One thing that will not be decided on in Chicago today is expanding NATO membership. Four countries have been on the short-list since 2008: Macedonia, Georgia, Montenegro and Bosnia and the Chicago Summit’s outcome document is full of supportive words for their eventual membership. But for now, NATO expansion is on hold.

These countries have different things holding up their full membership. For Macedonia the issue is very simple: Greece has effectively vetoed Macedonia’s NATO membership over a dispute between Athens and Skopje over the name of the country of Macedonia. Greece has a region called “Macedonia” and does not like that Macedonia (officially known as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) wants to be called “Republic of Macedonia” or something similar. It is a silly dispute to us outsiders, but the name controversy exposes some deep historic grievances and inflames some ugly nationalist tendencies on both sides.  Even though Macedonia contributes much more to NATO as an outsider than Greece, Athens’ veto is right now an insurmountable obstacle.

For Georgia, the question of NATO membership of wrapped up in its ongoing dispute with Russia. Georgia’s ascension to NATO (and the EU) are top foreign policy priorities. In a visit to Tblisi last month, Georgian officials spoke openly to me about an existential threat that Russia poses to their survival as a nation. In 2008, NATO declined to admit Georgia, but set a path for its future ascension. Since then, though, Georgia and Russia fought a war resulting in the loss of two Georgian regions that Russia now considers independent countries.  Russia has made it very clear that it opposes Georgian NATO membership. The fact that Georgia fought a hot war with Russia in the near past may be a disincentive for some NATO members to want to invite Georgia under its collective security blanket. I would imagine that relations need to improve between Georgia and Russia before Georgia officially joins NATO.

Montenegro and Bosnia are also on the short list. Like Macedonia and Georgia, these two former Yugoslav Republics have made significant strides and reforms to bring their military and democratic credentials up to western European standards.  Their ascension is less about geopolitics and more about consolidating internal reforms. They will be joining soon.

In the end, an-ever expanding NATO alliance is good for global stability, democracy and, the spread of liberal ideals. NATO is an exclusive club of democracies that countries in transition want to join. It is a matter of pride, but also a signal that countries formerly in conflict have made it full circle.  Admitting countries on the bubble once they have met the proper criteria inspires other countries to embark on similar reforms.  It is a basic way to spread stability and liberalism across the globe.

Let’s hope the next summit more forthrightly deals with the questions of NATO expansion.

UPDATE: I’m shutting down comments on this post. Too much vitriolic squabbling and name calling by either side of the Macedonia name dispute.

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