STUTTGART, Germany — The U.S. European Command is hoping that recent meetings in Skopje, Macedonia, will bolster the bids of Macedonia and two other Balkan nations to join NATO.

The meetings, held Oct. 31 and Nov. 1, addressed reforms being made by the Macedonian, Croatian and Albanian militaries. To join the 26-nation security alliance, the three nations must be able to mesh militarily with other NATO nations.

“We support their getting in, but we don’t have any control over the decision; that’s a NATO decision,” said Lt. Col. Scott Cilley, EUCOM’s political-military desk officer for the Balkans.

The alliance could add new members at its April 2008 summit in Bucharest, Romania.

Last week’s meetings were held as part of the 7th Adriatic Charter Chiefs of Defense Conference. Military logistics was a prime theme, including talks on the equipping of troops and the procurement and transporting of military assets.

One goal, Cilley said, is for the three nations to improve their logistics capabilities, which would lessen their need to be supported by the U.S. and other militaries.

“They are transforming their logistics to support peacekeeping operations so they can react as quickly as possible,” Cilley said.

“We are not averse to helping assist them, but it would be better as members of NATO to have that capability themselves.”

Cilley noted that the nations already have contributed to NATO missions. Croatia, for example, plans next year to increase from 200 to 300 its troop allotment to NATO’s International Security and Assistance Force in Afghanistan.

Vice Adm. Richard K. Gallagher, EUCOM deputy commander, led the U.S. delegation. Gallagher met with the defense chiefs from Macedonia, Croatia and Albania, as well as those from Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The mentoring of, and collaboration with, Balkan militaries is part of an ongoing strategy in the region by EUCOM.

Other efforts include military-to-military training such as that being conducted by Joint Task Force East in Romania and Bulgaria, and the training of military inspectors being coordinated by EUCOM’s inspector general’s office.

Cilley said that the region’s defense chiefs seemed willing to work together.

But political stability will play a role in the countries’ achieving NATO membership, according to Ted Galen Carpenter, vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Washington- based Cato Institute.

For example, Croatia is relatively stable and the most ready to enter NATO, but Macedonia is still working to gain solid national footing, he said.

“Security capability depends so much on political stability,” Carpenter said. “That’s where we have big question marks on so many of these countries.”

Carpenter added that people in the region are generally welcoming of Western overtures.

“I think most of the populations see NATO and [European Union] membership as currency for getting into the club of modernized, Western nations,” Carpenter said. “It’s more of symbolic importance in the case of NATO than of practical importance.”

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