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North Macedonia becomes NATO’s 30th member

“North Macedonia is now part of the NATO family, a family of 30 nations and almost 1 billion people. A family based on the certainty that, no matter what challenges we face, we are all stronger and safer together," NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in a statement. Macedonian President Stevo Pendarovski said: "We cannot rejoice and mark the event as it should [be marked] … But, this is a historic success that after three decades of independence, finally confirms Macedonian security and guarantees our future. Congratulations to all of you! We deserve it!”

Pendarovski signed the so-called instrument of accession after Spain earlier in the week became the last alliance member to ratify the former Yugoslav republic’s membership.

Since gaining independence, one of the strategic goals of the country was to join NATO, as was stated in 1993, and the relationship with Alliance was always marked by close cooperation. North Macedonia joined NATO’s Partnership for Peace (PfP) in 1995, and in 1999 the country submitted its first Membership Action Plan. Furthermore, North Macedonia deployed troops in support of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan from 2002 to end 2014 and is currently supporting the follow-on Resolute Support mission to train, advise and assist the Afghan security forces. Before that, the country was a key partner in supporting NATO-led operations in Kosovo in 1999, as well as to provide logistical support to the Kosovo Force (KFOR) mission.

The 20th NATO Summit in Bucharest in 2008 was more than symbolic, as it was expected that Albania, Croatia and (then) Macedonia would receive an invitation to join NATO. However, although Albania and Croatia did receive the invitation and became members a year later.

It marks the end of a long quest for the former Yugoslav republic. Joining NATO and the European Union has been a priority for its leaders, but a dispute with neighboring Greece over the country’s name stalled progress for more than two decades. North Macedonia previously was known as FYROM (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia), a name it shared with a Greek province. Under a 2017 deal with Athens, the country changed its name and Greece agreed to drop objections to its NATO and eventual EU membership.

On the other hand, Kržalovski thinks that until now the participation of North Macedonia in NATO mission was symbolic.

“We have also increased defense part of the budget, though we are not at the level of 2% of the GDP yet. As a small country, both the requirements and expectations from other members are not so high, and our participation so far in NATO missions were rather symbolic, although we have participated with a relatively high number of soldiers in proportion to the overall size of the Army”, explains Kržalovski.

The budget increase that he mentions is DEN 10,133,000,000 for 2020, or about 1.4% of North Macedonia’s total GDP, which is an increase over 2019 when it was about 1.19% of total GDP. Interestingly, this is a third year of the defense budget increase, but it is still far from the prescribed 2% of BDP. However, this is not a major problem, as many current NATO members have not fulfilled this provision.