This year’s Wroclaw Global Forum brought together policy makers and business leaders from Europe and the United States to discuss, Shaping the Policy and Business Agenda for a New Europe. During the three-day event, many of the speakers focused on challenges to Europe’s security including ISIS, the immigration crisis in the Mediterranean, and Russian aggression. Leaders from both sides of the Atlantic acknowledged that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is best situated to address these emerging challenges; however, to be most effective NATO must engage in a series of institutional changes beginning with enlargement.

This year’s Wroclaw Global Forum brought together policy makers and business leaders from Europe and the United States to discuss, Shaping the Policy and Business Agenda for a New Europe. During the three-day event, many of the speakers focused on challenges to Europe’s security including ISIS, the immigration crisis in the Mediterranean, and Russian aggression. Leaders from both sides of the Atlantic acknowledged that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is best situated to address these emerging challenges; however, to be most effective NATO must engage in a series of institutional changes beginning with enlargement.

In his keynote address at the Forum, Polish defense minister Tomasz Siemoniak stated, "It would be excellent news if the invitations could be sent from [the 2016 NATO summit in] Warsaw to Macedonia and Montenegro…It seems that the NATO summit in Warsaw, if deprived of this element, will not bring full satisfaction to many nations, including Poland."  

NATO enlargement is central to building the strongest Trans-Atlantic partnership possible, and yet since 2009 no new member states have been added to NATO. Membership in the alliance not only provides security for citizens and governments, but it helps industry feel protected, promoting investment and economic growth, as Guillaume Faury, CEO of Airbus Helicopter explained during the Forum. In 2008, NATO effectively halted enlargement when it declined Georgia and Ukraine entrance into the Membership Action Plan (MAP). Today “people are now beginning to say the door is opened [to NATO enlargement],” said U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen while speaking at the Forum. She then echoed Minister Siemoniak, stating, “the way to do it would be at the NATO summit in Warsaw to say that Macedonia and Montenegro should be members of NATO and are on a membership track.”

Opponents of NATO enlargement worry that Macedonia and Montenegro are not prepared to meet their obligations under the treaty. Some argue that while these countries have undergone significant political and military reforms, they have more work to do before they are ready for NATO membership. Additionally, critics often cite Macedonia’s unresolved tensions with Greece as a barrier to their entry into the alliance. Others worry about Moscow’s reaction to new NATO members as Russian officials have stated that any attempt to enlarge NATO will be viewed as “a provocation.” 

However, over the past decade, Macedonia and Montenegro have demonstrated their ability to implement significant reforms to democracy, transparency, and rule of law. They have participated in military exercises and combat missions including Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. And while there is still work to be done, both countries have shown their commitment to NATO by fulfilling their obligations under the MAP.  Sally Painter notes that Macedonia in particular has, "fulfilled sixteen Membership Action Plans and has rightly earned its place within the NATO alliance." Membership will give these countries an incentive to continue reforming by acknowledging their incredible progress over the last decade and providing the security conditions necessary for continued economic, social, and political progress. Additionally, it will send a strong message to the region that if countries meet their commitments to NATO, NATO will meet its commitments to them.  

While the relationship between Greece and Macedonia poses a concern, it would not be the first time that two countries with bilateral issues have been admitted to NATO. For example, Greece and Turkey have had a rocky relationship for years, yet they have successfully cooperated within NATO to address external threats to regional security. The alliance framework will provide Macedonia and Greece a similar space for dialogue on external security challenges that go beyond their bilateral issues, possibly resulting in improved relations in at least some areas.  

NATO enlargement will also signal to the international community that the United States and Europe are united in the face of new challenges. As Macedonian Defense Minister Zoran Jolevski stated during the Forum, the “integration of [Macedonia and Montenegro] will help stability in the region” by promoting regional unity in the face of increasing threats to peace and security. This includes Russian aggression towards its neighbors. Regarding Russia’s response to enlargement, leaders stated they are more concerned that the failure to integrate these countries would leave Macedonia and Montenegro open to further Russian aggression. They cited Russian aggression towards Georgia and Ukraine as examples of what could happen in the Balkans without NATO membership.

As NATO leaders think about the future of NATO in preparation for the Warsaw Summit, they should heed the message from the Wroclaw Global Forum. NATO remains the forum for regional security cooperation, but until it expands to include nations such as Macedonia and Montenegro, the alliance will be unable to fully protect the region’s sovereignty and security from today’s external threats.