Ever since Macedonia failed to join NATO in 2008 due to its “name” dispute with neighbouring Greece, a number of reforms to the Macedonian army have ground to a halt, local security analysts say.
They note that in some areas the country has even made steps backwards, including cutting money for the envisaged army modernization and for reaching the desired level of interoperability with NATO forces.
“The government should continue reforming the army, not only because of the recent criticism but also because of the goal of joining a modern defense system,” Lidija Georgieva, a security, defense and peace studies professor at Skopje University, told local daily Vreme.
Macedonia currently spends 1.7 per cent of its budget on its armed forces, while NATO's standards dictate that a country which applies for membership should spend at least 2.3 per cent for this purpose. In this year’s budget, the army was given some €23 million less than in 2009.
This was one of the main concerns expressed by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen during his January meeting with Macedonian PM Nikola Gruevski, the daily reports.
Despite the cuts Macedonia continues to maintain its course towards NATO, the dean at the Skopje Philosophy Faculty, Trajan Gocevski told Vreme.
“The main criticism relates to the level of prepareness of the units intended for international peacekeeping missions. This year we should have 600 soldiers ready for such missions and by 2013 we should scale that number up to 1200,” he said.
Skopje currently has some 250 soldiers deployed in the International Security Assistance Force mission in Afghanistan, more than many of the NATO member countries.
Macedonian Defense Minister Zoran Konjanovski, visiting the Macedonian Army contingent stationed in Afghanistan, said on Monday that Macedonia is a small country, but a serious contributor in the anti-terrorism coalition,
In 2008 Macedonia was denied entrance to NATO due to the Greek blockade over the unresolved bilateral “name” spat. NATO has reiterated that the country is welcome to join the alliance as soon as the row with Greece is resolved.