Lazar Elenovski was Macedonia's Minister of Defence in Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski's first cabinet and held office until summer 2008. Like many ministers and cabinet members in Gruevski's outgoing government he is in his thirties. Elenovski was born into an ethnically mixed family: his father is an ethnic-Macedonian while his mother is Albanian.
Elenovski has devoted much of his political career to the process of Macedonia's integration in NATO and the EU. He was Secretary General of the Euro-Atlantic Club of Macedonia from March 2001 to December 2005. In this capacity he organised a number of campaigns promoting Macedonia's NATO and EU integration process. He was responsible for preparing the government’s Communication Strategy for NATO membership. After the July 2006 elections, Nikola Gruevski formed a new government, in which Elenovski was appointed Minister of Defence. One of his declared aims is NATO accession:
"NATO accession is very important for Macedonia. Like for Eastern Europe: the first step, the first station on the same road was NATO, the second station was the EU. We are explaining that NATO means security, but security means development."
The Macedonian army has undergone dramatic changes over the last seven years. One of the provisions of the Ohrid Agreement was that ethnic minorities would be better represented in the state administration, police force, and military. Elenovski describes how implementation of the agreement has transformed the army:
"In 2002 non-ethnic Macedonians only made up five percent of the armed forces. Today they represent 30 percent of the total, which is close to the optimal level of 34 percent – the minorities' share of the population. This is huge progress. Today, we speak of the Macedonian army as a modern and professional force."
In a bid to demonstrate its readiness for NATO membership the Macedonian army deploys soldiers in a number of foreign missions. Roughly 200 soldiers are currently deployed in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iraq, Lebanon, and Afghanistan. 11 Macedonian soldiers were killed in January 2008 when a helicopter returning from an EU mission in Bosnia crashed near Kumanovo. Elenovski argues that Macedonia has showed it is ready to join NATO:
"We are very proud of our soldiers, because regardless of their ethnic community they are fighting shoulder to shoulder in Iraq and Afghanistan, they are demonstrating that we are a multi ethnic army…I see Macedonia as an EU member country. We expect to fulfil all the standards necessary for getting a date for EU membership negotiations by this year. I see Macedonia as part of one integrated region in the Euro Atlantic structures… The whole process cannot be finalized until the whole Balkan region is integrated into the Euro Atlantic structures."
The country's bid for NATO membership was dealt a setback at the NATO summit in April 2008, however, when Greece vetoed an invitation for membership on account of a long-running dispute over the country's name.