As war was tearing apart Yugoslavia in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) seceded from the Yugoslav state peacefully. The newly independent small nation suffered from the typical structural problems of former communist states in transition; unemployment, corruption, rampant black and grey markets and brain drain. In addition to these governance issues, FYROM has been dealing with significant internal strife due to demands from its Albanian minority demanding greater autonomy and secession. Despite these internal obstacles, FYROM has taken active steps towards joining NATO.
FYROM entered the Partnership for Peace program in 1995 (following independence) and soon after participated in the Membership Action Plan in 1999 with Albania. From 2002 to the end of 2014 FYROM contributed to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. Currently, FYROM is supporting the follow-on mission (“Resolute Support”) with training, advising and assisting the Afghan security forces. During NATO Operation Allied Force against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, FYROM provided support to NATO by establishing refugee camps for Albanian refugees and logistical support for NATO operations in the region. FYROM continues to provide support as a host nation for the remaining KFOR troops transiting the area.
Two years following the rebellion of ethnic Albanians in Yugoslavia, Macedonia was itself engulfed in internal violence as ethnic Albanian insurgents took up arms to expand their political rights within Macedonia. Following the rebel capture of numerous towns close to the Kosovo border, NATO intervened on behalf of the FYROM government to help facilitate a political settlement (the Ohrid Framework Agreement) between the insurgents and the FYROM government.
Within the terms of the settlement NATO confiscated weapons used by the Albanian insurgents upon their disbandment. NATO’s monitoring mission continued until 2003 when it transferred responsibilities to the European Union. FYROM’s cooperation with NATO has been productive and the Alliance desires to the see the former Yugoslav republic within the Alliance and formal admission would have been made possible during the Bucharest Summit in 2008 were it not for Greece’s veto for FYROM membership due its official use of the name Macedonia.
Immediately following FYROM’s secession from Yugoslavia, Greece immediately went on the diplomatic offensive to limit the new state from using the name Macedonia in international institutions, going so far as to block FYROM’s EU and NATO membership efforts. Greece’s stance on the issue stems from Greek suspicions of historical irredentism by the Slavic Macedonians towards Greek Macedon and important Greek historical figures; namely Alexander the Great of Macedon. The Greek government has signaled its willingness to unblock EU and NATO membership negotiations if FYROM drops its official use of Republic of Macedonia from its constitution.
It should be noted that in September 2007, Canada decided to recognize Macedonia under its constitutional name, the Republic of Macedonia, but continues to respect established practices within the UN and other international bodies, by using the term “The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia,” often abbreviated as “FYROM” within those contexts.
It’s important to reflect on how NATO membership would benefit FYROM. From a military standpoint, FYROM does not face potential threats from Russia or from its neighbours. Even Greece has not suggested any threats to FYROM aside from its diplomatic efforts against FYROM’s use of Macedonia. Thus, from a purely strategic perspective FYROM doesn’t necessarily need to be part of NATO nor does NATO really gain much from FYROM’s joining.
Nonetheless, by joining NATO FYROM will join the rest of its neighbours in the Alliance (except Serbia) ensuring that, from a security perspective, any trouble that might brew within FYROM will be an internal NATO affair, and therefore dealt with by Alliance members and not a foreign state. Though NATO membership has not precluded the absence of insecurity for member states, it may provide FYROM piece of mind from foreign security threats.