North Macedonia presented as NATO’s weak link in a Foreign Policy article
The US-based Foreign Policy portal, which has been publishing the eponymous magazine for international politics since 1970, published an article entitled “NATO has a new weak link for Russia to exploit”, whose main argument is that North Macedonia is a “definition” of a weak link in the Alliance’s chain of countries, which would be an easy target for an engaged opponent.
The article, although simplifying several things, very easily assigns not quite appropriate labels (VMRO-DPMNE is directly referred to as a “pro-Russian party”) and does not take into account certain facts that show that the country is not such an easy target (citizens of N. Macedonia support the NATO membership with more than 80 percent, which is more than any other member state, Macedonia’s exports to Russia are only 1 percent, while the EU gets almost 80 percent of the total exports, North Macedonia has the experience and certain capacities in the fight against fake news for a decade now). However, this article comprehensively explains the possible weaknesses and lines of attack that North Macedonia may face on the principle of hybrid warfare and offers suggestions on how to strengthen defence capabilities in the event of intensified campaigns of fake news, combined with other tactics inherent for modern hybrid warfare.
The focus is, of course, Russia, whose hostile actions toward the West have not stopped even during the COVID-19 pandemic, describing the possible steps the Kremlin could take to destabilize the country. Most attention is paid to the upcoming elections and the possibility of undermining their democratic integrity:
The type of meddling Russia has specialized in includes election interference, inflaming ethnic tensions, and provoking violent conflict. These three real possibilities could trigger a NATO response under Article 5. The most pressing issue is securing North Macedonia’s upcoming elections, now postponed until further notice due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Polls last showed VMRO-DPMNE, a pro-Russian nationalist party, in a dead heat with the pro-Western Social Democrats. Russian interference in the election process or outcome not only threatens Macedonian sovereignty but, if successful, could result in a government that tilts North Macedonia toward Moscow.
But propaganda and hybrid threats against North Macedonia do not end there. The authors very well point out the possibility of spilling the instability in two directions – both from N. Macedonia to the neighbors and in the opposite direction – from the neighbors to N. Macedonia, with the main role in such a scenario being assigned to the “Moscow’s regional client, Serbia”:
Russia may also seek to pressure and destabilize North Macedonia in other ways, including through Moscow’s regional client, Serbia. Russian propaganda aimed at North Macedonia includes conspiracy theories about the country’s sizable Albanian minority supposedly colluding with NATO and Albania to fold North Macedonia into a “greater Albania” amid great bloodshed. As any student of Balkan history knows, such rhetoric has led to ethnic violence in the region before. Alternatively, Russia may stoke simmering conflicts in Serbia, whose unstable Presevo region directly borders North Macedonia, or the unresolved Kosovo dispute. Either conflict could easily spill into North Macedonia.
In order to prevent such scenarios, the text proposes to replicate and adapt the activities and tactics that proved successful in Montenegro 2-3 years ago:
NATO’s next steps to secure its new member could include adapting the successful tactics used when Montenegro joined the alliance in 2017. A NATO-sponsored cyberteam provided the Montenegrin government with technical support to learn to identify and counter hybrid warfare. NATO raised awareness of the benefits of NATO membership by working with officials, civil society, local governments, and media organizations. It also worked to improve governance in Montenegro’s defense sector. Similarly, the European Union, which has just opened accession talks with North Macedonia, could move quickly to signal to the world that the Balkan nations are an integral part of Europe.
Finally, the article goes even further and addresses the possibility of creating a comprehensive mechanism within the Alliance, whose task would be to address Russia’s propaganda and hybrid threats to all interested member states:
More broadly, however, NATO needs a mechanism to respond to Russian aggression in the event that the alliance’s members can’t unanimously agree to do so. Article 5 requires unanimity before invoking collective defense, but NATO’s members differ in their attitudes to Russia. One solution would be to form, as a backstop in case it is needed, a coalition of the willing comprising NATO members with credible defense capabilities that are willing to confront Russia and prepare a collective response to any attack.