NATO Expands Balkans Footprint With North Macedonia Accession

(Bloomberg) -- The North Atlantic Treaty Organization bolstered its foothold in the politically volatile Balkans region on Friday when North Macedonia became the alliance’s 30th member.

“Your accession will bring more stability to the western Balkans,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in an emailed statement in Brussels. “This is good for the region and for Euro-Atlantic security.”

Joining the U.S.-dominated defense alliance marks the second big geopolitical success this week for North Macedonia, a landlocked country that gained independence in 1991 as Yugoslavia broke apart. On Tuesday, European Union governments unblocked the nation’s path to membership of their vast trading bloc after overcoming a French veto.

North Macedonia, which has a population of about 2 million, is a prize for NATO because of the West’s rivalry with Moscow for influence in the Balkans, long a region within Russia’s geopolitical orbit.

Three decades after the Cold War ended, western governments are focusing again on threats posed by Moscow as a result of its renewed muscle-flexing, including encroachment in Ukraine where Russia annexed Crimea in 2014. NATO’s other western Balkan members are Albania, Croatia, Montenegro and Slovenia.

NATO members signed North Macedonia’s accession protocol in early 2019, shortly after the country reached a hard-fought accord with Greece on a name change. The alliance then had to wait for domestic ratification by all members, with Spain completing the process last week.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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