It would serve several of NATO interests if FYR
Macedonia joined the Alliance, following the same pattern of benefit, as with
the Eastern European Enlargement when former Soviet satellite states and Warsaw
Pact members were "absorbed" as a strategic leverage against Russia. Macedonia
should also join NATO in order for the Alliance to remain relevant and excuse
its otherwise obsolete existence; NATO has to enlarge and expand its
operations, otherwise there'd be no point in its continuation. In addition, the
FYR Macedonia has been of strategic value as a host nation for transit troops
to Kosovo and offers larger per-capita troop contributors to Afghanistan than
Greece. Furthermore, FYR Macedonia meets the minimum-target of two percent
relative to GDP in military spending.
It's no coincidence that FYR Macedonia joined the Membership Action Plan (MAP) in 1999 at the same time when NATO used the nation to support operations in Kosovo. Apparently, NATO has used more of a "carrot and a stick" approach, allowing FYR Macedonia to join the MAP contingent on the latter's military cooperation. More than a decade later FYR Macedonia remains in the waiting room, having fully met the criteria for membership. The country's name remains a pending issue.
The problem is that the talks for finding a "mutually acceptable" solution have been ongoing since 2008. There has hardly been a reasonable proposal that has been put forth by either side so far. We know it, and certainly Vershbow knows it, as do most political circles, which is why the use of "pragmatic dialogue" in his answer is not only politically vague, but also contradictory.
The International Court of Justice ruled with an impressive majority that Greece had violated
international law and that both countries were in conflict, so it seems highly
unlikely that the situation can be resolved through dialogue and good faith as
if suddenly the political leaders on each side will find the light and come to
a friendly agreement - unless some external power resolves it for them.
‘Pragmatism' is uncommon in politics, a field which practices what is doable rather than what is rational to accomplish. It would be sensible for both countries to solve the problem for themselves with peaceful means, but the truth is that they would have already reached a solution according to vested interests if they had the power and status to do so. However, they know that their countries are tiny entities and unsupported in the wider scope of things. The international community does not care much for their regional squabbles (at least no more than, say, about Afghanistan) and the fact that 130 countries have already recognized FYR Macedonia with its constitutional name.
Being well aware that there is no deus ex machina solution and with the perception of the importance of Euro-Atlantic integration for the country, a constructive approach is necessary for both sides to move forward. While NATO has been supporting the process of finding a mutually acceptable solution since 2008, they have not proposed anything essential in ending this dispute, letting the issue vaguely float between the two countries instead. NATO itself may continue to deploy FYR Macedonian troops in the background for their own purposes - however, it is quite a long time to await membership since 1999 and 2008, even more so when membership criteria have been met. With regards to NATO, it needs to outline exactly its plans for a "pragmatic solution" and take the initiative to reconcile both sides rather than remain passive, for the mutual benefit of all sides involved.
Boyka Boneva is a junior research fellow at the Institute of International Economic Relations in Athens, focused on the European integration of the Western Balkans.
Esli Jahja is a graduate of the Department of International and European Studies at Panteion University of Athens, and an intern researcher in the Athens Centre for International Political Economy, Centre for European Governance, Institute of International Economic Relations, Institute of Research and Training in European Affairs and European Centre of Research and Training in Human Rights and Humanitarian Law.