NATO edges toward further alliance expansion

NATO edges toward further alliance expansion

By Luke Vargas   
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg with Prime Minister of North Macedonia Zoran Zaev. June 2, 2019. Courtesy: NATO
Zoran Zaev, the prime minister of North Macedonia, welcomes NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg to Skopje, the capital, on Sunday for a NATO meeting. North Macedonia, Skaev's country, formerly known as the Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, just resolved a dispute over its name with Greece, paving the way for North Macedonia's membership to NATO, (Courtesy: NATO)

The Balkan nation of North Macedonia took a step toward joining NATO on Monday. What would that mean for Europe, the U.S. and Russia?

NEW YORK – NATO took a step toward enlargement on Monday as the alliance’s top general praised the Balkan nation of North Macedonia for ending a naming dispute with Greece and saying its NATO membership push could be wrapped up this year.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg:

“We are ready to welcome you into the NATO family.”

Until February, North Macedonia was known as the Federated Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia owing to conflict with Greece over who ought to enjoy association with the ancient kingdom of Macedonia once led by Alexander the Great.

To convince its neighbor from using that name, Greece spent two decades blocking Macedonian efforts to join NATO or the E.U., but has now stepped out of the way.

“I commend you for your leadership in solving the name issue…It was this agreement which made your accession to NATO possible.”

North Macedonia won’t make a military splash when it becomes NATO’s 30th member, but that doesn’t mean NATO expansion is going unnoticed in Russia. Moscow condemned settlement of the naming issue and reportedly undertook efforts to stir up domestic opposition to the deal.

Joshua Shifrinson is an assistant professor of international relations at Boston University:

“Since the end of the Cold War NATO has really been repackaged as a vehicle that solidifies an American commitment to Europe’s security and defense, and also projects American influence onto the continent of Europe. I think at this point given the state of Russian-U.S. and, therefore, Russian-NATO tensions, Russia is likely to complain about most NATO activities. Is the U.S. bound to listen to them? No.”

But Shifrinson says as NATO keeps expanding, the U.S. and fellow alliance members would should refrain from painting Russia as the “them” in a titanic “us vs. them” clash, especially when the stakes in North Macedonia are relatively low.

“The more the U.S. digs its heels in framing Russia as an adversary, the more this zero-sum mindset on both sides becomes reinforced, and the harder it ever will be to encourage any type of positive relationship between the U.S. and Russia.”

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