Gil Barndollar, along with the usual isolationists like Rand Paul, have argued against letting Macedonia join NATO. The case largely rests on Macedonia’s small military compared to America’s. They have a few dozen tanks and trucks that are largely old former Soviet models. Macedonia’s total budget could buy one and a half F-35 fighters, and their overall military spending is just over 1 percent of their GDP, far below the 2 percent Trump and NATO seek. Their military commitments in the war on terror and peacekeeping missions have been about the size of a military company and usually no more than a handful of people. Clearly Macedonia is not a heavyweight, but adding them is still important for several reasons, including several factors mentioned in Barndollar’s article that he ignored or marginalized.
To start with, isolationists argue that the Balkans are often a powderkeg known for dragging people into war. The ethnic tension has variously led to civil war in Bosnia, a World War, and U.S. engagement in Kosovo or peacekeeping forces in Bosnia. But in order to join NATO, Macedonia is officially changing its name to the “Republic of Northern Macedonia.” This provides a solution to a decades-old dispute with Greece, who objected to naming another country after the homeland of the legendary Greek, Alexander the Great. In short, the decision to allow Macedonian entry has already produced results in diffusing long-standing tension.
Critics argue that this lessens deterrence because no one believes America will send soldiers to die for a small land-locked country in the Balkans. American commitment seems even more unlikely considering Russian interference would likely be ambiguous. By joining NATO, Macedonia receives access to training and equipment from the alliance. The Macedonian military is so small that a handful of American castoffs usually sold or donated to domestic police departments could significantly increase the size of their army. Most importantly, their training and new equipment will increase interoperability with NATO forces, meaning that their military can operate better with NATO, and NATO operate better with them. Assuming Russia does start a covert campaign to undermine Macedonia, NATO has already provided large amounts of aid to the non-NATO Ukraine. In other words, Macedonia’s military will be strengthened significantly by joining NATO at little cost to the United States, which increases deterrence.
Finally, it’s true that Macedonia has offered little more than a company of soldiers to American operations in the War on Terror. I am old enough to remember the hoopla over “unilateral” American action during the Iraq War in 2003. Yet after looking at Macedonian commitments that are small, they remain incredibly important for at least symbolic reasons. Contrary to critics of cowboy American foreign policy, the U.S. has allies around the world that help. Macedonia’s small but important contribution reminds me of the New Testament parable of the widow’s mite. Jesus was standing at the temple watching the elites ostentatiously donate. But Jesus stopped everybody when a widow threw in a part of a penny. He said that she gave more than everybody, because she gave a great deal out of the very little she had, while the rich gave very little out of their copious resources.
A country like Macedonia doesn’t have the resources to ever match the United States, but they have actively contributed as an ally, already adopted tough changes to strengthen the region, and joining NATO will provide the interoperability to increase their ability to help. In short, they have shown they are an important contribution to NATO and American interests.