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America Doesn’t Need Another Weakling NATO Ally

At last week’s NATO summit, President Donald Trump denounced the allies for taking advantage of American taxpayers. Then he approved their latest subsidies. He even agreed to invite a military weakling, Macedonia, to join NATO, which will add yet another nation to our military dole.

When George Washington warned Americans against forming a “passionate attachment” to other countries, he might have been thinking of the Balkans. Indeed, a couple decades later, John Quincy Adams criticized proposals to aid Greece against the Ottoman Empire, which then ruled that region. America “goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy,” he intoned.

On into the 20th century, the Balkans were in turmoil. Germany’s “Iron Chancellor,” Otto von Bismarck, warned that “the great European War would come out of some damned foolish thing in the Balkans.” That’s exactly what happened in 1914.

It took decades and two world wars for the Balkans to stabilize. But after the Cold War ended, Yugoslavia, which had emerged from Europe’s previous convulsions, broke apart. One of the smaller pieces was Macedonia.


The battles among the Serbians, Croatians, and Bosnians were bloody and brutal. In contrast, Macedonia provided comic relief. The small, mountainous, landlocked nation of two million people won its independence without a fight in 1991, though Athens launched a verbal and economic war against Skopje over the latter’s use of the name “Macedonia.”

Perhaps modern Greeks feared that a resurrected Alexander the Great would lead the newly freed Macedonian hordes south and conquer Greece. Skopje entered the United Nations under the provisional name Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, or FYROM. In June, after only 27 years, the two governments agreed that Macedonia/FYROM would be called the Republic of North Macedonia—though the decision must still be ratified by the Macedonian people in a referendum.

More serious was the insurgency launched by ethnic Albanians who made up about a quarter of the nation’s population. The battle two decades ago over Kosovo inflamed ethnic relations in Macedonia, eventually resulting in a short-lived insurgency. Although the fighters disarmed, Skopje’s politics remained nationalist and difficult. Last year, a more liberal administration took over, but the country’s democratic institutions remain fragile.

Indeed, Freedom House only rates the nation “partly free.” The group cites voter intimidation, political patronage networks, violent protests, and problems with judicial impartiality and due process. Particularly serious were the threats against press freedom, which led to a rating of “not free” in that area. While NATO’s newer members tend to score lower than “Old Europe,” as Donald Rumsfeld once referred to the original allies, Macedonia is a step further down. Only Turkey, an incipient dictatorship, is worse: it almost certainly would not be considered for membership today.


None of this mattered last week, however. After suffering Trump’s many slings and arrows, alliance members approved an invitation for Skopje to join NATO. Macedonian lawmaker Artan Grubi called it “our dream coming true. We have been in the waiting hall for too long.”

That’s because Macedonia had hoped for an invite back in 2008 at the Bucharest summit, but was blocked by Athens over the name dispute, and has wanted to join ever since. Macedonia’s Defense Minister Radmila Sekerinska said, “With NATO membership, Macedonia becomes part of the most powerful alliance. That enhances both our security and economic prosperity.” Money and status are expected to follow.

But how would this benefit the United States and other NATO members? James Ker-Lindsay at the London School of Economics made the astonishing claim that “opening the way for the country to join NATO would be a big win for the organization at a crucial time when concerns over Russian influence in the Western Balkans are growing in many capitals.” As Skopje goes, so goes Europe? Not likely. If Washington and Moscow are engaged in a new “great game,” it is not a battle for Macedonia.

In fact, Macedonia is a security irrelevancy, destined to require American aid to create the pretense that its military is fit for the transatlantic alliance. Skopje spent just $112 million on its armed forces last year, ahead of only one NATO member, Montenegro. That was barely 1 percent of its GDP, putting Macedonia near the back of the NATO pack.

With an 8,000-man military, one is tempted to ask, why bother? But then one could similarly pose that query to several other NATO members. Skopje’s military is roughly the same size as Albania’s, slightly bigger than Slovenia’s, and about four times the size of Montenegro’s. None will be of much use in a conflict with the only conceivable threat, Russia.

So why bring Macedonia into NATO?

Some American policymakers see alliance membership as a means to socialize nations like Macedonia, helping them move towards democracy. However, the European Union, which sets standards governing a range of domestic policies, has always been better suited to this task, and EU membership imposes no security obligations on Washington. With the name controversy tentatively resolved, Skopje could begin the EU accession process—if the Europeans are willing. That is properly their—not Washington’s—responsibility.

In contrast, the transatlantic alliance should advance American and European security. Absorbing former members of the Warsaw Pact and Soviet Union, thereby pushing the alliance up to the Russian Federation’s border, proved to be a foolish move because it violated assurances made to Russian leaders. Despite being former KGB, Vladimir Putin never appeared to be ideologically antagonistic toward America. However, when he perceived Washington’s behavior as threatening—including dismembering Serbia, backing revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine, and promising to include both nations in NATO—it encouraged him to respond violently.

The Balkans are peripheral even to Europe and matter little to America’s defense. The states and peoples there tend to be more disruptive and less democratic than their neighbors, reflecting the region’s unstable history. (North) Macedonia’s 8,000 troops aren’t likely to be reborn as the Spartan 300 and hold off invading Russians. So why should America threaten war on Skopje’s behalf?

Admitting new members is never costless. Aid will be necessary to improve their militaries. Moreover, newer members sometimes become the most demanding, like the Baltics and Poland, which insist that they are entitled to American bases and garrisons.

Expansion also complicates alliance decision-making. No doubt, Washington wishes its European allies would do what they’re told: spend more, shut up, and deploy where America wants them. That doesn’t work out very well in practice, alas, as Trump has discovered in Europe (though nations with smaller militaries are more likely to acquiesce than nations with bigger ones). An organization of 30 members, which NATO will become if Macedonia is added, is a more complex and less agile creature than one of 16, the number that existed before NATO raced east.

Continuing expansion also reinforces the message that NATO is hostile toward Russia. That’s the only country allies are joining to oppose, after all. Obviously, there are plenty of other reasons Moscow should distrust the United States, but reinforcing negative perceptions for no benefit at all is bad policy.

Finally, expanding the alliance is nonsensical in light of the president’s criticisms of the Europeans. Hiking U.S. military spending, increasing manpower and materiel deployments in Europe, and adding new members all contradict his demand that the allies do more and signal that the president is not serious in his demands. That leaves the Europeans with little incentive to act, especially since most of their peoples perceive few if any security threats.

Yet again President Trump has been exposed as a thoughtless blowhard. His rabid supporters have likely enjoyed his confrontational rhetoric, but he has done nothing to turn it into policy. The Europeans need only wait for his attacks to ebb and then they can proceed much the same as before. The status quo will continue to reign, impervious to change.

Montenegro always resembled the Duchy of Grand Fenwick from the delightful novel The Mouse that Roared. Macedonia is the Duchy of North Grand Fenwick, a slightly larger neighboring state with similar features but additional problems. Neither is remotely relevant to American security. America doesn’t need yet another security black hole as an alliance partner.

Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. A former special assistant to President Ronald Reagan, he is author of Foreign Follies: America’s New Global Empire [1].

23 Comments (Open | Close)

23 Comments To "America Doesn’t Need Another Weakling NATO Ally"

#1 Comment By BCZ On July 19, 2018 @ 4:30 am

I feel sometimes like many conservatives on this website have a vastly different understanding of what alliances are good for and how they work.

Here’s my understanding:

1.) alliances prevent war and conflict AMONG alliance members.

2.) alliances regent aggressors from wanting to take territories covered by an alliance by massively increasing the consequences.

3.) alliances promote stability in relations which increase economic activity and further reduce propensity to fight

4.) 1-3 all promote the security of every member regardless of weather new members are weaklings. They pay for themselves with conflict reduction. If the Balkans are a flashpoint extending NATO over all reduces its propensity to be a flashpoint for security threats (like the Yugoslav war was).

5.) we only get 1-4 if we maintain a credible and unshakeable commitment among alliance members while maintain strict non aggression.

I’d say previous administrations failed somewhat with regards to aggression and ABSOLUTELY this one with regards to the former. This uncertainty is the wisest possible thing for it security as are arguments on what I understand to be false premises in this article.

What am I missing?

#2 Comment By Stephen J. On July 19, 2018 @ 6:29 am

The writer asks: “So why bring Macedonia into NATO?” The answer could be this at links below:

“More Blood Money is Needed for NATO”

More blood money is needed to feed the NATO war beast
A bloody ravenous monster that on bodies does feast
It is hungry for more and more endless wars
And all the destruction, devastation and hellish gore

The serfs support the beast with their compulsory taxes
And their monies help reduce countries to ashes
Bombing and blitzing and setting the world on fire
Participators in atrocities and numerous funeral pyres

Medals are handed out for “bravery” in destroying and killing
By those in charge of the “coalition of the willing”
Partnering with terrorists they are supposed to be fighting
Hypocrites from hell, and in carnage, delighting

More and more weapons are needed they exclaim
Are these the words of the fiendishly insane?
“Coming right up boys” say the politicians that don’t fight
Safe in their luxury homes, and feeling “quite bright”

Perhaps if the politicians were sent to the front lines
And had to participate in hellish wars and its crimes
Would they be so eager to vote for and support military action?
If they had to fight and die and be part of a fighting faction

Don’t be silly, you can’t expect politicians to fight!
They have to spread B.S. and everything that’s trite
After all, they are in power and are “honourably” feted
Now you know why more NATO blood money is needed
[more info at link below]

And still more on NATO at this link too:

#3 Comment By Fran Macadam On July 19, 2018 @ 6:46 am

Garrisoning the planet, satrapy by satrapy.

Invading the world inviting the world. America no longer a nation but an empire.

#4 Comment By Michael Kenny On July 19, 2018 @ 8:33 am

The author’s umpteenth serving of his standard “let Putin win in Ukraine” article. The reason why both Montenegro and Macedonia want to be in NATO, even a post-US NATO, is Putin’s pussyfooting around in landlocked Serbia. A reasonable interpretation of Putin’s actions is that he is trying to get around the Turkish straits by getting access to the Adriatic. That involves, at very least, conquering Ukraine, Hungary, Serbia and Montenegro. Macedonia would give Putin access to the Albanian coast. Hence, the fears of those countries and their desire to be part of a Europe-wide defence system. Whether or not the US chooses to be part of that system is irrelevant. If the US global hegemonists choose to destroy the very hegemony they’re trying to prop up by abandoning NATO, that’s their problem!

#5 Comment By b. On July 19, 2018 @ 9:05 am

‘If Washington and Moscow are engaged in a new “great game,” it is not a battle for Macedonia.’

That “Game” takes two to “play”. What we have today is a unipolar “Great Gamble” – neither Russia nor China are showing any capability, and not even any serious interest, beyond their “near abroad”. It is only the US that appears to be dead-set on contesting world domination – in a contest against the entire world.

In fact, with American Success Stories like Iraq 2003, Libya, Yemen, and even our malignant meddling in the early stages of the Syria and Ukraine civil wars in mind – as well as our early “assistance” to Yeltsin’ Russia – one could reasonably propose that the aggression is so clearly originating with one side, that the phrase “Great Rape” more accurately describes US ambitions. Everybody wants to be a dictator, but only our Clinton-Bush-Obama-Trump axis wants to succeed Charlie Chaplin and have their limp writ run everywhere.

#6 Comment By Rob On July 19, 2018 @ 2:15 pm

You are correct: it takes two to play. If you don’t play you loose by default. Russia is playing, whether we choose to play or not.

#7 Comment By Robmm76 On July 19, 2018 @ 2:17 pm

You are wrong: it doesn’t take two to play. If you don’t play, you loose by default. Russia is playing, whether we choose to play or not.

#8 Comment By Christian Chuba On July 19, 2018 @ 3:21 pm

@BCZ thank you for the lecture on why large alliances are always good. That was the same argument that was used prior to WW1.

@Robmm76, Russia is playing the game whether we want to or not, really?
1990 – they controlled all of Eastern Europe including part of Germany. Today, 13 countries formerly part of the Warsaw pact are now part of NATO. Oh but they did get Crimea back, a peninsula the size of Maryland that they owned since the 1700’s, they are really on the march.

#9 Comment By BCZ On July 19, 2018 @ 5:10 pm

@Christian Chub

So is that the answer to my question you misconstrue as a lecture? The false argument that my argument was that rendered before WWI?

But that’s not true. That system was not perminant, stable, nor durable like NATO or other modern alliances. Moreover, scholars of alliances have noted the types of alliances that ‘go WWI’ vs alliance like NATO.

That said, there are good arguments for why these rigid alliances prevent short run conflict but create potentials for big ones in the long term … but that also has nothing to do with the argument made in this article (nor does yours for that matter… ‘weakling states’ are not the problem as far as I can tell)

#10 Comment By Janek On July 19, 2018 @ 5:15 pm

If Russia clearly understands the importance of the Western Balkans and is actively preventing the them from joining and becoming the part of the West, but Doug Bandow can not get it, then maybe there is something wrong with DB and others like him. No wonder that they are ready to give up the whole shop and and be swindled of the whole West and its traditions.

#11 Comment By EarlyBird On July 19, 2018 @ 5:18 pm

BCG, you are missing

Number 6: Alliances are supposed to be mutually supporting, made up of nations which have some roughly complimentary abilities.

NATO requires that we go to war on behalf of any of its members who are attacked. If Macedonia is attacked, Americans will fight and die there. If America is attacked, Macedonians will wish us the best of luck, because that’s all they can do. This is not an alliance. It’s American patronage of Macedonia.

#12 Comment By Myron Hudson On July 19, 2018 @ 5:55 pm

“Finally, expanding the alliance is nonsensical in light of the president’s criticisms of the Europeans. Hiking U.S. military spending, increasing manpower and materiel deployments in Europe, and adding new members all contradict his demand that the allies do more and signal that the president is not serious in his demands. That leaves the Europeans with little incentive to act, especially since most of their peoples perceive few if any security threats.

Yet again President Trump has been exposed as a thoughtless blowhard. His rabid supporters have likely enjoyed his confrontational rhetoric, but he has done nothing to turn it into policy.”

Let’s see: Results opposite of rhetoric… check. Nothing new here. And for some die-hard supporters, it’s all about the rhetoric; results are immaterial and so are about-faces.

#13 Comment By kalendjay On July 19, 2018 @ 8:11 pm

I might be inclined to agree with this article, just after reading David French’s windy nonsense as usual, about defending Montenegro. But here’s a case for admitting this ministates:

They want to be part of the larger economic system, or will be anyway, even a hostile one.

This larger community will need defense. But the little guys are not in a position to antagonize the bigger ones.

For Montenegrins, Kosovars, Upper Macedonians, defense, fighting and war ARE the economy.

Unlike the slothful Germans, at least these people will sign up to fight for some real money.

And with Serbia and their invented Russian patrimony, they and we may have reason to fight, because its just the Slav thing.

And besides, these little guys will figure out how to make money as offshore tax havens, so it pays to keep them close, as they say, because we’d have to keep our enemies closer.

And they might even learn about the second amendment and learn to behave.

So it pays, whatever sumof money it takes for 10 million underdeveloped people, to keep them in NATO.

#14 Comment By Josep On July 20, 2018 @ 4:21 am

You know, Mr. Kenny, instead of trolling the comment sections of any article discussing US-Russia relations or (the obsolescence of) NATO, you could think about whether you want your country to remain America’s lapdog or to defend itself independently. Let’s not forget about American pussyfooting before accusing Russia of doing the same.

#15 Comment By A Government Minister On July 20, 2018 @ 9:27 am

So, I would like to politely point out that you are wrong on numerous counts. I will make seven points here:

(1) The Republic of Macedonia has voluntarily supplied its military members to a number of NATO missions in Bosnia, Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan for more than a decade (although possibly not all venues for that long). At one point (2006-2008 and perhaps still), we were one of the largest contributors (top 4) of military members on a per capita basis to NATO’s missions. During this time, Greece, which had a treaty obligation to participate in NATO missions, didn’t participate at all until they were shamed into doing so a few years later. The work of the Macedonian military was consistently highly regarded on all levels. We have also lost many military members in defense of peace and NATO’s goals (including a horrible helicopter accident during a foggy landing in January of 2008).

(2) In 2008, when Greece vetoed Macedonia’s ascension to NATO in Bucharest in direct violation of the U.N.-brokered 1995 Interim Accord, Macedonia’s military was deemed fully ready to join NATO in all respects. Obviously, military readiness has constant costs and I suppose this readiness dropped a bit in the past decade and is now back up to par (reflecting the conditional admissions invitation just received).

(3) The reason the Republic of Macedonia won independence in November 1991 without a subsequent fight is because in early February 1992, then President Kiro Gligorov called in the regional commander of the JNA (Jugoslav National Army — then under Milosevic’s control) — and told him to take anything he wanted — anything at all — but to leave the country within 2-3 days at most. The JNA took the radar from the airports (That was the prize) and some lesser things but they left. And because they left, Milosevic no longer had a base in Macedonia from which to attack and wreak havoc on the new country like he did in the other parts of Yugoslavia. The President himself told me this story several months later.

(4) Since you bring up the name issue, let me clarify that the reason this really came about was because the Greek Drachma was approaching hyper-inflation in early 1992 and the nationalist government chose to create a bogeyman (the new Republic of Macedonia) so as to get their citizen’s minds off of their poor earning power. I was there at the time and I saw this with my own eyes. [The economic blockade you mentioned started in March of 1992 and except for a few one-month breaks caused by changes in the Greek Government continued until October of 1995 (a month after the signing of the Interim Accord).] This makes sense if you think about it because there are numerous toponyms around the world with identical or similar names on either side of international borders — and don’t even get me started about all the Greek toponyms that are used for cities in the USA — Sparta, Mississippi; Athens, Georgia; Ithaca & Syracuse, New York. Etc.

(5) The Freedom House rating you cite covers events in 2016 and the first part of 2017. A new government (SDSM – Left-leaning) has been in power for a year. Things are by no means perfect but they are better than the rating currently on the website.

(6) You wrote: “If Washington and Moscow are engaged in a new “great game,” it is not a battle for Macedonia.” You’re wrong. If you were right, then Russia would not be trying to create havoc before the name referendum scheduled for late September/early October. (If Russia succeeds in prohibiting the passage of the name referendum, then Macedonia does not join NATO and the status quo ante resumes.) I refer you to the Financial Times of London article about the arrest of Russian spies in Alexandroupolis and related articles in the past week.

(7) Finally, with limited external help, Macedonia in its short nearly 27 years of existence has dealt with three refugee invasions of its territory (not to mention the 3-month civil insurrection in the Summer of 2001). The most recent wave came from and through Greece. Macedonia could easily have let hundreds of thousands of refugees pass through its territory to more easily get to the EU. By not allowing this, they showed themselves worthy of membership in NATO and the EU — and far be it of you to deny this of them.

#16 Comment By george Archers On July 20, 2018 @ 12:21 pm

USA intent is to have as many EU nations join for the purpose and need to fund pending WWIII.

#17 Comment By Steve On July 20, 2018 @ 12:40 pm

To all of the posters who wax hysterically about what Russia might do to this and that, would you please explain why, when they ALREADY controlled most of the Balkans and Eastern Europe, did they actually withdraw their troops in 1990?

And while you are at it, despite the fact that the US and Nato allies combined spend 16 times what Russia spends on its military, why does Russia keep reducing their own expenditures?

I will answer for you. That nefarious Putin, whom you all seem to think is hiding under your bed, is actually wise enough to know that empire and foreign domination, while it might look good in a game of Risk, is a bloody parasitic drain on an economy and its future. That is what caused the Soviet collapse, and why Putin is more interested in economic development of Russia than marching troops around in forgotten backwaters like “North Macedonia”.

I just pray that someday my fellow citizens here come to realize how much 70 years of praying to the war-god has hollowed out our own industrial base, leaving us so desperate to keep our young men employed we need to jack “defense spending” just to give them jobs (and yes, to give the media flacks lots of dead-end wars to endless talk about).

#18 Comment By Janek On July 20, 2018 @ 1:33 pm

@ Early Bird,

Your logic is upside down. You write: “NATO requires that we go to war on behalf of any of its members who are attacked….” Not only you go to war, the whole NATO goes to war not only US, and if Macedonia, Montenegro etc,. etc. are members they also go to war, not alone but with the NATO alliance. If America is attacked and if it is still member of NATO the whole NATO acts, but if you will continue undermining NATO as some Russian stooges in USA do then there will be different ball game and new alliance will have to be formed.

#19 Comment By Jeeves On July 20, 2018 @ 2:15 pm

Thank you @BCZ and especially thank you @A Government Minister. Nice to have some facts. And will the last person to mention the canard about the West’s promise not to expand NATO please turn out the lights? If the addition of Macedonia has made Putin more paranoid, how much would need to be subtracted from NATO to cure him?

#20 Comment By Jason On July 21, 2018 @ 12:40 pm

@BCZ: These Balkan nations have zero value to us. My town of 180k here in Texas that most people in the US has never heard of has a greater GDP than Macedonia. As the author points out, they can’t contribute anything to the alliance, so why bother?

Many have pointed out some risk of Russian influence in the Balkans… yeah, so what? It is their near abroad, not ours, and has zero to do with our security. Let’s say Putin annexes the Balkans (a ludicrous supposition)… so what? That has zero impact on the US.

The point of alliances is to essentially create an insurance policy against risk. Since the EU has three times the population and 10x the economy of Russia – I think they’ve got this. Russian tanks aren’t about to roll through the Fulda Gap.

And really, have you guys ever through about what utter nonsense NATO is anyway? If these countries such as, say Poland and the Baltics really were scared of the Bear… would they not spend 10% of GDP on defense? Why not 20%? Because they aren’t all that concerned. It’s total BS.

Lastly, to the Government Minister: our imperial masters in Washington love your little nations to part of our wars of aggression so we can say the ‘coalition’ versus just America attacked this or that sovereign state. It’s better marketing. Still doesn’t mean you have any military value.

#21 Comment By Macedonian On July 23, 2018 @ 4:23 am

Maybe better question is why USA and NATO are involved in every trouble and crisis in the world. Why USA is behaving as world police force and are involved in Ukraine Kosovo ETC.
You article tells a story about irrelevance of Macedonia but you see Macedonian people don’t want NATO.
Another question is who invited NATO in the Balkans particularly KOSOVO.
I do understand right wing Americans who mostly are uneducated and this type of articles.

#22 Comment By Bob Dok On July 25, 2018 @ 9:09 am

What Trump is talking has nothing with real policy of his administration in regard to Macedonia.US embassy and Usaid are in charge of denomination of country name and push for Nato membership.Former ally to US Macedonian conservatives are shifting away of US and EU.In a country where people are pressured to leave conservatism for liberalism by US officials is happening political shift to Putin and Russia.Political party United Macedonia which is copy-paste of Putin party United Russia is gaining strength by influx of disappointed conservatives.It is more cry for help than direct Russian interference.For this situation congress and leftovers of Obama’s “liberal” diplomats of carrier are guilty as hell.At this point 75% in the country regard US ambassador as personal enemy and their own country as banana republic.

#23 Comment By SophistsNotConservatives On August 11, 2018 @ 10:06 pm

So called “Macedonia” isn’t even a real country and ethnic group. Surprising that some alleged conservatives are engaged in ethnic engineering just like the Sorozoids and prior Comintern.