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The Procedure of the UN Security Council, 4th Edition

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Revision on 11 March 2019

Chapter 7:   DECISIONS AND DOCUMENTS

Section 6:   Decisions relating to UN membership

 

“North Macedonia” name dispute is settled, resolving issue first dealt with by Council in 1993 

 

After 27 years of negotiations, in February 2019, the capitals of Athens and Skopje reached agreement that the name “Republic of North Macedonia” (or “North Macedonia”) would become the official title of the country which, since 1993, had been known in the United Nations and other international organizations as “The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” or “FYROM”.*  This agreement paved the way for North Macedonia to sign a NATO accession protocol and is likely, in time, to result in membership in the European Union.

 

News coverage of this landmark development has remained largely silent about the fact that the earlier designation of that country resulted from a Security Council resolution adopted in 1993.

 

Amidst the breakup of Yugoslavia, one of its constituent republics, calling itself the “Republic of Macedonia”, reaffirmed its declaration of independence on 8 September 1991, following a referendum.  Ten months later, on 30 July 1992, the country submitted its application for United Nations membership (S/25147).

 

Two main factors delayed the Security Council from acting promptly upon that application.  One was the request on 11 November 1992 by the country’s President for the deployment of UN observers there.  Prioritizing this request, on 11 December 1992, the Council authorized the Secretary-General to establish a small UNPROFOR presence in the country.[1]

 

The other factor was objection raised by Greece to including in the name of the new State any reference to “Macedonia”.  Such a reference, the government argued, would give the false impression that the country was in some way a successor to historical Macedonia, and also would imply that it had territorial aspirations regarding the northern Greek region bearing that same name.  To back up its objections, beginning in 1992, the Greek government imposed a number of economic restrictions on commerce between the two.

 

Given the political uncertainties generated by these two factors, the Security Council did not formally act on the application for UN membership until the following year when, on 6 April 1993 and pursuant to Rule 59 of its Provisional Rules of Procedure, the Council referred the application to its Committee on the Admission of New Members.  However, a draft resolution on the application was under discussion by the Council members well before that time. 

 

The draft resolution was referred to by the President of the applicant country in a letter he wrote to the Security Council President on 24 March 1993 (S/25541).  While expressing appreciation for the Council’s intention to recommend the country for UN membership, the President also conveyed “our disappointment that it has not proved possible for the Security Council to adopt the standard straightforward resolution on admission of new members.”  A contrary position was taken by the Foreign Minister of Greece who, in a letter dated 6 April 1993, stated that his government considered the draft resolution to be “an acceptable basis for addressing the issue of the application of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia for admission to the United Nations” (S/25543).

 

What was at issue was that the draft resolution, while it would recommend that the country be admitted to UN membership, also provided that the State would be “provisionally referred to for all purposes within the United Nations as ‘the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’ pending settlement of the difference that has arisen over the name of the State” (S/25544).  This option was categorically rejected by the Macedonian President in his letter of March 1993.  He declared that “The Republic of Macedonia will in no circumstances be prepared to accept the ‘former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’ as the name of the country.”  He justified this position by stating, “We refuse to be associated in any way with the present connotation of the term ‘Yugoslavia’.” 

 

However, by practice, recommendations for UN membership from the Council’s Committee must be consensus decisions.  Once Greece made clear that it would not alter its position regarding the name of the new State, this influenced, inter alia, those Council members which shared with Greece membership in NATO and/or the European Union.  Thus, despite the Macedonian President’s firm protestation, after it became evident that the country would not be admitted to the UN unless it agreed to the proposed provisional designation, its objection was lifted.

 

Thereafter, on 7 April 1993, the Security Council adopted resolution 817 (1993) which did not identify the State by name, but rather used the convoluted phrase:  “Having examined the application for admission to the United Nations contained in document S/25147”.  The preamble then noted “that the applicant fulfils the criteria for membership laid down in Article 4 of the Charter”, but also noted that “a difference has arisen over the name of the State, which needs to be resolved in the interest of the maintenance of peaceful and good-neighbourly relations in the region”.  In its operative paragraph 2, the resolution recommended that the General Assembly admit the applicant to UN membership, but added the qualifier, “this State being provisionally referred to for all purposes with the United Nations as ‘the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’ pending settlement of the difference that has arisen over the name of the State”.  

At the same meeting at which the Security Council adopted resolution 817 (1993), it also adopted a presidential statement (S/25545) in which it welcomed the initiative undertaken by the Steering Committee of the International Conference on the Former Yugoslavia "to settle the difference which has arisen over the name of the State", as well as to promote confidence-building measures.  The presidential statement further declared that the Council was clear that the reference in resolution 817 (1993) to "the former Yugoslav Republic"

"carries no implication whatsoever that the State concerned has any connection with the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro).  It merely reflects the historic fact that the State . . . was in the past a republic of the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia."

 

On the basis of resolution 817 (1993), the following day the General Assembly adopted its resolution 47/225, admitting the applicant State to UN membership, while reproducing verbatim the qualified language contained in the Security Council resolution. 

 

Some legal scholars have posited that, in light of an 1948 advisory opinion by the International Court of Justice, it was illegal for the Security Council or the General Assembly to place any additional conditions upon the State once the Council had determined – as it did – that the applicant met all the requirements set out in Article 4(1) of the Charter for UN membership.[2]  Article 4(1) reads: 

 

“Membership in the United Nations is open to all other peace-loving states which accept the obligations contained in the present Charter and, in the judgment of the Organization, are able and willing to carry out these obligations.”

 

Nonetheless, both the Council and Assembly resolutions were carefully worded so as to avoid stating explicitly that admission of the applicant had been made directly conditional upon the use of the provisional name.    

 

In any event, this political compromise ended the delay in admitting the country to the United Nations, after which, first Cyrus Vance, and then Matthew Nimitz, served as the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy for the talks between Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia until the 2019 name compromise was reached.

Once a State has been admitted to the United Nations, no action by the Security Council is required in the event of a subsequent name change.  This is seen, for example, in the 2018 change from the name Swaziland to Eswatini.

 

After the admission of country to the United Nations, it was listed in the UN Protocol Blue Book under the letter “T”, as “The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”.  This meant that in the General Assembly, the country since 1993 has been seated between Thailand and initially Togo, and later Timor-Leste.[3] 

 

At the United Nations, Republic of normally is not included as part of a Member State’s name for purposes of alphabetical order.[4]  That being the case, under the name of “North Macedonia”, the country will have as its new Assembly neighbours Nigeria on one side, and Norway on the other.

(This update supplements pages 421-422 of the book.)

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*  Pursuant to Art. 20, para. 6 of the Final Agreement, the UN Secretary-General was informed of its entry into force.  In transmitting the Agreement to the General Assembly and Security Council Presidents, the Secretary-General cited its para. 5 which states, "[t]the difference and the remaining issues referred to in Security Council resolutions 817 (1993) and 845 (1993) shall be considered as having been resolved upon entry into force of this Agreement" (S/2019/139).

[1] On 31 March 1995, by its resolution 983 (1995), the Council renamed the UN presence in the country the United Nations Preventive Deployment Force (UNPREDEP).  UNPREDEP was withdrawn in 1999, after China vetoed an extension of its mandate.

[2] See, for example, Janev, Igor. “Legal Aspects of the Use of a Provisional Name for Macedonia in the United Nations System.” The American Journal of International Law, vol. 93, no. 1, 1999, pp. 155–160. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/2997959.

[3] Timor-Leste was admitted to UN membership in 2002.

[4] Two exceptions are "Republic of Korea", so referred to in order to distinguish it from the "Democratic People's Republic of Korea", and "Republic of Moldova".  The longer appellation, "United Republic of Tanzania", is also in use.