NATO just approved its newest member, but they have to change the name of their country to join

Macedonia Macedonian flagsBoris Grdanoski/AP Images

  • The 29 NATO members signed off Wednesday on Macedonia joining the bloc, 27 years after they first applied.
  • Macedonia couldn't join before because neighboring Greece kept blocking their accession, citing a longstanding dispute over the country's name.
  • The logjam was broken when Macedonia agreed to formally rename itself to The Republic of North Macedonia.

NATO approved its newest member on Wednesday, after Macedonia agreed to change its name to secure admission.

All 29 members of NATO signed the accession protocol for Macedonia at 11:00 a.m., beginning a process of ratification which is likely to result in the Balkan state joining the world's most powerful military alliance.

Macedonia has been trying to join NATO for 27 years. But every previous application was blocked by neighbouring Greece, because of a regional dispute over Macedonia's name.

Greece only agreed to stop blocking them if Macedonia formally renamed itself to The Republic of North Macedonia. Lawmakers in both countries agreed the deal last year, which is due to take effect soon.

NATO MAcedonia signAt the NATO Headquarters in Brussels, February 6, 2019, the Permanent Representatives of the 29 members of the Alliance signed the Accession Protocol for the future Republic of North Macedonia.NATO

Greece objected to Macedonia's name, which it adopted in 1991 when Yugoslavia collapsed, because Macedonia is also the name of a region of Greece.

Politicians in Greece argued that the name "Macedonia" suggested that the country had ambitions to one day rule Greek Macedonia as well.

Greece also argued that Macedonia was wrongly associating itself with the famed historical figure Alexander the Great, also known as Alexander III of Macedon, even though he came from modern-day Greece.

Macedonian Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov told Turkish newspaper Yeni Safak last month that the name change will go ahead "a matter of days" after the NATO approval.

alexander the greatThe name Alexander spread throughout Europe in the 4th century thanks to Alexander the Great.Wikimedia Commons

According to NATO's internal processes, all 29 members of NATO now need to ratify the accession in their own parliaments, including Greece.

Any country could technically veto the process. But previously the only country to object was Greece, which has now changed its stance because of the name change.

The deal between the two countries, known as the Prespa Agreement, was signed in June 2018.

Macedonia agreed to change its name, and in return Greece would stop blocking its NATO membership.

Protests over Macedonia naming GreeceProtesters hold a Greek national flag depicting Alexander the Great as they stand on a monument during a rally against the use of the term &quotMacedonia" in any solution to a dispute between Athens and Skopje over the former Yugoslav republic's name, in the northern city of Thessaloniki, Greece, January 21, 2018.Reuters

If the other 29 states ratify the approval, Macedonia will then pass its own legislation, at which point it will become a full NATO member.

Their decision to change their name split the country. Macedonians rejected one attempt to change the name in an advisory referendum held in October 2018. The country's parliament later agreed the change anyway.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg described Wednesday as "a historic day."

The last country to join NATO was Montenegro in 2017. Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, and Ukraine have all expressed interest in joining.

Countries aspiring to join NATO have to demonstrate that they are in a position to further the principles of the 1949 Washington Treaty and contribute to security in the Euro-Atlantic area.

They are also expected to meet certain political, economic and military criteria, including spending a minimum proportion of GDP on their militaries.

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