The International Institute for Middle-East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) in Ljubljana, Slovenia, regularly analyses events in the Middle East and the Balkans. IFIMES has analysed the importance of the invitation for NATO membership proposed to Macedonia at the Alliance summit held in Brussels on 11-12 July 2018. The most relevant and interesting sections from the comprehensive analysis entitled “Macedonia to join NATO after a decade of isolation” are published below.
The NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) alliance, which will celebrate the 70th anniversary next year, officially invited Macedonia to become its 30th member at its recent summit in Brussels on 11-12 July 2018. With its core mission of collective defence NATO represents the key guardian of international security and stability. Since the end of the Cold War it has extended its operations and transformed itself to adapt to the changing threats that undermine international security. At the same time it has increased its membership to 29 countries – a year ago Montenegro became its new member. Following the recent official invitation Macedonia will become the 30th member once all the planned proceedings are carried out. This may happen already next year when NATO celebrates its anniversary, depending on how long the ratification procedure lasts.
At the Alliance summit in Bucharest ten years ago, Macedonia was left outside NATO's door after Greece blocked the talks demanding the change of the country's name. Greece thus imposed a new and additional condition for granting membership to Macedonia which had already fulfilled all the previously set conditions. This was followed by a decade of Macedonia's isolation – actually it was mostly self-isolation.
The regime of the former ruling VMRO-DPMNE party took advantage of the Greek blockade in order to achieve internal homogenisation of the electorate by pointing the finger at the external enemy, which consequently prevented it from entering into any constructive negotiations with Greece. The question is whether Nikola Gruevski's regime genuinely wanted Macedonia's membership in NATO (and the EU) or this was merely an apparent foreign policy orientation? It would be hard for any party including VMRO-DPMNE to renounce such key foreign policy goal, bearing in mind the continuously high public support. The fact is that immediately after Macedonia proclaimed independence all the political parties in the Sobranie (Macedonian Parliament) reached a consensus on membership in both NATO and the EU.
In the meanwhile Macedonia constantly participated in NATO's Membership Action Plan (MAP) and underwent 18 cycles of that plan. Macedonian armed forces are thus the most scrutinised army in NATO's history. All this time Macedonia also participated in other activities of the Alliance, especially in numerous peace-support operations, while NATO had its Liaison Office in Macedonia.
In order to understand the importance of the recent invitation for membership proposed to Macedonia it should be noted that in 2017 NATO was enlarged by a new member – Montenegro. This strongest military-defence alliance in history has thus remained committed to its open door policy. This was a strong impetus and an additional motive for electing the new government in Macedonia which was eventually appointed on 31 May 2017.
The shift in the political, diplomatic and broader social paradigm in Macedonia occurred three years ago when Zoran Zaev (SDSM), who was the opposition leader then, initiated the wave of democratic changes leading to the new positive image of this country that in many aspects plays the key role in the Balkans.
The Government of the Republic of Macedonia is built on Zaev's integration policy which enabled it to carry out a peaceful change of power/regime. Soon the good neighbourly relations agreement was signed with Bulgaria and the law on the use of ethnic minority languages was adopted. In March this year the EU issued the unconditional recommendation to start negotiations with Macedonia. These three important steps are the result of the work and efforts made by the current Macedonian government. Analysts found it logical that the major structural changes in Macedonian politics were followed by a radical positive change in the integration process.
At the end of June this year prime ministers of Macedonia and Greece Zoran Zaev and Alexis Tsipras (Syriza) informed the public that they reached the historical agreement on the name issue which had burdened the relations between the two states for almost three decades. Symbolically, and also with an important practical implication and message – the agreement was announced on the same day the USA President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met for the first time in history. Zoran Zaev, the creator of Macedonian integration paradigm, has thus proven to be a politician of great merit that the region has not seen for decades.
The signing of the agreement and its ratification by the Macedonian Parliament soon followed with an accelerated procedure. Thus, Greece informed NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and the European Council President Donald Tusk that it would withdraw its objection to Macedonia's membership in the EU and NATO. At the meeting in June 2018 the European Council passed the decision to start negotiations with Macedonia on EU accession in June 2019. At NATO summit in July this year Macedonia was officially invited to become a full member of the Alliance. The events in June happened very quickly, leaving a large part of Macedonian public surprised that such sudden progress can be achieved after three decades of the deadlock situation. The opposition VMRO-DPMNE party was obviously puzzled and confused. Its leaders reacted rather feebly and vaguely to this historical achievements, which is merely the continuation of their politics aimed at undermining the state of Macedonia and deceiving the Macedonian and international public.
The invitation to join NATO is an important token of recognition to Macedonia for the democratic changes and the significant results it has achieved in the last year. Macedonia has proven that changes are possible and that this state as well as the whole West Balkan region have the potential to achieve them. This sends a strong message to other countries that are still in the waiting room for EU and NATO membership. It is also important that Brussels recognised the direction of changes in Macedonia and reacted positively and constructively.
Once a burning problem in the region, Macedonia has now become a part of the solution. Its politics provide solutions and serve as the best-case example and promoter of Euro-Atlantic integration process in the region. It has proven that it is capable of realizing changes based on the electorate support won at December 2016 parliamentary and November 2017 local elections. This provided the democratic legitimacy to the present government. At the same time the official invitation to NATO membership represents the confirmation that the present Macedonian government acts correctly by applying “the government for the citizens” and “one society for everyone” concepts.
NATO membership represents security, stability and welfare. This strengthens trust and reliability for foreign investments. At the same time NATO membership represents a big step towards EU membership, as can be seen from the experience of all new members who joined the Alliance after the end of the Cold War. None of the 29 countries would have been as successful as they are now were they not NATO members. Membership enables co-deciding on the key issues in the international political arena. Macedonia will no longer be the item for discussion on the agenda but will, together with other member states, discuss the key international issues and challenges and contribute to their resolving. This is a quantum leap in the functioning of the state which has become a NATO full member.
Membership does not only bring benefits for the defence, military and security functions and structures of the state. Through its numerous committees NATO also deals with issues such as education and environment. Economic operators that receive NATO certificate can apply to various tenders published by the Alliance, which was not possible before.
Of course everything depends on how proactive the state is in this prestige club during the accession process and once it becomes a member.
Macedonia will now go through an about six-month period of pre-accession negotiations, during which time it has to adopt NATO legislation and transpose it into its legal system. This has partly been done in MAP. An accession agreement must then be signed and ratified by the Macedonian Sobranie and all member states. This process will last about a year and a half and will be concluded with the formal accession to NATO membership. During the ratification process Macedonian representatives may already attend the work of all NATO committees (except for the Nuclear Planning Group and NATO-Russia Committee), which will enable it, like all other members before, to become familiar with the concrete functioning of the Alliance.
Ljubljana, August 1, 2018