Addendum added March 18, 2008: Letter of response from Alexandros P. Mallias, Ambassador of Greece.
Congress is holding hearings regarding the future of NATO this week, in advance of a NATO summit next month in Bucharest, Romania. Summit participants will debate how to succeed in Afghanistan, but also focus on the contentious issue of NATO expansion into the Balkans and the former Soviet Union—specifically the possibility of membership for Albania, Croatia, Macedonia, Georgia, and Ukraine.
There are valid arguments to be made on both sides of the expansion debate, but the United States would be best served by encouraging the alliance to move forward with the current slate of aspirants.
The foreign ministers of NATO member states agreed in principle that Albania and Croatia should be offered membership, but are split on Macedonia. For more than 15 years, Greece has protested the former Yugoslav republic’s name, as it feels it implies a claim to a region of northern Greece also called Macedonia.
Based on this, Greece is threatening to veto any membership offer for the country. If Macedonia is denied membership, NATO states have argued that it might be better to postpone a decision on Albania as well so that Macedonia is not the only state left behind.
The two former Soviet republics of Ukraine and Georgia have formerly requested a Membership Action Plan, or “MAP,” from NATO, which would be the first step toward membership. The eastern European countries in NATO that were once part of the Soviet Bloc have been encouraging this enlargement, while several Western European countries, led by Germany and France, oppose the MAP offer.
The primary argument against putting Ukraine and Georgia on a path to membership is that it would anger Russia, whose relationship with the West has grown cold over Kosovo, the missile defense system, and arms control in Europe.
The arguments against moving forward with the Ukraine and Georgia make a bit more sense than those against the Balkan hopefuls, but still aren’t convincing enough.
Macedonia has met the necessary criteria to obtain an invitation for NATO membership, and expanding membership to the Balkans will help create and maintain stability in this volatile region. Macedonia has also been helpful to NATO in Kosovo and elsewhere in the world. It shouldn’t be held hostage to the insecurities of Greece, and Albania certainly shouldn’t be secondarily punished because the alliance doesn’t want Macedonia to feel left out. Maxime Verhagen, the Dutch Foreign Minister, is absolutely correct in his assertion that "a name cannot be an objection for the accession of a country."
In fact, Macedonia has done its part to alleviate Greece’s concerns by enacting a constitutional amendment declaring that it has no territorial designs on neighboring states. It has also agreed to participate in a bilateral dialogue with the Greek government to address the concerns Greece has with Macedonia’s name.
Concerning Ukraine and Georgia, it’s understandable that some in the West would prefer not to make tense relations with Russia any worse by putting those two countries on the road to NATO membership. Russia has threatened to aim nuclear weapons at Ukraine if it becomes a member. In addition, skeptics argue that these two countries have experienced too much political turmoil recently and that there is not enough public support for NATO membership in Ukraine.
Yet NATO expansion to former Warsaw Pact countries has been helpful in bringing about the political stability that the West seeks from our eastern neighbors, and the future benefits that come with membership in NATO can be a great driving force for reform in candidate countries. Furthermore, agreeing on a MAP for Ukraine and Georgia is only a first step in what could be a long discussion.
In the end, the United States and other NATO members should not let their decisions regarding any of these countries be dictated by Greece’s concern about a name or disagreements it has with Russia on other matters. NATO should push Greece to moderate its unreasonable stance and reach compromise with Macedonia. It will also be vital to pursue active diplomacy to smooth relations with Russia if Ukraine and Georgia are put on a path to eventual membership. Russia should not be led to believe that Ukraine or Georgia are still under the control of Moscow or that they can dictate NATO policies through threats.
Spencer Boyer is the Director of International Law and Diplomacy in the National Security and International Policy Department of the Center for American Progress.
Letter of response from Alexandros P. Mallias, Ambassador of Greece
“The article, “NATO: Expansion and Division,” authored by Spencer P. Boyer and James D. Lamond, unfairly attributes Greece’s position to insecurity.
Greece’s stance on FYROM’s NATO membership is not driven by insecurity; rather it is the genuine appeal of a long-standing NATO member to an aspiring one to respect the principles of international law, to comply with the principle of good neighborly relations, and demonstrate the maturity and accountability required to join the Alliance.
Greece seeks a settlement of the name issue prior to the Bucharest Summit. To this end, it has demonstrated leadership and willingness to compromise, by accepting a composite name, with a geographic qualification, to be internationally valid, a move that was not reciprocated by FYROM.
A strategic factor of stability in the Balkans, Greece has helped its neighbors solidify their democratic and economic institutions, advocating the Euro-Atlantic integration of all Balkan countries, including FYROM. It has strongly supported FYROM, politically and economically, ranking as the number one investor in that country, with over $1 billion invested capital, and generating more than 30,000 new jobs.
NATO, however, is first and foremost an organization built on shared values and principles, by which all countries aspiring to become members should abide. If a candidate country systematically violates those values and principles, including that of good neighborly relations, the Alliance ought not lower the bar and undermine its cohesion and solidarity, thus jeopardizing its credibility.
It is in this context that Greece supports the invitations to Croatia and Albania, while the latter should take further steps towards protecting human and minority rights.
115 members of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senators Robert Menendez, Olympia Snowe and Barack Obama, consider Greece’s stance justified. Sponsoring House Resolution 356 and Senate Resolution 300, respectively, they urge the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to cease hostile activities and propaganda against Greece and to reach a mutually acceptable solution on the name issue, in accordance with U.N. Security Council Resolutions 817 and 845.
Furthermore, in a recent Senate Resolution 476, co-sponsored, among others, by Senators John Kerry, Hilary Clinton, Barrack Obama, John Warner, Ted Kennedy, Joseph Lieberman, Ted Stevens, Chuck Hagel, Richard Lugar, Robert Menendez, John Sununu, Joseph Biden, it is acknowledged that:
Throughout the 20th century, Greece was one of only three countries in the world, outside the former British Empire, that allied with the United States in every major international conflict; Greece is a strategic partner and ally of the United States in bringing political stability and economic development to the volatile Balkan region, investing over $20,000,000,000, creating over 200,000 new jobs, and contributing over $750,000,000 in development aid to the region; Greece and the United States are at the forefront of the effort to advance freedom, democracy, peace, stability, and human rights.
Last but not least, there is no need for NATO to push Greece towards a compromise with FYROM, since Greece, a NATO member of 55 years, has already proven in both in words and deeds its readiness for such a compromise. The time has come for NATO to push FYROM, an aspiring NATO-member, to abandon anachronistic 19th century nationalist practices and reach a mutually acceptable solution with Greece on the name issue. The sooner, the better.