Next month NATO leaders will meet in Chicago for the heads of state and government summit.  The agenda will primarily focus on Afghanistan but also include discussions on smart defense, Deterrence and Defence Posture Review as well as missile defense.  Noticeably absent is enlargement.

Since President Obama took office, Albania and Croatia are the only aspiring countries to have joined the alliance. However, this hardly counts as their membership had already been determined under the Bush administration. Despite being a pillar of the North Atlantic Treaty (Article 10), enlargement has largely been ignored.   This should change, starting with Macedonia.

Macedonia is a proven ally through its continued support to NATO missions. During the 1990s, Macedonia acted as an important staging area for NATO’s intervention in Kosovo and opened its border to 360,000 Kosovar refugees. After 9/11, Macedonia deployed troops to the NATO mission in Afghanistan and was once the highest contributor per capita.  Macedonian troops also participate in Operational Mentor and Liaison Teams that train Afghan security forces. Outside of the alliance, Macedonia supported the U.S. in Operation Iraqi Freedom, conducting both independent and join combat missions.

In 2008, Macedonia successfully completed its Membership Action Plan (MAP) and anticipated joining the alliance at the Bucharest Summit.  However, its membership was vetoed by Greece owing to a bilateral dispute over Macedonia’s constitutional name.  Athens claims that Macedonia is violating its territorial integrity by naming itself after a northern Greek province.  In response, Macedonia sued Greece at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) charging that it violated the 1995 U.N. Interim Accord.  Last December, the ICJ ruled in Macedonia’s favor.

The momentum for NATO expansion is growing in Washington.  Last month, fifty-four members of Congress signed a letter to President Obama in support of Macedonia’s membership.  Congressman Michael Turner (R-OH), a member of the Congressional Caucus on Macedonia and Macedonian-Americans and Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) have also sponsored legislation (here and here) in favor of NATO enlargement.   And, last week, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke at the Heritage Foundation and supported Macedonia’s NATO membership.  The Obama administration, however, has failed to be a leader on this issue.  Rather, Mr. Obama has stipulated that Macedonia will become a member when it resolves the name dispute with Greece.

Macedonia is a consistent supporter of democracy and freedom throughout the world and has proven itself a worthy ally.  Macedonian soldiers have fought shoulder to shoulder with the U.S. and its government has lost blood in treasure in NATO missions.  It’s time for NATO to get serious about enlargement.