By DoD News
By Jim Garamone
North Macedonia’s Defense Minister Radmila Shekerinska and Laura K. Cooper, the acting assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, unveiled the red and yellow flag representing a stylized sun in the NATO Hallway. The addition honors North Macedonia’s accession to NATO in March 2020.
Prior to the unveiling, Shekerinska met with Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and Colin Kahl, the DOD undersecretary for policy.
North Macedonia came into being when Yugoslavia dissolved in 1991. It joined NATO’s Partnership for Peace program in 1995 and that eventually led to alliance membership.
Cooper said the COVID-19 epidemic cancelled plans to unveil the flag in 2020, “but it could not stop us. We finally get a chance to recognize this important milestone for North Macedonia, the United States and the NATO alliance.”
Cooper said the accession of the country makes the alliance stronger. She praised North Macedonia’s commitment to defense and political reform that made it happen. She also praised the spirit of conciliation between Greece and North Macedonia that finally allowed the accession. “The conclusion of the Prespa agreement in 2018 that resolved a decade’s long dispute with Greece and paved the way for North Macedonia’s NATO accession took real political courage,” she said. “Now, both countries, and the region are better for it.”
Since 1995, North Macedonia has consistently been an exporter of security, Cooper said. More than 4,000 service members from North Macedonia have fought alongside U.S. and NATO allies in Afghanistan and Iraq. Troops from North Macedonia are also helping NATO in Kosovo and in peacekeeping efforts under United Nations auspices.
Shekerinska noted the long road that North Macedonia had to travel to reach NATO. “We have moved mountains, and the big success of our NATO accession was a result of a long, three-decades-long struggle to change our country for the better,” she said.
The military in 1995 was not even close to having the capabilities needed to join NATO. The nation reached out and NATO allies responded. The United States provided advice and help. And partnered North Macedonia with the Vermont National Guard as part of the Guard bureau’s state partnership program. “This is why the transformation from a former socialist model, a military that resembled the old times, into a new model of NATO ally, was feasible,” the defense minister said.
Shekerinska said the country received help in cyber problems, equipment buys, tactical help and more, but “I truly believe that it is the human contacts that have done the real transformation,” she said.
The defense minister said the flag unveiling was emotional “to see the North Macedonia flag hanging together with 29 nations, together with the US flag as part of the greatest military and political alliance. I do believe that this has been the highlight of everything that I and my team have worked on in the last 30 years.”