonymous Greek region. For this reason, following the UN resolutions 817 and 845/1993, the Republic of Macedonia became a member of the UN under the “provisional” name of FYROM (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia).
According to Anna Miykova, geopolitical and strategic analyst of the Black Sea and Eastern Europe countries, the solution of the dispute with Greece opened the doors to Skopje towards the Atlantic Alliance and perhaps also towards the EU. This was the aim that the Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev was pursuing since the beginning of his mandate.
2. After Decades of Crisis, the “Macedonia” Name Dispute is Close to Being Resolved
According to Valbona Zeneli, professor of National Security Studies and director of the Strategic Initiatives Program at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies, the end of the name dispute between Skopje and Athens is important for both NATO and the EU. Indeed, next June’s European Council also includes the topic of enlargement in the Western Balkans (with the opening of negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania). Moreover, both the United States and the EU have always shown interest in the Balkan region: the process of integration and stabilization of the area could bring profits to all, whereas three other former Yugoslav republics – Slovenia, Croatia and Montenegro – have already joined NATO, as well as other countries in the Balkan region, including Albania, Bulgaria and Romania.
According to the accession process, the governmental bodies of the 29 Allies must ratify the North Macedonia Accession Protocol, and then the Secretary General will invite the country to join NATO. Macedonia will then have to file its own act of adhesion to the Government of the United States of America which will inform it of the filing of this act. According to Aaron Mehta, Deputy Director and Pentagon correspondent for defense news, Bujar Osmani, Macedonian Deputy Prime Minister in charge of European affairs, is worried about Russia’s reaction. Indeed, from the point of view of North Macedonia, no member state of NATO will refuse the ratification of access, but Russia could influence some states. Aaron Mehta states that strategically, North Macedonia hopes to convince the US Senate to vote in favor as soon as possible, as it would be a strong signal to other NATO members. North Macedonia, which now spends about 1.2 percent for defense, wants to achieve NATO’s 2 percent target by 2024. According to Maxim Samorukov, deputy director at the Carnegie Moscow Center, the signing of the accession protocol sent a strong signal to Russia. Precisely for this reason, before the signing of the Prespa Agreement, the critical statements of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the harmful publications in the Russian media were enough to convince the West countries of Russian interference.
The EU also welcomed the signing of the accession protocol. On 15 February 2019, the EU High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, already committed to the agreement between Macedonia and Greece said: “Today, the European Union has formally been notified by the Republic of North Macedonia of its new name, following the entry into force of the Prespa agreement. We warmly welcome this historic step, which sets an example of reconciliation for the Western Balkans region and beyond. We congratulate the Hellenic Republic and the Republic of North Macedonia on this major achievement, turning a new page of our common EU future”. Actually, both the academic and the political communities are confident of North Macedonia and of the future reforms, that already opened NATO’s doors and may soon open up those of the EU too, leaving behind Russia.
3.The impact of Macedonia’s accession
During the joint press conference with Macedonian Foreign Minister, Nikola Dimitrov, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said: “Your accession will bring more stability to the Western Balkans. This is good for the region. And for Euro-Atlantic security.[…] I think we have to understand that the enlargement of NATO with the future Republic of North Macedonia will strengthen NATO for different reasons. Partly through contributing stability in the south east of Europe. That is important for the whole Alliance”. Thus, the accession of North Macedonia to NATO will have an impact on the stability of the Alliance in the east but also on the country itself.
3. Signature of the Accession Protocol with Skopje
But what is the role of Russia? In July, Greece announced that it would expel two Russian diplomats and that it would prohibit two others from entering. The expulsion was a response to Russian illegal actions carried out in Greek territory, which constitute interference in internal country affairs. Among the accusations made by Athens to the Moscow diplomats are attempts to obtain and distribute information, as well as the corruption of public officials in order to hinder the agreement with Skopje. While the EU and the US actively supported the Prespa agreement, Russia opposed it, accusing Washington of wanting to extend NATO’s influence in the region. According to Anna Miykova, Moscow considers the enlargement to the east of NATO a threat to its security. For this reason, the ratification of the agreement was defined as unconstitutional by Moscow, which accused NATO, just as it did for Montenegro, of having dragged North Macedonia into the Alliance against the will of the people. In a publication of the German Marshall Fund it is also pointed out that before the Prespa agreement, Russia financed opposition and disinformation groups. The US Senate says that NATO’s integration will provide greater security at a time when Russia and other countries are working to destabilize and create conflicts in the Balkans and Europe. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo and acting defense secretary, Tom Shanahan, continue to lead US efforts to support North Macedonia to manage the ratification process.
It seems that the access of North Macedonia has had a double effect on two fronts. On the one hand, thanks to the agreement reached with Greece, North Macedonia succeeded in signing the NATO accession protocol, ensuring a form of protection at the level of international security. To have a new Balkan state is essential for NATO in order to stabilize the region, strengthen the presence of the West and face external influences. On the other, the agreement revealed the heavy Russian influences. The dispute over the name, which lasted thirty years, turned into the veto power of Greece that had blocked the Euro-Atlantic integration of Macedonia. The accession of Northern Macedonia to NATO in addition to taking place in a climate of Russian political interference, has also shown its weakness, given that even in 2017 Moscow had attempted to remove the Alliance’s Montenegro.
Maria Elena Argano
For further information:
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