Macedonia – another Bucharest in Chicago?

With the International Court of Justice having ruled that Greece had violated the Interim Accord by blocking Macedonia’s bid to join NATO in 2008 in Bucharest, will the same scenario be repeated at the forthcoming NATO Summit in Chicago?

By Jana Lozanoska

Prior to Bucharest, the pressure was – as is typically the case – on the Macedonian side. The build-up to Bucharest seemed more like dictation than real negotiations. Whilst Greece has never had anything to lose, Macedonia’s collective identity is challenged with every concession made. A similar situation exists today ahead of the NATO Summit in Chicago this May, except with one important additional argument in support of the Macedonian position; namely, the judgement rendered by the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

A closer analysis of official Greek attitudes before and after Bucharest demonstrates their apparent irrationality, particularly the decision to invoke the so-called “right to historic exclusivity” in order to make a physical distinction between the territory of the Republic of Macedonia and ancient Macedonia. The Republic of Macedonia is already an established member of the international community, with defined borders and a defined political, economic and cultural system. Any parallelism, therefore, with ancient Macedonia is difficult to comprehend, making arguments about territorial pretensions irrelevant. The Greek position also ignores the fact that this distinction is already present in the constitutional name – the Republic of Macedonia.

Is it, therefore, actually possible for opinions to converge ahead of the upcoming NATO Summit; and if so, on which grounds and arguments? The official Macedonian position is that negotiations should be conducted, despite the strict Greek position on the matter. Indeed, recent developments in the latter – particularly the financial crisis and the involvement of nationalistic far right parties, banned since the end of the civil war, in the new government – further complicate matters.

An agreement would have to be reached on two issues – the wording of the name and the extent of its use (whether it will be used internationally, only bilaterally with Greece or some other combination) – but the two parties diverge significantly. In light of the current visit of the UN mediator, Matthew Nimitz, one has to see what kind of proposal will be tabled. Bearing in mind the overall approach of Nimitz thus far, there is little optimism that it will reflect the Macedonian position. The extent of the use of the name – especially Greece’s insistence on international use – prompts many legal implications, none of which are in the interest of Macedonia, especially since it has already been recognized under its constitutional name by 133 UN member states.

Considering all of the above, the question that arises is whether the Bucharest scenario will be repeated if there is no solution to the name issue? This is particularly relevant given the authoritative ruling of the ICJ, which concluded that Greece violated Article 11(1) of the Interim Accord by blocking Macedonia’s bid to join NATO in 2008 in Bucharest. The only clear responsibility that the Greek side undertook by signing the Interim Accord was not to object to Macedonia’s entrance into international and regional organisations.

The Court also confirmed that the negotiations prior to the Bucharest summit were conducted in good faith, so this could not be employed as a excuse for blocking Macedonia’s bid to join NATO. Furthermore, the Court dismissed all grounds invoked by Greece – including the re-naming of the airport and history textbooks – as a justification for the Bucharest blockage. Moreover, the Court also stated that if the party in this case, Greece, has been found to have already violated the bilateral agreement, it is expected that it would not repeat such a violation and will perform its obligations in good faith.

Greece, however, might resort to abusing the consensual manner of decision-making in NATO; one of the greatest drawbacks of the system of collective security. It is not clear which arguments Greece will put forward to secure support from other NATO member states. Even in 2008, few substantive arguments existed, particularly as Macedonia fulfilled the criteria envisaged in the Membership Action Plan. In that sense, it might be expected that other states would pressure Greece to withdraw its rigid position or will exercise solidarity with it.

This latter course, however, is not devoid of problems since NATO – although not bound directly by the ruling of the ICJ – has to work and operate according to the principles and purposes of UN. Respecting the judgement is, indirectly, part and parcel of these principles and purposes. Another enforcement mechanism available to the Republic of Macedonia within the framework of the UN Charter is to refer the matter to Security Council.

Whilst the position of Macedonia has improved, active measures are now required to promote its arguments ahead of the NATO Summit in Chicago. The ICJ’s ruling and its insistence that Greece not repeat such a violation, but instead act in good faith, underpins Macedonia’s bid to pursue membership in NATO. A passive approach and declarative phrases, however, do little to advance Macedonia’s position both with respect to NATO and UN member states. More aggressive and precise diplomacy is therefore urgently required.

Jana Lozanoska, LL.M, is a freelance consultant and former Director of the Center for Democracy and Security in Euro-Balkan Institute.

For further reading about Macedonia, please refer to TransConflict’s Macedonia reading list by clicking here.

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