Four countries in Eastern Europe have revealed or renewed their intentions to become member states of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as of March 9. Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Macedonia, and Ukraine look forward to engaging in an “intensified dialogue” with NATO, according to the organization’s website.
Ukraine, the most recent of these candidates for membership, announced reinvigorated efforts for membership on March 10. President Petro Poroshenko posted on Facebook, welcoming NATO’s decision to “raise Ukraine’s ambitions” and stating the country’s next step: a Membership Action Plan, or MAP.
The MAP program outlines tailor-made support for each participating country so that they may be fully prepared for NATO membership. It includes suggestions and feedback- based regular meetings to these countries in political, economic, and security aspects, among others. While Ukraine is only in the preliminary stages of developing a MAP, both Bosnia and Herzegovina’s and Macedonia’s programs are awaiting activation.
Bosnia and Herzegovina, committed to joining NATO since the 1990s, finds its motives largely opposed by Republika Srpska, a federal entity in the country primarily occupied by Bosnian Serbs, who support military neutrality. However, this entity cannot truly interfere with the 2009-requested MAP, as such affairs are handled by the Bosnian state. Bosnian Presidency Chairman Dragan Covic is confident that the plan will be activated within several months.
Similarly, Macedonia finds itself in the throes of conflict, preventing the activation of the MAP, which it joined in 1999. Greece continues to block pro-membership actions until the two countries’ long-running name dispute is solved. However, as reported by Balkan Insight, Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev insisted this week that “the final phase” of the so- called name talks has begun, marking optimism for impending NATO membership.
On the other hand, Georgia’s aspirations for NATO membership remain controversial due to its close proximity to Russia. Bloomberg News explains that while Georgia-NATO ties remain strong and two-thirds of Georgians support membership, any outright declaration of impeding action may aggravate an already defensive Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Russia’s defensive stance on these countries’ recently declared NATO aspirations, especially Ukraine and Georgia, is not necessarily misplaced. NATO is currently implementing decisions to establish a forward military presence in the Baltic states and the Black Sea area. These 2016 decisions came as a result of Russia’s 2014 invasion of Ukraine. Needless to say, the acceptance of Ukraine and Georgia into NATO would see the alliance encroach further on territory Russia considers to be its own backyard.
As it is, NATO has constructed anti-missile launch pads in all current allied countries neighboring Russia. At the time, Putin responded by promising a “suitable response” to these actions to preserve strategic balance, Sputnik News reported. Over the past couple of years, Russia has responded to NATO’s eastward expansion with violations of alliance airspace and dangerous confrontations with alliance aircraft. It remains to be seen if NATO will continue to expand in the face of Russia’s armed involvement in Ukraine and Georgia and its continued testing of allied defenses.