Share This Page

Extend NATO's umbrella to Montenegro and Macedonia

| Saturday, July 5, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
AFP/Getty Images
A picture taken on March 2, 2014, shows the NATO flag in the wind at the NATO headquarters in Brussels.

In reacting to Moscow's aggression in Ukraine, President Obama has reassured exposed NATO members Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia of firm U.S. support. But he has shown little inclination to show needed leadership by putting another integral element of NATO policy on the agenda of September's Cardiff summit — enlargement of the alliance.

Obama's hesitation, which has allowed NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen to put off the question of enlargement until next year, is unwise and unnecessary.

NATO enlargement, a bipartisan effort that has spanned the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations, has been one of the most successful U.S. foreign policy achievements of the past two decades. As a result of their countries joining NATO, more than 100 million Central and Eastern Europeans in 12 nations from Estonia to Albania can freely elect their own governments and pursue national priorities without fear of foreign invasion.

Moreover, in Afghanistan and elsewhere, the alliance has benefited from the contributions of the new members, even if few of them are yet spending at least 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense, the NATO target. In the face of Moscow's destabilization of Ukraine, one can only imagine the mood of the Baltic states and Poland if they were not protected by NATO's Article 5 common defense guarantee.

Two Balkan countries — Macedonia and Montenegro — are ready and willing but so far unable to join NATO. Far to the north, pro-accession sentiment in two Nordic countries is growing. Finland's new prime minister, Alexander Stubb, is an advocate of joining NATO and Helsinki recently signed a wide-ranging memorandum of understanding with the alliance.

Stubb's position reflects a widespread belief in Finland that Russia's invasion of Ukraine has endangered the country's security. Similar sentiments are also increasingly heard in Sweden, a fellow European Union member. Both are NATO partner countries that took part in peacekeeping operations in Bosnia and Kosovo and sent contingents to Afghanistan, where they suffered combat fatalities.

But there is reluctance in a few European capitals to proceed with further enlargement, principally out of fear of alienating Russia, which routinely rails against the alliance, usually invoking Ukraine, even though Kiev is no longer interested in membership.

Exhibit A is the case of little Montenegro, widely considered qualified to join since a successful reorganization of its intelligence services has been certified by the CIA. Its inclusion would make the entire northern shore of the Mediterranean NATO territory, from Turkey to Spain.

But Rasmussen has declared that the alliance would not assess Montenegro's candidacy until 2015, rhetorically attempting to soften the blow by adding that “no third country has a veto over NATO enlargement.”

Macedonia was certified by the alliance as qualified for membership six years ago but it has been vetoed by Greece because of a dispute over its constitutional name. Intent on being a de facto ally, Macedonia enthusiastically participates in NATO operations. Relative to population, its contingent was one of the largest in Afghanistan, where its troops acquitted themselves well in combat.

Despite Rasmussen's declaration, the Obama administration still has time to make Cardiff an enlargement summit by persuading remaining skeptical European allies to agree to extend membership to Montenegro and jointly to exert strong pressure on both Greece and Macedonia to compromise on the name issue.

The accession of Montenegro and Macedonia would be a tangible proof that Article 10 is alive and well, demonstrate that Moscow does not exercise a hidden veto over NATO membership and encourage other potential aspirants such as Finland and Sweden by showing that the door to membership remains open.

Michael Haltzel is a senior fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.