By Misko Taleski
Macedonia’s government said it is committed to keeping its troops as part of the NATO mission in Afghanistan, despite urging from some in the country to withdraw after the organisation again chose not to extend membership to Macedonia last week.
“Greece’s policy is merciless towards Macedonia’s soldiers, who risk their lives daily to bring freedom and security to Afghanistan. Irresponsible politicians and resulting policies do not contribute to the security and stability of our region,” President Georgi Ivanov told SETimes.
The small nation lobbied for an invitation to be extended at the Chicago NATO summit, but the organisation took no action toward expansion. It’s the second disappointment for Macedonia, which also sought an invite in 2008, but both times were thwarted over a longstanding name dispute with neighbouring Greece.
“Macedonia should rethink whether it is ready to continue participating in Afghanistan and invest funds to be a part of the ‘global partnership’ when itself is faced with the consequences of the economic crisis. If asked, I would counsel to immediately withdraw our soldiers,” Biljana Vankovska, professor at the Institute for Security, Defence and Peace Studies, told SETimes.
She argued that the demand stems from failing to give Macedonia equal treatment and as a result of the increased cost to the country of participation in NATO’s missions. It is better to dedicate time and resources to securing the peace internally, she said.
Macedonia is the fifth-largest contributor of soldiers per capita since it began to participate in NATO’s missions in 2002 in Iraq, Lebanon, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Afghanistan. There are more than 2,000 Macedonian soldiers in Afghanistan, as well as thousands of other Macedonian citizens in various support capacities. Macedonian soldiers are also included in training the Afghan security forces.
Macedonia’s military leaders argue the country should continue the pro-NATO course despite the cost of 120m euros for the NATO missions.
“Withdrawing from the ISAF mission in Afghanistan will be a big political mistake. Problems are not solved by retribution; that way only friends and allies are lost. This, at a time when the Macedonian soldiers are receiving the highest decorations from NATO and the US,” the former chief of staff, General Mistre Arosvski, told SETimes.
The government said it is not planning to increase the number of troops in NATO missions because that would drain the state budget. NATO membership enjoys over 90% support in Macedonia according to latest polls, and citizens are mostly sceptical about calls for troop withdrawal.
“Being revolted at the big powers’ political games, double standards and unjust decisions outside accepted criteria is a human reaction. But long-term, we all believe Macedonia will one day be part of NATO and we should continue the presence of our military in Afghanistan,” Skopje resident Todor Ristovski, 47, told SETimes.
Macedonia has been recognised by more than 100 nations, but is a member of the UN under a “temporary reference” of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Greece objects because it sees a threat toward its own province with the same name. Macedonia says its name is a matter of national identity.