Support for Nato membership falls sharply in Southeast Europe

Support for Nato membership falls sharply in Southeast Europe
The ceremony marking Montenegro's entry to Nato in 2017; since then support for membership in the alliance has declined. / Nato
By bne IntelliNews March 17, 2024

The share of citizens who support Nato membership has declined sharply in several Southeast European members of the Alliance, with less than half of Montenegrins saying they would vote to remain given the option to leave. 

Altogether, 66% of citizens of Nato member states would vote to remain in the alliance, up from 61% in 2022, according to the latest annual survey of Nato members.

However, the support in several SEE member states is declining, and is now well below that level. 

It is the lowest in Montenegro — one of the newer members of the Alliance, having joined in 2017 — at just 46%, down versus 56% in 2022. 

Support for Nato membership is also below average in Slovenia (52% versus 56%) and Bulgaria (56% versus 57%) and North Macedonia, where 63% would vote for staying in Nato compared to 57% a year earlier. 

On the other hand, support for membership in the Alliance among Croatians was 72% in 2023 versus 67% in 2022. In Romania, 82% would vote to stay in Nato versus 76% in 2022. 

Albanians were most committed to Nato membership; in Albania 100% of respondents want to stay in the alliance (up from 92% in 2022).

The majority of SEE countries believe that the transatlantic alliance is important for dealing with security challenges. The average for all Nato member states is 82%. Among SEE countries, Albania leads the global ranking with 93% supporting that statement (versus 86% in 2022). In Romania, 87% of people agree, slightly down from 88% in 2022.

Croatia follows with 84% in 2023 versus 81% in 2022. In North Macedonia, 77% of people believe membership in Nato is important for their security (versus 82% in 2022). Slovenia follows with 72% (down from 71% in 2022), while in Bulgaria 70% of people see in Nato membership a guarantee for their security (up from 67% in 2022). The lowest share of people believing Nato membership will help them deal with security issues is in Montenegro – 41% in 2023 versus 49% in 2022.

Defence spending 

The Southeast European members of Nato also have mixed opinions on whether their countries should spend more on defence, the alliance’s annual survey showed. Countries from the region are among the poorest members of Nato, which started out as a defence alliance of the US and West European states during the Cold War. 

The overall percentage of citizens of all Nato member states supporting higher spending on defence was 77% in 2023, up from 74% a year earlier.

In 2023, Bulgarians remained the most enthusiastic in Southeast Europe about raising spending, with 58% of respondents believing the country should spend more (versus 52% in 2022). It was followed by Albania (fourth in the overall ranking) with 50% versus just 9% in 2022.

Romania came next among SEE countries with 44% (40% a year earlier), followed by Montenegro with 39% (up from 12% in 2022), North Macedonia (34% versus 31% in 2022), Croatia (30% in 2023 versus 28% in 2022) and Slovenia (24% in 2023 versus 22% in 2022).

Mutual defence 

While vast majority of people agree that their country should be defended by other Nato members if attacked (73% globally), the share of those who believe their country should defend another Nato member is much lower (61% globally).

In SEE, 98% of Albanians believe they should be defended by Nato (versus 99% in 2022), followed by Romanians (80% in 2023 versus 82% in 2022), Croatians (70% in 2023 versus 76% in 2022), North Macedonia (69% versus 66% a year earlier), Bulgaria (68% in 2023, unchanged y/y), Slovenia (65% in 2023 versus 71% in 2022) and Montenegro (58% versus 54% a year earlier).

By contrast, SEE member states are significantly less likely to want to defend another Nato member. Albania leads again with 94% versus 96% in 2022, followed by Romania (63% versus 74%), Croatia (49% versus 63%), North Macedonia (48% versus 54%), Slovenia (48% versus 59%), Bulgaria (42% versus 51%) and Montenegro (33% versus 52%).

The share of people from all Nato member states who believe this membership would make attack from another country less likely remained unchanged in 2023, at 61%. In SEE, Albania leads again, with 89%, down from 92% in 2022, followed by Romania (75% versus 76%), Croatia (68% versus 67%), North Macedonia (64% versus 57%), Bulgaria (59% versus 57%), Slovenia (46% versus 56%) and Montenegro (46% versus 55%).