Megan Leeming | Tue, 5 Mar 2019
On the 6th of February 2019, long-time partner of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) Macedonia signed an accession agreement, meaning that they will become its 30th member by 2020.
Macedonia could have reached this milestone ten years ago, yet their membership kept getting blocked by Greece. This is somewhat due to a recently solved disagreement over the name of the country. Macedonia was formed after the collapse of Yugoslavia in 1991, and they chose a new name that harkened back to antiquity. This enraged many Greeks as the Hellenic name was shared by a region in Greece and there was worry that the regions may try to appropriate each other. To avoid conflict, the UN has been referring by the abbreviation Fyom (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) since. However, due to a recent deal signed between the two countries’ leaders, Macedonia has become the Republic of North Macedonia; effectively ending the dispute and opening the doors to NATO.
From a security perspective, there seems very little benefit in taking on Macedonia as it is a small, landlocked country that, in 2017, spent 1% of its GDP on military defence. While spending more than some countries already in NATO like Belgium, it does not seem to bring military power or influence to the table. However, in looking at the US priorities, as the dominant member of NATO, it becomes clearer. Macedonia exists in a sort of ‘grey-zone’, in an area that is not clearly allied with Russia or anyone else. In supporting the accession of North Macedonia, America could be seen to be forming a buffer against Russia’s increasingly aggressive foreign policies and the dominance of Russia in the Balkan region. Regardless of international agendas, the move into NATO should be a welcome one for Macedonia as it is a small country in an unstable region and the military threat that NATO holds will provide a useful deterrent for any unrest.
Many see the accession of Macedonia to NATO as the first step to the country eventually joining the European Union because historically, all post-communist countries have joined NATO first. This could be a positive step for the economy of the poorer country as the most successful transition for the former socialist block members have been with the grants and support of the EU.
The true positive effect of joining NATO on Macedonia will become evident within the coming years. However, as Russian and American tensions rise, in time there may be unintended negative consequences of the recent accession too.