On 27 March 2020, almost thirty years after Macedonia declared independence in 1991, NATO welcomed its 30th member into the transatlantic family. The reason for this accession is the fact that, shortly after its independence referendum, the country defined joining NATO as one of its foremost strategic policy goals. Formal cooperation with NATO began in December 1993 when the Macedonian Parliament passed a Resolution called for the accession of the Republic of Macedonia to NATO. In 1995, the country joined the Partnership for Peace (PfP) and four years later, in April 1999, at the NATO Summit in Washington, we officially became a candidate country for NATO membership.
In April 2008, at the NATO Summit in Bucharest, it was confirmed that we had progressed sufficiently to completely fulfil the membership criteria, however the invitation to join NATO was not sent. The Summit concluded that Macedonia could only join NATO once a mutually acceptable solution to the name dispute with Greece had been achieved. After signing of the Prespa Agreement with Greece in 2018, which ended this dispute, on 27 March 2020 N. Macedonia finally became a full-fledged member of the largest military and political alliance in the world – NATO.
As we can see from the timeline above, achieving NATO membership was the culmination of decades of hard work on the implementation of comprehensive reforms in the country: not just the adoption and application of modern standards in areas such as security and defence, but also improvements in the rule of law and other important areas. Membership of NATO requires a certain level of security, economic growth and development, which are all important markers in the EU-accession process, which the country is also pursuing. It is my sincere opinion that our country will now also become more attractive to the EU and other NATO member states, which will further encourage increased investment in tourism, energy and transport infrastructure, as well as the creation of new jobs.
Furthermore, as a NATO member, N. Macedonia gains the right to participate in NATO procurement tenders, as well as to receive funding from the Science for Peace and Security (SPS) programme and use NATO’s resources in emergency situations. This has been already proven to be very beneficial, as Macedonian authorities have already asked NATO to activate the Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre (EADRCC) mechanism, in order to help the country with the fight against the Covid-19 threat. Moreover, our institutions have already taken advantage of NATO’s Next-Generation Incident Command System (NICS), in order to better coordinate the response to the Covid-19 crisis and to provide the public with real-time information and advice.
Given the strategic challenges of today’s complex and dynamic environment, geopolitical reasons were also an integral part of the decision to join NATO. The security landscape is changing and evolving, and threats like terrorism and migrant flows have all changed the concept of security, both in terms of hybrid threats, as well as more conventional ones. Macedonian entry into NATO means that the Alliance is strong enough to grow and further stabilize yet another part of Europe, and more notably the Western Balkans. The Balkans have always been the crossroads for the continents and this NATO expansion helps secure the Alliance’s south-east European flank. With its open-door policy, the Alliance is also demonstrating to the remaining countries in the Western Balkans (such as Bosnia and Herzegovina) that membership is attainable, which is something that will have a stabilizing effect for the region.
Although a small country, joining NATO has special significance for its latest member, because it has demonstrated the country’s commitment to Western values, as well as the significance of being a part of NATO’s collective security framework. On the other hand, Macedonian membership has strengthened NATO by demonstrating that this is something many countries can aspire to, and that the Alliance is willing to grow and expand, and help its members through the undertaking of diverse set of missions, operations and activities.