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At the April 2-4, 2008 NATO summit in Bucharest, Romania, a principal issue was consideration of the candidacies for membership of Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia. The allies agreed to extend invitations to Albania and Croatia. Although the alliance determined that Macedonia met the qualifications for NATO membership, Greece blocked the invitation due to an enduring dispute over Macedonia’s name. After formal accession talks, on July 9, 2008, the foreign ministers of Albania and Croatia and the permanent representatives of the 26 NATO allies signed accession protocols amending the North Atlantic Treaty to permit Albania and Croatia’s membership in NATO. To take effect, the protocols had to be ratified, first by current NATO members, then by Albania and Croatia. On April 1, 2009, the two countries formally became the 27th and 28th members of the Alliance when the Ambassadors of the two nations deposited the ratified instruments of accession at the State Department. On April 4, 2009, Albania and Croatia were welcomed to the NATO table at a ceremony held at the NATO summit in Strasbourg, France. Both nations are small states with correspondingly small militaries, and their inclusion in NATO cannot be considered militarily strategic. However, it is possible that their membership could play a political role in helping to stabilize southeastern Europe.

Over the past 15 years, Congress has passed legislation indicating its support for NATO enlargement, as long as candidate states meet qualifications for alliance membership. On April 9, 2007, former President Bush signed into law the NATO Freedom Consolidation Act of 2007 (P.L. 110-17), expressing support for further NATO enlargement. On September 10, 2008, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing on the accession of Albania and Croatia as a prelude to Senate ratification. For states to be admitted, the Senate must pass a resolution of ratification by a two-thirds majority to amend NATO’s founding treaty and commit the United States to defend new geographic space. On September 25, 2008, the Senate by division vote (Treaty Number 110-20) ratified the accession protocols. The potential cost of enlargement had been a factor in the debate over NATO enlargement in the mid-and late-1990s. However, the costs of the current round were expected to be minimal.

Another issue debated at the Bucharest summit was NATO’s future enlargement and the question of offering Membership Action Plans (MAP) to Georgia and Ukraine. The MAP is generally viewed by allies and aspiring alliance members as a way station to membership. However, it is not an invitation to join NATO, and it does not formally guarantee future membership. The former Bush Administration supported granting MAPs to Georgia and Ukraine. Both the Senate and House passed resolutions in the 110th Congress urging NATO to enter into MAPs with Georgia and Ukraine (S.Res. 439 and H.Res. 997, respectively). However, despite strong U.S. support, the allies decided after much debate not to offer MAPs to Georgia and Ukraine at Bucharest. Opponents cited internal separatist conflicts in Georgia, public opposition to membership in Ukraine, and Russia’s strong objection to the two countries’ membership as factors influencing their opposition. The allies pledged that Georgia and Ukraine would eventually become NATO members but did not specify when this might happen. The August 2008 conflict between Georgia and Russia seemed to place the membership prospects of Georgia and Ukraine aside for the immediate future.

This report will be updated as needed. See also CRS Report RL31915, NATO Enlargement: Senate Advice and Consent, by Michael John Garcia.

NATO Enlargement: Albania, Croatia, and Possible Future Candidates by Carl Ek

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