A NATO that embraces all of Europe’s democracies is important for regional stability, for U.S. strategic interests, and for rebuilding an effective trans-Atlanticism. NATO has evolved significantly since the end of the Cold War and no longer faces a single and tangible common threat. However, it remains the only trans-Atlantic security institution in which members have pledged to defend each other’s independence, in which they conduct vital common security operations, whether in combat, peace-keeping, or reconstruction, and where the standards for NATO entry stimulate a range of necessary democratic reforms among candidate states.
NATO’s consistent enlargement and enhancement over the past decade has brought most of Europe into the organization except for two significant regions: the West Balkans and the Black Sea region. The inclusion of Croatia, Albania, and Macedonia will significantly shrink the “grey zone” in the western Balkans and enhance NATO’s mission as a generator of regional stability. Invitations to NATO membership for the three Adriatic Charter states at the Bucharest Summit on 2-4 April 2008 will signal a positive contribution to the Alliance for six principal reasons:
1. Democratic Development
Each of the three Adriatic Charter states (Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia) have committed themselves to democratic governance and the rule of law, and all three have registered steady progress during the past decade. In an indication and recognition of their development, both Albania and Macedonia have signed Stabilization and Association Agreements (SAA) with the European Union as stepping-stones toward EU accession. Meanwhile, Croatia is already a candidate for EU membership and is expected to gain entry to the Union within the next two years.
Albania has achieved political stability and curtailed the organized criminality and widespread lawlessness that plagued the country throughout much of the 1990s. Recent presidential and local elections demonstrated significant progress in meeting European standards for fairness and efficiency, public administration has been improved, the anti-corruption campaign has been intensified, and legislation has been adopted to promote a fully independent judiciary. Macedonia has established a workable multi-ethnic system by integrating the large Albanian community into all state structures through the implementation of the 2001 Ohrid Framework Agreement. Skopje has also taken substantial strides in ensuring good governance, judicial reform, and the combating of official corruption. Croatia’s democracy and institutional development can now be favorably compared to neighboring Slovenia, the current holder of the EU presidency.
All three countries have attained the level of democratic development evident among the last wave of NATO entrants, including the nearby Balkan states of Bulgaria and Romania, and the prospect of EU accession will help ensure continuing progress in their reform agenda. NATO membership should not only be an objective for countries that have committed themselves to extensive democratic reforms, it must also be a reward for steadfast progress in implementing those reforms.
2. Security Sector Reform
All three countries are well prepared for NATO accession having implemented several Membership Action Plan (MAP) programs since 1999. Each government has conducted the political, economic, legal, and security-sector reforms envisaged through the MAP framework and is pursuing the restructuring, modernization, refurbishment, and professionalization of their armed forces in compliance with NATO standards. Their overarching objective is to establish professional, mobile, deployable, and financially viable forces that are fully interoperable with Allied forces.
For instance, in 2002 Tirana launched a ten-year reform program sponsored and supervised by the U.S. Department of Defense in order to streamline and modernize Albania’s standing army and upgrade its equipment. In addition to military restructuring, Skopje is in the process of ensuring the equitable representation of ethnic communities in its armed forces thus demonstrating that military modernization is a factor in domestic stabilization. Zagreb is also modernizing its military and is cooperating with NATO in improving the capabilities of the Croatian coastguard and border policing activities.
In terms of defense spending, Croatia has steadily increased its share, which this year stands at 1.8% of GDP (Gross Domestic Product). Zagreb is committed to raising this figure to 2% by 2010. Albania’s defense spending has surpassed 2% of GDP in 2008, while Macedonia’s has exceeded 2.5% annually for several years.
In addition to the implementation of reform programs and commitment to military restructuring, there is overall consensus across the political spectrum in all three countries in favor of NATO accession. Opinion polls also indicate that the public favors NATO entry by a wide margin, exceeding 90% in Albania, 70% in Macedonia, and with majority support in Croatia. There is only limited opposition to NATO membership in all three candidate states.
3. Contributions to NATO and U.S. Missions
Each country has contributed to U.S. or NATO-led missions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Bosnia-Hercegovina, and elsewhere. In fact, at least six West European countries, which are demographically larger or economically more prosperous, provide less than the Adriatic Three to the Afghani operation. Seaports and airports have been made available by all three capitals to U.S. and NATO forces, together with access to various military facilities, overflight rights, and the use of the national air traffic control service.
Albania and Macedonia proved to be key partners during NATO’s intervention over Kosova in 1999. They supported NATO operations and Allied forces were deployed to both countries to halt the spread of the conflict and to provide humanitarian assistance for refugees from Kosova. Tirana also contributed to the NATO-led Stabilization Force (SFOR) in Bosnia until its replacement by the EU’s Operation Althea in 2007.
In Afghanistan, all three countries participate in the NATO-led International Security Force mission. Croatia has deployed 190 troops, Macedonia 130, and Albania 140. Zagreb has pledged to increase Croatia’s contribution in 2008. In Iraq, Albania maintains 120 troops and Macedonia 40, whereas ten NATO countries have not participated in the operation either during or after the U.S.-led intervention. Macedonia and Albania have also participated in the EU's peacekeeping force in Bosnia-Hercegovina, while Croatia is making preparations to contribute to Operation Active Endeavour, NATO’s maritime counter-terrorist operation in the Mediterranean. Macedonia is increasing the number of soldiers designated for foreign operations by one third this year and the budget for foreign missions has also been raised.
All three countries also cooperate with NATO in the Partnership for Peace (PfP) format in a wide range of programs and exercises, as well as in the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC). Each state has received annual Individual Partnership Programs that focus on meeting the goals set in their Annual National Programs. And each has contributed to the anti-terrorist campaign within the framework of the Partnership Action Plan on Terrorism (PAP-T). This includes sharing intelligence and analysis with NATO, enhancing national counter-terrorist capabilities, and improving border security and maritime surveillance.
4. Domestic Stability and Regional Security
NATO membership will contribute to consolidating domestic stability and regional security, essential in the wake of Kosova’s independence and the ongoing political uncertainty in Serbia. Inclusion will prevent these countries from feeling isolated and curtail their vulnerabilities to any negative effects stemming from Kosova’s statehood or Serbia’s reaction.
Membership for the Adriatic Three would mean that almost the entire Balkan Peninsula is either within NATO or moving in that direction. Montenegro, which is committed to trans-Atlanticism, must also become a credible candidate in the near future and receive a Membership Action Plan (MAP), while Bosnia-Hercegovina and Kosova will remain under EU and NATO supervision for several years. The inclusion of Croatia, Albania, and Macedonia would be a source of encouragement for the remaining states to pursue necessary reforms. It could also convince progressive forces in Serbia that closer cooperation with NATO would enhance reform and modernization and provide another catapult toward future EU accession. Serbia would be enveloped along its borders by the Alliance and can monitor how its neighbors benefit from inclusion in NATO.
5. Consolidating Atlanticism and a Wider Europe
NATO enlargement over the past decade has not weakened the North Atlantic Alliance. Instead, it is the lack of sufficient contributions by some member states that has undercut NATO’s effectiveness while Washington’s tendency to use the Alliance as a “tool box” after 9/11 also contributed to making NATO’s future uncertain. Including the Adriatic Three in NATO will not import regional instability into the Alliance. All three countries maintain productive bilateral ties, participate in all regional multi-national initiatives, and have no outstanding disputes or territorial claims toward any neighbor. Moreover, the historical record demonstrates that the inclusion of Greece and Turkey in NATO in 1952 helped to improve their relations. Bringing three strongly pro-American countries into NATO will contribute to consolidating the Alliance and expanding its influence. It will also connect the Adriatic, the Black Sea, and the Eastern Mediterranean regions and enable NATO to focus its attention on securing the countries further east. Thus, NATO enlargement is an important component in consolidating a wider Europe.
6. Countering Russia’s Expansionism
NATO enlargement throughout the Balkans and toward the Black Sea region would help restrain Russia’s expansive aspirations and negative influences in the region and provide a greater sense of security to staunch U.S. allies and new Atlanticist states. The Balkans are useful for Moscow in disrupting democratic expansion in the wider European theater and injecting the Kremlin’s corrupt business practices and its disregard for the rule of law. In this strategic context, Serbia is manipulated by Russia as a valuable bridgehead within South East Europe to further Moscow’s economic and political influences, especially through the expansion of its energy interests.
Russia’s administration is seeking to undermine the role of the OSCE in promoting democratic development among member states and is intent on eviscerating the role of the Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OIHR) in Warsaw. For Moscow, the emergence of Euro-Atlantic democracies in former communist territories undermines its strategic designs. Independent democratic governments invariably seek membership in NATO and the EU in order to consolidate the reform process and provide permanent security and the assurance of state sovereignty. Russia feels more confident in realizing its aspirations where neighbors are either predictable authoritarian states, isolated and marginalized countries with populist governments, or weak and internally divided states that cannot qualify for NATO or EU membership.
NATO enlargement in the western Balkans and the prospect of inclusion for all democratic states in the Black Sea region that meet the necessary conditions, including Ukraine and Georgia, which should be included in the NATO process through Membership Action Plans (MAPs), will send two strong signals to Moscow. First, that the U.S. and its European allies are determined to reinvigorate the trans-Atlantic alliance to project security to all nearby regions. Second, that the value of common security interests and the interests stemming from common democratic values are more effective than Russia’s attempts to corrupt Europe’s political leadership and to divide the Alliance.
Postscript: The Macedonian Question
One point of contention before NATO’s April summit revolves around the dispute between Skopje and Athens over Macedonia’s internationally recognized name. While the government in Skopje would accept NATO entry under the FYROM (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) label by which it is included in the United Nations and other international institutions, the government in Athens sees the pre-accession period as an opportunity to press for a permanent name that eliminates its concerns over identity, history, and territory. Nobody has discovered the magic formula in resolving the dispute, even though all parties, including Greece, want to see Macedonia enter NATO to enhance regional security. Washington must remain engaged in this process to find an interim arrangement that would at least temporarily satisfy both parties and not retard Skopje’s aspirations and NATO’s goals. It can then press for a permanent solution that could improve relations between Greece and Macedonia, two important U.S. allies in the Balkans.