Albania’s Engagement in NATO


It is a real honor and a big pleasure to address this distinguished and international audience, gathered here today, in such a prestigious venue, on the occasion of the 58th General Assembly of the Atlantic Treaty Association. Therefore, I would like to express my warm gratitude to the organizers and Prof. Fabrizio W. Luciolli for inviting me to take part in the Opening Ceremony, starting with the presidencies of the Italian Atlantic Committee and the Atlantic Treaty Association, as well as the NATO Defense College.

As you already know, the previous ATA General Assembly took place in Tirana, and I would like to sincerely congratulate the Italian Atlantic Committee for playing a unique role in fostering the relations between Italy and Albania, in the best spirit of friendship and partnership, on both sides.

In my remarks, I would like to touch upon three issues:

I.      The Albanian integration to NATO.

II.     The role of regional cooperation, especially Western Balkans, in matters of security and stability.

III.     The new challenges to European Security, with the new developments around the bordering Mediterranean countries.

I. Albania’s status as a NATO member and a possible candidate to the European Union entails greater duties and responsibilities, which are the primary focus of policy and decision making agenda of my country.

Speaking  here as Minister of Defense, it is pleasure for me to announce that the Albanian Armed Forces and the Ministry of Defense, have played and continue to play a very substantial role with respect to Albania’s Euro-Atlantic integration.

During these first three years of membership in NATO, we have come a long way and have achieved significant progress and exceptionally good scores amidst other NATO member countries.

The periodical Integration Conferences with the Allied Command of Transformation, which the Ministry of Defense and AAF conduct twice a year since the accession, have witnessed the steady progress made by AAF in all fields:

  • training of our military personnel,
  • missions outside and inside the country,
  • modernization of the future armed forces,
  • human resources management,
  • mid and long-term planning.

This progress achieved means that Albania will successfully conclude its Integration process within the deadlines of year 2014; in fact, the Albanian General Staff has asked the ACT  to conclude the process as early as the fall of 2013, since they are confident that all the required agenda has been most of all fulfilled.

As soon as the process of Integration comes to an end, it will leave its place to the rather lengthy and continuous process of Transformation, which is the goal and scope of every single member or partner of NATO, in building the NATO 2020 Force.

We are preparing for this phase, by focusing our efforts, in parallel, to:

  • Implementation of the recommendations of our first Strategic Defense Review, successfully completed through an inter-institutional approach to defense and security.
  • Planning, in accordance with NATO Defense Planning Principles, for our National Capability Target in light of NATO Forces of 2020.
  • Preparation, training, certification of units such as Special Forces, Rapid Reaction Forces, OMLT-s, etc are not foreign to us any longer; rather these units are turning into our national NICHE capabilities.

I am proud to have led these efforts in a two-folded perspective: one looking back-wards, with the aim of clearing the legacy of an unfortunate paranoiac past, the other looking forward, with the aim of building a contemporary efficient and inter-operable AAF.

Our process of integration into NATO has made us fully aware that security and defense is not only an internal issue, but rather a common issue between countries and nations sharing borders and principles.

This means that NATO’s “open door ” policy with the perspective for a full integration of the Western Balkans into the Euro-Atlantic Institutions, is for Albania a widely shared policy.

II. The principle of the “open door policy” is of common interest in stability and security among our border countries, in the Western Balkans has given practical results. I would like to remind you that not long ago these countries were engaged in deep conflicts. Ethnicity, origins, religions, were the basis for hardliners in politics which drove towards war and conflict (K-FOR is still present in Kosova).

During these years, it has not been easy to work through the strong differences of opinion, nationalities, ethnicities, and religions, but our countries have managed to put the interest achieving stability and security, through the Euro-Atlantic Integration, at a higher stand, putting behind memories of recent past.

One of the instruments has helped building up the confidence and mutual cooperation has been the Adriatic Charter, in which for the first time Albania, Croatia and Macedonia were brought together into a common forum, with the aim of meeting the requests of the Partnership for Peace. The Adriatic Charter brings now together Bosnia Herzegovina, Montenegro and Kosova in this same forum towards their accession in NATO.

Today, our countries are even able to put forward common projects for the region:  common development of civil emergencies capacities, maritime surveillance and sea-borders control, BRAAD is another project, joint exercises and training, centers of excellences, which will serve as concrete examples of cooperation, and in this point the collaboration and involvement of Italy, in my view, is essential.

I believe that the efficacy of “common security” principle and of “open door policy”,  may be one of the reasons why the risk analysis performed for the sake of the Albanian Strategic Defense Review, has shown that the region is less likely to engage into any conventional conflict in the mid-term future. Our border are secure, our people move freely across them, our goods as well.

And, there are still countries in our region that might see it appropriate to work in the same way.

III. It is clear that with the end of the conflict in the Balkans, European security, our common security, can still face other types of challenges, coming from countries that may seem geographically distant,  with which we don’t  share with immediate borders, but share waters as well as history and culture.

Only if we cast a look at the world map of conflicts in 2012, we can see that countries like Libya, Egypt, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and Jordan, (in Iraq as well conflicts are far from over), have engaged in different kinds of conflicts, regime changes and civil wars.

These countries, inspired about two years ago by what we called the Arab Spring, have been trying to transform their leadership or their political systems, their human and civil rights, or their social position, but the case of Egypt with the Muslim Brotherhood, makes us question whether the overruling of an autocratic regime will automatically bring a functional type functional type of democracy.

We notice that the vacuum of power in some cases and the political instability in others, have helped the revival of old cross-border alliances with the aim of maintaining alive separatism and extremism, as a way of supporting national autocratic regimes, Syria and Lebanon for example, or supporting influential regional actors, players, or powers, like the case of Iran against Iraq.

The revival of ethnic, religious and extremist rivalry witnesses destabilization yet from another angle: from within these countries themselves.

All these conflicts may seem far away from us, but in fact our common sharing of the Mediterranean Sea, makes the fates of our countries interlinked, especially when extremism is played as a pressure tool.

This is then a serious threat to Europe’s stability and security, because terrorism doesn’t recognize borders. The extremists are financed heavily and they have the means of moving across borders, and transport conflicts as well.

That is why the intervention of France and Britain in Libya, and lately of France alone in Mali, are understandable and also strategic moves. These cases of military intervention have proved that Europe can and sometimes maybe should engage in peacekeeping operations, especially in the regions of vital interest to the stability of Europe itself.

UN and NATO have given full support to these operations, which makes the partnership of Europe with NATO more substantial, in the framework of collective security. This is important because stability in the Mediterranean countries doesn’t concern only south of Europe, but NATO itself, and vice versa.

Mediterranean Dialogue is also an initiative important for Europe and NATO. Europe has already achieved significantly important credits with respect to the efficacy of using soft-power, as a means for conflict-solving. It has used its human capital and its financial assistance in areas such as good governance, inter-communication, education, reconstruction and stabilization, development of small and medium enterprises etc.

These measures can be as efficient as peace-keeping operations in countering the spread of violent extremism and its sponsoring, illegal trafficking of human beings and of goods, which are challenges that sooner or later the Mediterranean countries together with Europe might face in the light of common security.

I believe that the Atlantic Council will give its worthy contribution in exploring the ways, be it hard or soft power, that Europe can become an actor in assuring common security in its region, thus opening new ways of future cooperation between EU and NATO in terms of cooperative security.

Address at the Opening Ceremony of the ATA 58th General Assembly, 5th February 2013