Later this week, NATO allies will gather in Chicago. While President Barack Obama and our European partners will discuss Afghanistan, smart defense, and the alliance’s ability to confront 21st-century security challenges, the summit agenda is marred by a glaring omission: consideration of the Republic of Macedonia’s overdue membership invitation.
Since its founding in 1949, NATO has kept its doors open to European democracies that meet NATO’s stringent guidelines for membership. At the NATO summit in Bucharest in 2008, member nations agreed that Macedonia had met all conditions for entry and should be offered an invitation. However, just as Macedonia was about to walk through the door, Greece vetoed the country’s membership application, which remains in limbo to this day.
What major geopolitical crisis provoked the Greek government to defy the will of their fellow NATO allies and intervene in such a dramatic way? Simply put, Greece does not like the Republic of Macedonia’s name. Greece claims to hold a monopoly on the term “Macedonia.”
Unfortunately, rather than dismiss such objections as eccentric and archaic, NATO has gone along with this rather shameful farce for four years. The Chicago summit is an opportunity to remedy this injustice. The question is, do NATO members have the political will to force Greece to the negotiating table?
Greece’s demand that Macedonia change its name — and thereby its very identity — flies in the face of the U.N. charter, which guarantees people the right to self-determination. Even the International Court of Justice, by a ruling of 15 to 1 in December, ruled that Greece’s 2008 veto violated international law. Add to that the fact that 137 countries including the United States have already recognized Macedonia under its constitutional name. It is time for NATO to take bold action to prevent Greece’s abuse of power.
Macedonia has made great strides over the past 20 years, going from a consumer of stability to an exporter of stability. Macedonia shares NATO’s democratic values, has made difficult economic and political reforms, and has contributed to NATO missions in Southeastern Europe, Iraq, and Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, Macedonian troops currently serve alongside troops from the Vermont National Guard, often in dangerous places. They have never been constrained by national caveats, have cycled over 2,500 troops through Afghanistan, and currently are the fifth-largest contributor to that mission. The Republic of Macedonia is truly a NATO member in all but name; its soldiers even guard the NATO/ISAF compound in Kabul. That their soldiers protect NATO’s headquarters but cannot walk in the door as full members of the alliance is a painful irony for all Macedonians.
Economic reforms put into place by Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski have created one of the region’s best climates for investment. Gruevski has fought corruption, strengthened private property rights, and implemented a 10 percent flat tax on individuals and businesses. And these reforms have paid off: The latest World Bank “Doing Business” report ranked Macedonia 22 in the world in terms of ease of doing business, higher than France. And with assistance from USAID, Macedonia became one of the world’s first wireless countries in 2005.
Throughout history, all peoples have had the right to a name and identity of their own choosing. No one would deny that right to Costa Ricans or Mexicans, to Germans or Greeks. On September 8, 1991, Macedonians voted overwhelmingly to create an independent, pluralistic, and democratic Republic of Macedonia. The people and successive governments of Macedonia have always pursued their dream of consolidating this project by becoming a part of Euro-Atlantic institutions, fulfilling the promise of stability and prosperity that was a mere glimmer of hope 20 years ago.
As American citizens, we have been discouraged by Washington’s preference to ignore this international dispute and hope for the best. Such dangerous thinking assumes that stability in the Balkans — which was achieved in part thanks to NATO — is not at risk. In Chicago, the United States and President Obama will have the opportunity to correct a great injustice and stabilize Europe by standing up for the Republic of Macedonia.
The authors serve as honorary consuls of the Republic of Macedonia.
Lou Vlasho, Naples, Florida
Slavco Madzarov, Clifton, New Jersey
Dana Klein, Hollywood, Florida
Andy Peykoff, Sr., Newport Coast, California
Jason Miko, Tucson, Arizona