This week the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) approved the accession protocol for the newly named Republic of North Macedonia. North Macedonia has been seeking to join NATO but has been opposed by neighboring Greece. As a standing NATO member, Greece has vetoed its northern neighbor from joining the alliance due to a decades-long name dispute between the two countries. The conflict between the two Balkan nations arose following the disintegration of Yugoslavia in 1992 when the Socialist Republic of Macedonia declared itself the Republic of Macedonia. The Greeks claim that the use of the name ‘Macedonia’ appropriates Greek culture and history as Macedonia was the ancestral home of Alexander the Great, the King of the Greek Kingdom of Macedon. Some 73% of Greeks oppose any non-Greek use of the name as millions of Greeks identify as Macedonians in the Northern Greek province of Macedonia. The approval of the accession protocol comes after the resolution between Greece and the now Northern Macedonia. With Greek approval, North Macedonia will likely be accepted by the other NATO members, which will further increase the alliance’s regional influence, leaving only Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina as non-NATO members.
Greece and Macedonia started the dispute resolution process through formalizing the Prespes Agreement in mid-2018. Following the agreement, Macedonia held a national referendum to decide on the name change. Despite a low turnout and protests from nationalists, the vote received overwhelming support. the Macedonian Parliament ratified the decision of the referendum which then sent the Prespes Agreement to Greece for ratification. In Greece, the Prespes Agreement received ardent protest from Defence Minister, Panos Kammenos, who also heads the ANEL party. The ANEL party is in the coalition with the Greek Prime Minister, Alex Tsipras’s SYRIZA party. In protest of the agreement, Panos Kammenos withdrew the ANEL party from the ruling coalition leading to a no-confidence vote that Tsipras survived. A few weeks after the no-confidence vote, the Greek Parliament ratified the Prespes Agreement, signaling an end to the name issue that has almost lasted 30 years. The Greek Prime Minister and Macedonian Prime Minister applauded each other’s actions.
NATO has been expanding its influence in the Balkan region with Montenegro joining in 2017. The once volatile region has historically been influenced by Russia, who competes with NATO for influence in the region, most notably in Serbia. Western powers have applauded the efforts of Greece and North Macedonia to resolve their lengthy dispute. US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, praised Greek lawmakers for backing the deal. EU officials celebrated both sides for setting aside nationalist enmity. The response from NATO came almost immediately, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg tweeted, “I look forward to the future Republic of North Macedonia joining NATO”.
The accession protocol will now need to be ratified by the national parliaments of the 29 NATO members, with Greece likely to be the first to sign off. The NATO accession process normally takes a year, but NATO will likely pressure members to ratify the process so North Macedonia could become the 30th member by mid-2019. NATO’s push to accept North Macedonia as its newest alliance member will allow the organization to solidify its regional presence. This reaffirms the influence of NATO and the West in the historically volatile Balkan region.
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