[Re]thinking Macedonian Foreign Politics

In 2003 the Republic of Macedonia became a part of the 40 state coalition that supported the Iraq intervention and contributed in some capacity to the war effort. By supporting the Iraq war and endorsing the rationale to go to war, Macedonia was one of the countries that participated in the attempt to establish the norm for ‘preventive self-defence’ in the international legal system. Today we must ask ourselves if we still support this norm as a society, as well as the precedent that was done with this military intervention.

Looking back, the Iraq intervention faced serious opposition from different actors in the international stage [the United Nations, NATO], the proposed broad interpretation of Article 51 of the UN Charter failed to receive (wide) recognition, and the fact that no WMD were found after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime was not helpful for promoting the norm. To conclude, we can confidently argue that international law does not accept this norm as established.

At this point one may ask why does this matter 15 years after the beginning of the Iraq war, at a time when Macedonia and the world have numerous other challenges. Today, after 11 years Macedonia has a new government that has enthusiastically promoted the ‘new face’of our country. In the new government program, one can easily identify a prioritization of the integration in international institutions [primarily NATO and the EU], policy priorities that I support. Nevertheless, I do believe that in order for Macedonia to contribute in a meaningful way within these institutions we must make sure that we have a set of values that will inform our decision making. To illustrate this point further, I will take our country’s willingness to join NATO as an example.

If Macedonia joins the NATO alliance it would undoubtedly be a great success for our foreign policy, having in mind that this has been a priority of all parliamentary parties in our country. Still, I trust that joining an international institution must go hand in hand with clear normative positions of the country on many issues in the international realm. That is why it was important to reiterate that Macedonia participated in the effort to establish the ‘preventive self-defence norm’ even though international law didn’t recognize it, and NATO and many EU countries were in opposition to the war and this particular norm. Today, we are unsure if Macedonia still supports this norm or not, and it doesn’t help that we have little public information available that would shed light on this issue.

It is not just the norm of ‘preventive self - defence’, as a society we should be able to define positions on a plurality of other issues: do we support humanitarian intervention, what is our normative framework regarding the refugee crisis, have we redefined our position on our foreign policy choices that we made during the ‘war on terror’ in light of the fact that Macedonia was found guilty for serious violations of the ECHR in the El – Masri case. Answering these questions will present us with the opportunity to build a normative foreign policy framed by our values and beliefs. That normative framework can serve as the moral compass for our behaviour within the euro-atlantic institutions where we aspire to be members.

The normative positioning of our foreign policy has to be holistic, and it has to tackle a range of issues in our diplomacy. For instance, air pollution and clean air initiatives have taken a central stage in the public discourse in Macedonia due to the high levels of pollution in the country. Still, Macedonia was one of the last countries to ratify the Paris agreement. This is a great example of a norm that we should have accepted a lot sooner, internalized it, and promote it internationally having in mind that it is important for our society and people. As euro-atlantic integration is becoming a realistic prospect for us, we ought to build a framework that will define our contribution in these institutions. The process of defining the values we stand for both domestic and internationally should start with an inclusive and informed public discussion.

Lazar Pop Ivanov is co-president of ‘Article 1 – Institute for Global Politics and Law’, a think tank that works in the field of international law and international relations with a focus on Macedonia and the Balkan region, www.facebook.com/Article1Institute

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