Since its inception in 1949, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) has played an important role in fostering peace, stability and democracy in Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia and beyond. Collective security and diplomatic impact was achieved by bringing together the USA and its core allies and former foes in Europe into one umbrella organisation. Through its military and economic superiority NATO prevented the Russian lead Warsaw Pact from expanding beyond the spheres of influence that were negotiated in Yalta in 1943 between President Roosevelt, Prime Minister Churchill and Supreme Commander Stalin. A key strength of NATO has been its capacity to admit new members starting with France, Germany and others. This year marks the 60th anniversary of NATO's enlargement covering bitter foes Turkey and Greece.
The collapse of communism in Eastern and Central Europe in 1989 created new challenges and opportunities for NATO. Instead of evaporating like its Warsaw Pact counterpart, NATO found new relevance, resources and political power to welcome new members from the old communist security block like Hungary, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria and the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. The breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990's created a new role of NATO as peacekeeper in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo. Each newly independent state was gradually prepared for admission into NATO including Slovenia and Macedonia.
In more recent times, NATO has expanded its reach and mission into Afghanistan and Libya. In the process it has welcomed support from non-members states such as Australia, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Macedonia.
Australia through its close military, political and economic ties with NATO member states like the USA, Britain, France, Germany and the Netherlands has developed close affiliation with NATO and its missions around the world. Australia is a de facto member of NATO by participating in combat and peace keeping operations alongside formal members and non-members of the Alliance.
The benefits of having a strong, innovative, flexible and rapid response ready security coalition has been appreciated by NATO and its supporters. The advantages of its open door policy towards new members has unfortunately lost momentum in recent times and there is a risk that NATO is sliding towards 'enlargement fatigue'. This was evident at the NATO summit in Bucharest in 2008 when the USA and some other members reluctantly tolerated the Greek veto against Macedonia's entry because of a spurious dispute that Greece made in relation to Macedonia's constitutional name.
NATO has been hypocritical in that it accepts Macedonian hospitality and soldiers as part its missions in Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan but does not yet accept Macedonia as a full member because of the Greek abuse of its power of veto. The power of one member to undermine the growth aspirations of all other NATO members has become a major stumbling block for the military alliance.
In the lead-up to the forthcoming NATO summit in Chicago in May 2012, President Barack Obama has received opinion pieces and a letter from 54 members of Congress encouraging his Administration to welcome Macedonia as a NATO member. The letter was accompanied with two NATO Expansion Bills in the US House of Representatives and the Senate. Support for NATO enlargement has also come from the Southeast Europe Coalition, comprising diaspora organisations representing heritage from most of the region. The only side opposing NATO expansion is the Hellenic Republic and its lobby in Washington which has made keeping Macedonia out of NATO its number one foreign policy priority, despite Greece's crippling debt and huge unemployment crisis.
NATO and the Obama Administration have a legal obligation to uphold the ruling of the International Court of Justice which found 15 to 1 in favour of Macedonia's right to joint international institutions using its constitutional name.
The NATO Summit in Chicago represents a unique opportunity for NATO to admit new members like Macedonia and Monte Negro. These new members will add resources and fresh capabilities to the collective security framework and its impact.
NATO enlargement is in Australia's national interest as it spreads the burden of providing treasure and people to the security environment in Europe and beyond. Australia is increasingly expected to take on a bigger share of the cost of financing the international defence and security systems lead by the USA and others. Australia is already providing significant cash, human and in-kind support to security projects and campaigns in Afghanistan.
Australia's image, reputation and influence in international affairs in general and in defence and security matters in particular will be enhanced if it helps NATO to innovate and transform itself into a more robust, sustainable and growth oriented entity with an Open Door Policy. Australia's Foreign Minister Senator Bob Carr and Defence Minister Stephen Smith need to work collaboratively with key stakeholders in shaping Australia's contribution to the NATO mission and its operational priorities. They can need to take a closer look at US Secretary of State Clinton's Global Diaspora Initiative which recognises diaspora communities as indispensable and integral components of America's relations with the world. Australia should acknowledge that Macedonian troops serve alongside Australian troops in Afghanistan as part of the NATO mission and recognise the Republic of Macedonia under its legitimate name without further delay.
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