In Light of Ukraine Crisis, U.S. Should Prioritize NATO Enlargement at U.K. Summit

On Wednesday, March 12, 2014, the Southeast Europe Coalition in conjunction with the Congressional Macedonia Caucus hosted a lunch briefing on the September 2014 U.K. Summit of NATO and prospects for aspirant nations. Click HERE for pictures.

Held in the elegant House Administration Committee Hearing Room, the lunch briefing was opened by House Administration Committee Chairwoman Congresswoman Candice Miller of Michigan, who founded and currently chairs the Congressional Caucus on Macedonia and Macedonian-Americans.  Congresswoman Miller stressed to over fifty Congressional staff, Ambassadors, diplomats, State Department staff, and think tank community leaders, the importance of keeping NATO enlargement alive, reminding the audience of the importance that Macedonia has played in NATO even though the country is not a member-state.  She highlighted the recent letter by forty Congress representatives to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry calling for U.S. leadership in paving an invitation for Macedonia and Montenegro, Membership Action Plans for Bosnia-Herzegovina and Georgia, and Partnership for Peace for Kosovo during the upcoming NATO Summit in the U.K. 

Following the briefing, Congresswoman Miller issued the following statement: “As the Chair of the House Macedonian Caucus, I was proud to host the Ambassadors of Macedonia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Kosovo and Georgia to discuss the expansion of NATO at the upcoming NATO summit.  I am extremely hopeful that at the upcoming summit, both Macedonia and Montenegro will be made full members of the alliance and others will be accepted as prospective members.”

United Macedonian Diaspora President Metodija A. Koloski, who moderated the briefing throughout, thanked Congresswoman Miller for her leadership on Macedonia, but also NATO enlargement, and for continuing to send a strong message that the U.S. thanks Macedonia and all aspirant nations for their contributions to U.S. and NATO-led missions. 

The first panel featured two very experienced NATO experts Michael Haltzel, Senior Fellow for the Center for Transatlantic Relations at the John’s Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, and Damon Wilson, Executive Vice President of the Atlantic Council.  Both stressed the role of Congress in urging NATO enlargement remain a top U.S. priority.

Haltzel began his talk by giving a brief historical overview of NATO enlargement.  According to Haltzel, the impetus for NATO enlargement began in Central and Eastern Europe in the persons of Lech Wałesa in Poland and Václav Havel in the Czech Republic.  He then discussed the enlargement debate in the U.S. during the Clinton and Bush administrations, and of the role the Senate played, particularly Vice President Joe Biden when he was a Senator.  Enlargement is currently not on the table for this year’s Cardiff Summit, but Haltzel declared that in light of the crisis in Ukraine, it should become a priority.  He pointed out that the rationale behind enlargement in the 1990s remains the same today – securing “a Europe whole, free, and at peace.”  Haltzel stressed the need for Macedonia to receive an invitation, which has been blocked by Greece despite Macedonia’s having met NATO membership criteria for the last six years.  “Greece should immediately lift its veto of Macedonia.  Bilateral disputes like the name issue should be negotiated bilaterally, but they should not prevent the strengthening of the entire Alliance through adding Macedonia,” maintained Haltzel.  He also urged NATO’s extending an invitation to Montenegro, giving a MAP to Georgia, and sending positive messages to Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo.

Wilson highlighted the strategic impact of NATO and stressed that the most important action the U.S. and NATO can do is to demonstrate that NATO enlargement is alive. He informed the audience that NATO enlargement policy is a fundamental American policy and that the American project to stabilize Europe, where we “lost blood, lives, and treasures” must continue.  Wilson stressed the need to “wake up and restore momentum,” not to sit back and be passive.  The crisis in Ukraine must be managed by allowing NATO’s open door policy to continue for the inclusion of Macedonia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, and Kosovo. Placing emphasis on the partnership with Europe, Wilson argued that enlargement would help U.S. promote its positive policy of a free and democratic Europe.

The second panel consisted of Ambassador Jadranka Negodic of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Ambassador Archil Gegeshidze of Georgia, Ambassador Zoran Jolevski of Macedonia, Ambassador Srdjan Darmanovic of Montenegro, and Kosovo Deputy Chief of Mission Sami Kastrati who discussed their respective countries’ positions on NATO enlargement.

Ambassador Jolevski, who put together the Ambassadorial panel, stressed neighborly support for each country’s NATO aspirations, highlighting support for Bosnia and Montenegro on their NATO paths.  He said that the 2008 Bucharest Summit sent the wrong message to Macedonia, but also to Georgia and Ukraine.  Macedonia has had overwhelming public support of 90% and more for NATO membership, and is actively engaged in Afghanistan and NATO combat and peacekeeping missions. 

Ambassador Negodic encouraged NATO to rethink its agenda for this year’s Summit and to extend invitations for Macedonia and Montenegro as well as to activate the Membership Action Plan (MAP) for Bosnia and Herzegovina and Georgia.  She believes that U.S. and NATO’s response to the Ukraine situation, which has been a wake-up call, should be NATO enlargement.  The remaining hurdle for Bosnia-Herzegovina to be granted MAP is the registration of military properties, which decision lies with Banja Luka and Belgrade, underscored Ambassador Negodic.

Ambassador Gegeshizde discussed Russia’s 2008 invasion of Georgian provinces.  NATO, on the verge of a major geopolitical shift, needs a decisive and robust response, and engage with Georgia, Ukraine, and Moldova.  “We may face further consequences,” if we do not take advantage of the current situation argued the Ambassador.  The Ambassador questioned why Iran or North Korea would give up their nuclear programs, when Ukraine did, and still got invaded.    

Ambassador Darmanovic pointed out that the U.S. has not finished its job in the Balkans, and it must do so by working actively to grant official NATO membership to Macedonia and Montenegro and his belief “…that NATO membership is vital for Macedonia so that the entire region will become more stable.”  He drew parallels between Crimea and Republika Srpska, and what is happening in Ukraine today was experienced by the Balkans with Milosevic in the 90s. 

DCM Kastrati highlighted Kosovo’s defense reforms in cooperation with NATO and its strategic goals to join NATO and the EU.  Kosovo hopes to be granted Partnership for Peace.  DCM Kastrati urged the U.S. to remain engaged in Kosovo and the region and promote NATO enlargement and stability. 

The Southeast Europe Coalition thanks Congresswoman Miller and her office for assisting in planning the event, Ambassador Jolevski’s role, and the generosity of the Embassies of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Georgia, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Montenegro.  SEE Coalition thanks its members the Advisory Council for Bosnia and Herzegovina, the National Federation of Croatian-Americans, the National Albanian American Council, and the United Macedonian Diaspora for working with their respective country Congressional Caucuses to further NATO enlargement.