Bosnia set for new move on NATO accession path

The Balkans'country have been given the green light to submit its Membership Action Plan

Photo: EPA Secretary General of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Jens Stoltenberg

NATO foreign ministers gave Bosnia-Herzegovina the green light to take a major step forward on its path toward joining the world's biggest military alliance, albeit the Bosnian Serb objections to membership. Meeting in Brussels on December 5, the ministers invited Bosnia to submit its first annual national program of political, economic, and defense reforms aimed at bringing aspiring countries into line with the Atlantic alliance's standards.

The move is part of NATO's so-called Membership Action Plan (MAP) process, but it doesn't mean that the ethnically-divided Balkans country will join anytime soon. Mostly because it's yet unclear whether Sarajevo will accept NATO's invitation.

"We made our decision: we are ready to receive their annual national program. But let them decide and we are ready if they are ready," NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters after the Brussels meeting.

The alliance offered a MAP to Bosnia 8 years ago but declined to "activate" it until all conditions were met. The process was held up over the registration of immovable defense property at the federal level, with the ethnic Serb-dominated Republika Srpska - one of the two entities that make up Bosnia - opposing the move.

NATO allies have decided to move forward rather than allow the Bosnian Serbs to have a de facto veto over the MAP, but the property must still be registered at a federal level for the MAP process to conclude.

Serb nationalist Milorad Dodik, the current head of the rotating chairmanship of Bosnia's three-part presidency, has long been a vocal opponent of Bosnia's membership in NATO. He even said he will block any moves by Bosnia to join NATO, insisting on military neutrality, in line with Serbia. Yet, Bosnian Muslim presidency member, Sefik Dzaferovic, said in a statement that NATO's invitation will give new impetus for the country to reach one of its "most important foreign policy goals." Dzaferovic also insisted the Bosnian institutions to "immediately start preparing the annual program of reforms in cooperation with NATO." That view was supported also by the ethnic Croat member of the presidency, Zeljko Komisic.

Commenting on the wider situation in the Balkans, Stoltenberg said he hoped Macedonia would complete its parliamentary procedures regarding its change of name, and praised everything that has been done so far.

We strongly welcome the progress we have seen," Stoltenberg said, adding that the alliance will be ready to "sign the accession protocol and welcome the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia as our 30th member" once all of the procedures for the deal with Greece are implemented, which includes changing the country’s name to the Republic of North Macedonia.

Such an opinion was also expressed by US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Matthew Palmer, who gave an interview on the issue the same day.

"I don't think there is any reason not to believe that North Macedonia could become the 30th member of NATO as early as 18 months from now. That is an entirely realistic target date," he said, praising the breakthrough agreement in June between Greece and Macedonia as the "most significant positive development" in efforts by Western Balkans states to achieve EU and NATO ties.

Yesterday Stoltenberg also commented on Serbia, calling it a valued partner and saying that NATO fully supports the EU-led dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina as it is “critical for regional peace and security”. Ahead of  a planned vote in the Kosovo parliament on December 14 on transforming the country’s lightly armed security force into a de-facto army, the NATO Secretary General  expressed disapproval of the move. 

“Such a move is ill-timed. It goes against the advice of many NATO Allies. And may have serious repercussions for Kosovo’s future Euro-Atlantic integration,” the NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg stated.

After the end of discussions over the situation in the Western Balkans, Federica Mogherini, the EU high representative, who attended the NATO meeting, emphasised the importance of a European perspective for all Balkan countries.

“The European Union has worked a lot, especially in these last couple of years, with all our partners in the Western Balkans, reaffirming a clear European Union perspective for all our partners in the region that ... is a region that is crucial for European security,” Mogherini told the summit.

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