NATO's Balkan Destiny
By ANTONIO MILOSOSKI
The NATO summit in Bucharest is less than a week away. Yet Macedonia's bid to join the trans-Atlantic alliance hangs in the balance. Strangely, the problem is the name of my country, which Greece doesn't recognize, and not our record on civil and military reforms, which Macedonia has been diligently pursuing.
Seven years ago, Macedonia was a net security consumer. We're now a net provider with 3.5% of our troops engaged in security missions abroad -- mainly in Afghanistan. Ninety percent of our citizens support NATO membership, a rarity in this region. Support for the alliance unites the multiethnic Macedonian society and cuts across ethnic, party and social lines.
Our close cooperation with NATO goes back to its 1999 intervention against the regime of Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia. Macedonia was the key country in the region in assisting the alliance, providing infrastructure and logistics for NATO combat operations. We also opened our doors to 380,000 Kosovo refugees who found a shelter in Macedonia. Some stayed on to make their lives in Macedonia.
Kosovo remains a pressing security issue today, and Macedonia is honoring its end of the bargain. We are the host country of the logistics headquarters for KFOR, the Kosovo stabilization force. It is operated by the Macedonian army and financed through our budget.
Kosovo's independence last month changed the security and political outlook for the Balkans. We still don't know what the end game will look like. Much progress was made in the recent years in the Western Balkans in terms of keeping stability and expanding our economies. This has been achieved in no small part thanks to the positive roles played by the EU and the U.S. in our region in the last decade.
But there are numerous potential sources of instability. Political structures in Kosovo are underdeveloped. Political cohesion in the region is weak. From a security perspective, NATO is still needed, particularly in and around Kosovo to help administer borders and keep a close watch on trafficking and organized crime.
Positive messages from the EU and the U.S. on integration into NATO and the EU are vitally important. NATO membership is a staple of progress in our region. To this extent, progress, stability and prosperity will be enhanced in the Balkans if Albania, Croatia and Macedonia are invited to join NATO next week in Bucharest.
The more states from the Balkans we have joining NATO, the less NATO we will need in the Balkans. The alliance would then be freed up to cope with challenges further a field
Considering what's at stake, Macedonia's NATO membership shouldn't be held hostage to a bilateral dispute with Greece over my country's name. But that's just what has happened in recent months.
Our soldiers are fighting in Afghanistan shoulder to shoulder with the Greek, Americans, the Dutch, and others. No one minds the label "Macedonia" on their uniforms. Macedonia was asked to fulfill the Membership Action Plan (or MAP) criteria to be considered for NATO membership. This we did.
Our issue with Greece is a bilateral one. We are prepared to settle it together with our Greek friends. We are ready to compromise. But we won't be pushed into accepting a solution concerning our name as a condition of getting into NATO.
My country remains committed to the 1995 Interim Accord where we agreed -- with the UN serving as the guarantor -- that neither Macedonia nor Greece will block the other's membership in international organizations.
NATO membership and the start of the accession talks with the EU are the two bottom-line priorities for Macedonia -- no matter who's in power. But Macedonia will not yield to pressure.
NATO isn't where the name issue should be decided. Let's keep the alliance focused on security. With that in mind, it should be clear that excluding Macedonia from the club will do nothing to boost security in the Balkan region. It may even bring about the opposite result.
Mr. Milososki is foreign minister of Macedonia.
|Makedonska Pravoslavna Crkva|