Moving Macedonia Toward Self-Sufficiency: A New Security Approach for NATO and the EU

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Moving Macedonia Toward Self-Sufficiency: A New Security Approach for NATO and the EU


Macedonia’s 15 September 2002 election suggests the country may have turned a corner on the road to stability. Widely anticipated fraud and violence mostly did not materialise. Unlike in neighbouring Kosovo a few weeks later, a cross section of voters from all ethnicities streamed to the polls. They elected a government that has embraced the Framework Agreement brokered by the European Union (EU), the U.S. and NATO at Ohrid in August 2001 to end the incipient civil war and that has pledged to manage inter-ethnic issues through consensus, not simply division of spoils, to overhaul the scandal-plagued “Lions” security unit, and fight massive, endemic corruption.

While one should be wary of post-campaign euphoria, a certain optimism seems justified. Ali Ahmeti, the ex- rebel leader turned Albanian party leader, has shown cooperation. Prime Minister Crvenkovski has long accepted the political risks of backing the controversial package of concessions to Albanians in the Framework Agreement. In an astonishingly smooth negotiation, the Social Democrat-led Macedonian coalition concluded a power-sharing arrangement with an Albanian party previously labelled terrorists and with whom contact had been forbidden.

However, causes for serious concern remain. Large swathes of territory in ethnic Albanian dominated areas remain beyond the control of law enforcement. Not only are the population as a whole vulnerable, but police also fear for their own safety. Organised crime and a profusion of weapons, especially in weakly controlled border areas, have left significant parts of the country at risk. Mistrust between ethnic communities remains palpable. Killings in Tetovo in October dramatised the lingering danger of spiralling ethnic violence.

Macedonia’s indigenous security institutions – both police and army – are weak and largely unreformed, relying on outmoded tactics that reinforce mistrust while undercutting effectiveness. International organisations are likely to have broad cooperation from the new government but many of the security programs they have introduced will take months (in some cases years) to complete. Meanwhile, the threat lingers that Macedonia could be destabilised by organised crime, Kosovo-based Albanian extremists, or election losers.

The real progress toward political stability and internal security that has been made has largely been possible because of unprecedented cooperation between NATO, the U.S. and the EU from the early days of the crisis in 2001. That cooperation remains essential for the transition period that Macedonia has now entered. Specifically, a military presence such as NATO’s Task Force Fox currently provides is still indispensable. Largely manned and led by Europeans, Fox is less than one-thirtieth the size of the NATO force in Kosovo. It has contributed mightily toward establishing a “secure atmosphere” that has seen more than 90 per cent of those displaced by the conflict return home while enhancing the effectiveness of other international actors in Macedonia, including the EU itself and its Monitoring Mission (EUMM), the U.S., and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). It intervened critically at least three times over the past year to prevent inter-ethnic incidents from escalating out of control.

Macedonia’s leaders have recognised both NATO’s contribution and their own security limitations. They say clearly that they seek neither permanent dependence nor creeping protectorate but rather continued interim assistance until full control and law and order can be established throughout the country. The U.S. has been cool to extending the NATO mission, though only a handful of U.S. forces are on the ground and heavy U.S. engagement would only be nec essary in the most extreme case.

The EU wishes to maintain the international security presence and to assume that responsibility at the earliest possible time. This would represent important and welcome further development of the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) – a convincing demonstration that Brussels is serious about playing a larger security role while integrating not only Macedonia but also all the Western Balkans into European institutions. The target has been 15 December, when the present Fox mandate expires. However, while much progress has been made in overcoming the obstacles (mainly a Greece-Turkey dispute that has delayed necessary agreement on an EU force’s access to NATO assets), the 15 December deadline is probably too close.

Whether through NATO or the EU, the international community needs to continue to help Macedonia during the transition period. NATO should, therefore, remain for six months or until such time as the EU is ready to assume the security functions, whichever period is shorter. This would give NATO a set departure date while ensuring a proper hand-over. As NATO draws down and the EU prepares to take over, the latter should also focus on complementary tasks to demonstrate its increased commitment to Macedonia. In particular, the EU and NATO should act now in tandem to address the gap in border control – probably the most vital remaining security issue – by deploying and protecting a sizeable EUMM contingent along the vulnerable Kosovo, Serbia and Albania borders.


To the international community (NATO and the EU):

1. Continue to provide Macedonia interim security assistance, in particular by maintaining a small military force in the country until it can assume full and effective control and ensure law and order throughout its territory.


2. Keep Task Force Fox or a similar force in Macedonia for six months or until the EU is able to assume the responsibility (whichever period is shorter) in order to continue its confidence-building and trouble-shooting roles.

3. Ensure that its highly effective Military Liaison Teams continue to be backed by extraction companies with adequate, visible firepower sufficient to maintain their effectiveness and invulnerability to challenge.

4. During the remaining short period of its mission, concentrate also on the following tasks:

(a) orienting the mission to support weapons collection, special police reform and other security-related and rule of law programs that lessen the likelihood of ethnic violence;

(b) linking the mission to reform and accession programs by training Macedonian forces and then transferring appropriate tasks to them;

(c) assuming responsibility for the Military Adviser function now provided by a senior UK military officer;

(d) working jointly with the EU or alone to develop Macedonia as a centre for Regional Security Cooperation, in particular, to develop the Krivolak military training facility as a centre for joint exercises among NATO members and, especially, candidate countries such as Macedonia, Croatia and Albania that are unlikely to gain membership at the Prague Summit; and

(e) working jointly with the EU or alone to expand its concept for a regional border conference by establishing a Regional Security Cooperation Institute in Macedonia.

To the European Union:

5. Continue preparations to take over security responsibilities from NATO at the earliest possible time but no later than 15 June 2003.

6. Expand immediately EU contributions to Macedonia’s security by the following means:

(a) increasing sizeably the number of EUMM monitors deployed along Macedonia’s borders;

(b) improving coordination between the European Commission and OSCE on police reform projects;

(c) working jointly with NATO or alone to develop Macedonia as a centre for Regional Security Cooperation, in particular, to develop the Krivolak site as a centre for joint exercises among regional states, especially NATO candidate countries such as Macedonia, Croatia, and Albania that are unlikely to gain membership at the Prague NATO Summit.

(d) working jointly with NATO or alone, to expand the NATO concept for a regional border conference by establishing a Regional Security Cooperation Institute in Macedonia.

(e) following up, through the EU Special Representative in Macedonia, the groundbreaking Wahlund Commission report and pressing the new government to resolve swiftly the twenty missing persons cases from the conflict.

For more in-depth analysis, see the full report on the

ICG website.  

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