The Atlantic Alliance is about to welcome its 30th Member State. With the name dispute with Greece resolved, North Macedonia’s path to NATO membership was finally cleared, and an accession protocol was signed in February 2019. Once ratification is complete, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) will have enlarged once more.
NATO was founded in 1949 with twelve members. It was originally seen as a bulwark against Soviet and Communist expansion into Europe, and became synonymous with the “Western allies” during the Cold War. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, NATO expanded to included several former Warsaw Pact countries (something the Kremlin believed, and still believes, was an attempt to undermine Russian security).
There are still more countries eager to join NATO, including Georgia and Ukraine. However, these are countries right on Russia’s border that have been directly (or indirectly) involved in conflicts with Russia or its proxies. So, with North Macedonia, has NATO finally reached the limits of sensible expansion?
What do our readers think? We had a comment from EU Reform, who thinks the EU and NATO already have too many members, and risk becoming mere talking shops. Has NATO grown too big to be effective?
To get a response, we spoke to Vice Admiral Matthieu Borsboom, a retired Royal Netherlands Navy officer who is a former Commander of the Royal Netherlands Navy. What would he say?
I think these concerns are valid. We started in NATO with twelve founder nations in 1949, and now with North Macedonia joining it will be 30. I’ve been in NATO working for almost 40 years, and I saw it growing with these numbers, and it’s a matter of how to mitigate the challenge of how to govern, and I think NATO has been successful in that case.
It’s more that you also have to mitigate the internal assurance that Article 5 – which is the most important article, that one NATO country that is attacked will be defended by all – will stick when you enlarge. And that is under pressure. We had a review a year ago where people were asked what they would do if a NATO country were attacked – would you accept that your own soldiers would fight for that – and the results were, in a sense, worrying because for some countries it was around 50%. So, I think his worry is genuine and we have to work on it very hard. But, in the end, it should not prevent us from enlarging, it should encourage us to mitigate that type of risk.
Next up, we had a comment sent in from Dobromir, who is worried that enlarging NATO will actually make us less safe. He fears Russia will view the accession of North Macedonia to NATO as a threat, potentially further destabilising relations with Moscow.
To get a response, we spoke to Stevo Pendarovski, President of the Republic of North Macedonia. How would he respond?
Finally, we had a comment from Chris who thinks North Macedonia should join the EU but not NATO. What exactly are the benefits of joining NATO for North Macedonia, especially as the EU already has a mutual defence clause in its treaties?
How large should NATO get? Is the organisation growing too big to be effective? Could Russia view adding further members as a threat? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!