BRUSSELS -- Top Macedonian officials say the Balkan nation will show why it should become the next country to join NATO, pledging to boost defense spending and increase its role in the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan.
The comments by Macedonian Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov and Defense Minister Radmila Sekerinska in Brussels on September 27 come amid a push by Prime Minister Zoran Zaev’s new government to make quick progress toward joining NATO and the European Union.
"We will give the alliance, and we are here today to convince them, more reasons as to why Macedonia should be the 30th member state of NATO. We have been sharing a burden of global security and regional security and we will improve on that in the future," Dimitrov told reporters at NATO headquarters.
Macedonia sank into political turmoil over a wiretapping scandal that brought down the ruling conservative VMRO-DPMNE party and halted Skopje's efforts to move toward EU and NATO membership.
Zaev’s governing coalition, made up of the Social Democratic SDSM party and the Albanian DUI party, took power in May and sought to speed Macedonia’s European integration by improving strained ties with its neighbors, including NATO members Bulgaria and Greece.
"We are a country that has decided to invest in our democracy so that nothing like the last couple of years ever happens again,” Dimitrov told reporters in Brussels, adding that Skopje wants to battle corruption and improve government checks and balances in line with the “values” of NATO states.
Sekerinska told reporters that the new government had informed NATO allies that it had decided to begin gradually increasing defense spending beginning next year with a goal of reaching the NATO-required threshold of 2 percent of GDP.
U.S. President Donald Trump has repeatedly criticized NATO members, saying they are not paying their fair share.
Sekerinska said he would also inform NATO allies on September 27 that Macedonia has approved an increase in its “participation and contribution” to the NATO-led Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan by 20 percent beginning next year.
“We believe that by doing this, we will show that Macedonia is a partner that NATO can rely on," he said.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson earlier this month said Washington continues to support “Macedonia’s aspirations of joining the EU and NATO.”
Montenegro, another former Yugoslav republic, became NATO's 29th member in June.