14 March 2019

North Macedonia- In straight line for the NATO accession

Stelian Teodorescu

Image source: Mediafax

Given that the political environment in North Macedonia was and continues to be defined as weak and extremely divided, its main strengths and weak points were used by political factors to affirm their declaratory or realistic, apparent or concrete/ active support for the accomplishment of different national objectives.

Reaching these objectives was possible also through the attitude showed in the dispute with Greece, the promotion of great neighborhood relations with Bulgaria, Greece and Serbia and the cooperation with the other states in Western Balkans region. Hence, the division of the international community in the recognition process of the Macedonia state under its new name, concurrently with Macedonian society’s high-division level and the unpredictable attitude of some leaders across the Macedonian political groups can significantly influence the support level of the accession process to NATO and EU.

Macedonian state’s accession process to NATO

Given the provisions of article 10 from the Washington Treaty (according to which the North-Atlantic Alliance can extend with the accession of new states), in 1993, the Skopje Parliament has decided country’s integration to NATO.

At that time, the adopted decision was a strong sign that Skopje’s authorities have opted for the national priority to be getting the NATO member status. Hence, Republic of Macedonia has become part of the Peace Partnership in 1995, getting involved, also, in the cooperation programmes and the implementation ones of the plan of action for the NATO accession.

Certainly at that time, the question arises on the domestic and international level: Why was the North Atlantic Alliance chosen? The response was based on that time and is still based on the fact that NATO has a significant contribution and a very important mission in ensuring Member States' security.

The integration concerns have become more and more intense given NATO’s three enlargement phases which took place in 1999, 2004 and 2008 where the Macedonian state could not reach the formal accession to the Alliance. The reasons for the failures were related to the splitting of the Macedonian population on integration, the 2001 Macedonian conflict, and the lack of information, knowledge and awareness of what NATO means, and the rights and obligations of the Member States. However, Skopje’s authorities have continued to work in order to reach NATO’s standards, and the North-Atlantic Council has continued to evaluate the registered progresses. Hence, NATO’s Summit held in Bucharest, in 2008, could be considered the turning point for the Macedonian state, as it was seen as a first accession invitation, together with Croatia and Albania. Notice that the invitation was, however, conditioned on solving the dispute with Greece regarding the name of the Macedonian state. With all the pressures and warnings of Turkey (a state belonging to the group of those who recognized Macedonia as its initial name) of blocking the integration of Croatia and Albania, Greece has used its veto right and rejected the integration of the Macedonian state into NATO.

The consensus between the political leaders from Skopje and the Macedonian citizens for the formal accession to NATO can be seen as a step forward for this country, but also for the integration within EU.

As expected, on 06.02.2019, at the NATO headquarter from Brussels, the permanent representatives of the 29-member states of the North Atlantic Alliance have signed the accession protocol of Republic of Northern Macedonia. In these circumstances, Northern Macedonia can take part in NATO’s activities as guest, and the actual accession to the Alliance of the Macedonian state could be made after the ratification of the protocol in all member states’ capitals, accordingly with the national procedures. Greece has showed, again, a positive attitude, permanently showed across the negotiations with Skopje and it became the first state which opened Republic of Northern Macedonia’s door to NATO’s accession through integration’s protocol ratification on 08.02.2019.

The constitutional modifications from Republic of Macedonia are supported by all its western allies (NATO, EU) but, at the same time, are disputed by Moscow, which considers them the results of Western pressures.

Hence, the closeness of another state in the region to the formal accession to NATO, is a turning point not only for the Western Balkans, but also for the Euro-Atlantic community in the aggregate, because:

  • Given the 70th celebration of North-Atlantic’s Alliance existence, the full accession of Republic of Northern Macedonia will reaffirm the opened doors policy and will bring a new energy across NATO in the integration and stabilization process of the Western Balkans;
  • Allies are committed to accept all the states in the Western Balkans which want to join NATO, to share its values and are willing and capable to assume accession’s responsibilities and obligations;
  • The Euro-Atlantic integration is seen as the best method to ensure the long-term security and stability in the whole region, because it is discouraging and it is a true challenge for any other strategic perspective or influence to be developed by the Russian Federation or China.

The possible impact of a new NATO extension in the Western Balkans

After Republic of Northern Macedonia’s accession to NATO, the only states and entities in the Western Balkans to remain outside the Alliance will be Bosnia and Herzegovina (BIH), Serbia and Kosovo. Therefore, we should not forget that from all these states mentioned above, BIH had and will continue to have, like Republic of Northern Macedonia, counselling, assistance and support with the participation at the Management Action Plan (MAP), a program dedicated to those states which want to access the Alliance.

In such a context, the Western Balkans might be more and more important on Kremlin’s agenda, considering also an intensification of the influencing and blockage actions of the NATO enlargement process by using region’s nationalist-populist forces. So, the Western Balkans could become the main political and economic confrontation space between Russia and China, on one hand, and NATO and EU, on the other hand.

In the context of Russia's failure in Northern Macedonia, Moscow will move the center of gravity of the fight against NATO’s enlargement in the Western Balkans to Republic of Srpska (RS), the pro-Russian entity in BIH, which looked by any means to keep this country outside Alliance’s structures.  

Such an evolution could force Serbia to redefine its current military neutrality, especially that this position is more and more seen, on an internal and international level, as a message addressed to NATO, but also to the other international actor which has major interests in the region, Russia. An important argument to that end is that, more than ever, the Serbian political leaders have chosen to induce, on an internal plan, the idea of country’s neutrality maintenance through political, economic and military contacts with Moscow, but also with signing the Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP) with NATO.

In this context, the Western Balkans occupies a priority on the agenda of transatlantic foreign and security policy. This interest is materialized through Western and American diplomacy’s involvement in the region, but also through supplementary financial allocations across EU’s multiannual financial framework (2021-2027), especially on the fields dedicated to pre-accession assistance and migration management.

Given the current conditions from the Western Balkans, the referendum could become a problem-solving tendency in the region. After the one from Macedonia, the following could be a referendum of the Serbians in Montenegro in their attempt to cancel Kosovo’s recognition by Podgorica, one in RS about a possible solution to BIH’s secession and, why not, any other referendum related to any possible border correction in the Western Balkans. Such a hypothesis is support by the recent evolution in the Kosovo file, where it was launched the idea that Belgrade and Pristina could get to an agreement and could standardize relations through redefining the borders, this way opening the door to EU’s accession. As expected, such a hypothesis was seen somehow circumspect by the international community, due to concerns about Moscow reacting and contributing at creating interethnic tensions in Kosovo, raising other destabilizing movements which could contribute at border’s redefinition in Western Balkans. Relevant examples to that end could be the Albanians from Macedonia or the Serbians from Montenegro or RS.


Even if the issue of the Macedonian state’s name was approached by the Greek and Macedonian authorities through a real cooperation, it seems that the role of civil societies from Western Balkans’s entities seems to be essential for the successful implementation of Euro-Atlantic integration policies.

Atlantic’s Treaty Association (ATA)[1] and the Euro-Atlantic Council[2] from Macedonia had a significant contribution are continue to be prepared to transform Northern Macedonia’s security needs and objectives in concrete accomplishments, thorough effective actions in intelligence, education, instruction, civil training and international cooperation.

Western Balkans will remain a major geopolitical border, a relevant region wherein NATO, EU, Russia, China and other regional actors’ interests will add up and interfere. For Europe to have a dominating role in Western Balkans, the European and Euro-Atlantic structure must become more active in the competition with Russia and China.

Also, EU and NATO must continue to support the civil societies in consolidating democracy in the region, as after this NATO enlargement, with the integration of Republic of North Macedonia, it will surely come a more and more difficult period in supporting the last three entities as well to reach the demanded standards for the finalization of the accession process of the entire Western Balkans region in NATO and EU structures.

[1] Atlantic’s Treaty Association (ATA) is an organization composed on political leaders, academic people, military officials and diplomats. ATA is an independent organization, outside NATO, created on 18.06.1954. ATA works beyond the Euro-Atlantic borders, like Central and East Europe, Mediterranean Sea and South Caucasus. As consequence of the integration of some states within NATO, ATA has extended a lot, focusing on security, directing towards south and east.

[2] The Euro Atlantic Council (EACM) is a non-governmental organization, founded in 1997 in Skopje, which covers a field specific to the Macedonian state, like the Euro-Atlantic integration and the promotion of the Euro-Atlantic values and ideas across the Macedonian society.