Проф. Стојан Славески: За подготвеноста на РМ за членство во НАТО

Интервју дадено за магазинот „World Politics Review“ за подготвеноста на РМ за членство во НАТО

Why Macedonia’s Bid to Join NATO Is Getting More Complicated

The Editors Monday, May 22, 2017

Editor’s Note: This article is part of an ongoing WPR series about NATO members’ contributions to and relationships with the alliance.

The Balkan nation of Macedonia has been waiting for years to join NATO, yet the hurdles to this goal seem only to multiply. In addition to objections and conditions from some NATO members, including Greece, Macedonia is also facing the possibility that its ongoing internal political crisis will prevent the process from moving ahead. In an email interview, Stojan Slaveski, a professor and security expert at the European University of the Republic of Macedonia in Skopje, explains how these setbacks have affected Macedonia’s defense preparedness, as well as how public opinion of NATO has evolved.

WPR: What is the state of Macedonia’s accession bid, and how do leaders think it would benefit from joining NATO?

Slaveski: Macedonia has met the criteria for membership since 2008. The only problem then was the resolution of the ongoing “name dispute” with Greece. Because Greece has a region named Macedonia, it initially wanted the country of Macedonia to change its name entirely. Now it is pushing for Macedonia’s name to add a geographic qualifier.

Judging by statements from Macedonian politicians, there is no consensus on how exactly to proceed on the issue, but the official government position is that Macedonia strives for a solution that will not change the country’s constitutional name and will not endanger “Macedonian national identity, the individuality of the Macedonian nation and Macedonian language.”

Since 2008, Albania and Bulgaria have also moved to place political conditions on Macedonia’s membership. And more recently, at NATO’s 2016 Warsaw Summit, NATO members noted that the political climate in Macedonia had “taken the country further away from NATO values.” This was a reference to the consequences of the country’s political deadlock, which has prevented Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski from forming a government despite having won elections last December. In the latest development, President Gjorge Ivanov last week gave opposition leader Zoran Zaev 20 days to form a government. NATO is pushing for full implementation of the Przino Agreement, which was reached in 2015. What NATO wants to see is strengthened rule of law, free media and an independent judiciary.

From Macedonia’s perspective, NATO membership is important less for the security benefits and more for the political benefits, in particular enhanced credibility on the world stage and perhaps a boost toward joining the European Union.

WPR: What security reforms has Macedonia undertaken while attempting to join NATO, and how durable are they? 

Slaveski: Delays and setbacks to Macedonia’s integration into NATO and the EU have led to reduced enthusiasm for reforms in all spheres, including defense. Funds allocated to defense needs have been decreasing since 2008. The budget for 2016 was approved with a total for defense of 96 million euros, or 1.01 percent of GDP. Money was then transferred to other ministries, leaving about 94 million euros for defense, or 0.98 percent of GDP. The breakdown by category of the revised budget was as follows: 67 percent for staff, 23 percent for operations and maintenance, and 10 percent for equipment and infrastructure. For 2017, the projected budget for defense was slightly increased to about 101 million euros, or 1.03 percent of GDP.

Thus, it is apparent that projections from the first Strategic Defense Review, conducted in 2004, that defense spending would increase to between 2.3 and 2.6 percent of GDP by the time Macedonia was invited to join NATO are not realistic, and this goal has not been respected. The desired ratio of defense expenditures—50 percent for staff, 30 percent for maintenance and 20 percent for equipment and infrastructure investments—has also turned out to be the product of wishful thinking. All this can not but affect the defense preparedness of the army.

The 2004 review also called for reforms that would reduce the Ministry of Defense to 570 employees and the army to 7,600 soldiers. However, since that time the number of personnel in the ministry has nearly doubled, while the political decision to abolish the age limit for soldiers has made it difficult to lower the total.

WPR: How does the Macedonian public view accession to NATO, and how has public opinion been shaped by questions about U.S. President Donald Trump’s commitment to the alliance?

Slaveski: According to a survey released in April by the National Democratic Institute, there are sharp divisions within Macedonia over the helpfulness of foreign entities. For example, according to the survey, “38.8 percent of ethnic Macedonians and other ethnic groups believe there is no foreign entity that helps promote Macedonia’s national interests,” while the same can be said for only 11.6 percent of ethnic Albanians. In all, about 20 percent of those interviewed saw the EU as helpful, while only 9.6 percent said the same for the U.S. and 8 percent for Russia.

These results suggest that the public places more importance on ties to the EU than to the U.S. or NATO. The U.S. in particular is seen as pursuing the same inadequate foreign policy with respect to the western Balkans for the past 15 years. The main objective of U.S. foreign policy has been to maintain stability in the region, avoiding new conflicts between countries and between different ethnic groups within countries. The U.S. has also sought to reduce Russian influence and provide support to the EU in its management of the region. This limited policy framework has drawbacks, as the region and individual countries within the region have a wider range of needs than just stability.

With Donald Trump as president, it is expected that the U.S. will take even less interest in the region. This view has been reinforced by Trump’s conflicting statements on his commitment to NATO. As such, it is not expected that NATO’s importance will increase among ordinary Macedonians.

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