Washington, D.C. -- U.S. Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today convened a hearing on "NATO Expansion: Examining the Accession of North Macedonia", with witness testimony from Mr. Philip T. Reeker, acting assistant secretary, bureau of European and Eurasian affairs at the Department of State and Ms. Kathryn Wheelbarger, acting assistant secretary, international security affairs at the Department of Defense.
Chairman Risch gave the following opening statement, as prepared for delivery:
"Good morning, and thanks to our witnesses for joining us today to discuss the potential accession of North Macedonia as a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
"April 4 th marked the 70 th anniversary of NATO, and I am glad to have another opportunity for this Committee to discuss the importance of this alliance.
"NATO is the world’s most successful political-military alliance. Founded by the United States and 11 other nations in 1949, it has expanded 7 times since its founding and now includes 29 countries. North Macedonia would make 30.
"The Senate’s consideration of North Macedonia as a member of NATO is a piece of unfinished and long-delayed business. North Macedonia was originally eligible for NATO entry in 2008, and was set to join the alliance alongside Croatia and Albania in 2009.
"An ongoing dispute over North Macedonia’s name prevented that from happening, but the leaders of both North Macedonia and Greece showed great political courage, given the tension in both countries on that issue, in reaching an agreement earlier this year that has made today’s discussion possible. The courage of Prime Ministers Zaev and Tsipras to move the situation in the Balkans forward should be applauded. Not only does this Prespa Agreement pave the way forward for North Macedonia in both NATO and the EU, but it is an excellent example of how other conflicts in the region could be resolved.
"Over the past 70 years, NATO has remained a critical piece of the framework that supports our collective security. And while this small nation has not yet been inside the alliance, North Macedonia has worked alongside NATO for many years.
"From 2002 until 2014, North Macedonia deployed about 4,000 troops in support of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. It is currently supporting the Resolute Support mission to assist the Afghan security forces. The country has also provided support to the NATO-led peacekeeping forces in Kosovo. Recently, NATO troops have begun training on a North Macedonian military training range, considered one of the best in Europe.
"NATO has proven not only to be a military success, but a political and economic one. NATO’s security umbrella has provided the kind of stable political and security environment necessary for economic growth and investment. Since joining NATO in 2017, Montenegro has seen foreign investment from members of the alliance double, and North Macedonia has high hopes for the same.
"Like most nations, North Macedonia is not without challenges. As a small country with a young democracy, it will require further government reforms and military modernization, as have most new NATO allies. For example, it will need to continue its transition from legacy Soviet equipment, further reform its intelligence services, continue to strengthen its anti-corruption institutions, and importantly resist Russian interference, and. Yet, through its contributions to NATO missions, its already substantial democratic reforms, and the Prespa Agreement, North Macedonia has demonstrated robust commitment to the Alliance and its values.
"Just as important as a commitment to shared values is allies’ commitment to burden sharing. Seven allies currently meet their pledge to spend 2% of GDP on defense, and 18 allies are on track to do so by 2024. We urge them to continue aggressively in that direction. North Macedonia has pledged to meet the 2% spending requirement and is already in the process of spending 20% of that amount on equipment.
"Many Americans might wonder how bringing a small country like North Macedonia into NATO will strengthen the alliance. North Macedonia brings military capabilities like its training center that I mentioned earlier, but it also brings political stability to a region long-fraught with conflict. In the era of great power competition, it solidifies Western values in a country that Russia is desperate to keep in its sphere of influence—North Macedonia has wisely declined. The West must honor commitments made to countries that have painstakingly made the reforms the alliance has asked of them. Otherwise, they may have nowhere to turn but toward Russia and China.
"Bringing a 30 th member into NATO during its 70 th year is a strong signal to allies and enemies alike that NATO continues to be critical to the U.S. for our security, and an alliance that is adapting to modern day challenges. I look forward to hearing your testimonies and to hopefully welcoming North Macedonia into the Alliance."
Witness testimony is available on foreign.senate.gov, as is an archived recording of the full hearing.