15 April 2019 Presidenti Meta, i “Ftuar Nderi” në Kolegjin e Mbrojtjes së NATO-s
“Albania’s key role towards peace, stability, and security in the region and its contribution in the integration of Western Balkan countries to NATO”.
I would like to thank you for the invitation and the opportunity to visit the NATO Defense College in Rome and at the same time to enjoy the privilege to address at this well-known institution for strategic and professional thought on important security issues and transatlantic relations.
Please allow me to express my deepest gratitude about the cooperation and contribution that your College has given to my country through the qualification of Albanian experts and by providing its precious expertise on the defense reform and our accession process to NATO.
In the capacities of the President of the Republic and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Albania, but especially as a witness and protagonist of my country’s nearly 30-year-old Euro-Atlantic journey, I would like to share with you some views and stands about this important process.
After the great political upheavals and transformations that took place during the 1990s, Albania inherited a completely militarized state based on the concept of ‘the entire people ready to serve as soldiers’ who would fight against the two superpowers of that time, by consuming every year up to 20% of our country’s citizens’ GDP.
The new era of political pluralism, the first steps taken towards the rule of law and respect for fundamental human rights, a free market economy, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, were accompanied by a strong political willingness to join the Western collective security and the European values as well.
Albania, in 1994 was among the first four countries belonging to the former Eastern Camp that signed the PFP initiative with NATO and during the 1999 Washington Summit, it was involved and included in the MAP program by being accepted as an aspiring country.
We celebrated in Tirana, just a few days ago, the 10th anniversary of our NATO membership marking one of the most important dates in Albania’s and Albanians’ modern history and an historic event not only for our country, but also for the Western Balkans region.
This process would not have been successful without the sincere support and assistance provided by our friends and partners: NATO member countries.
Albania, during its NATO accession process, has undergone profound transformations, faced and overcame difficult challenges, and has marked tremendous achievements.
Domestic political transformations, constitutional and legal, economic system reforms, but especially the deep reform in our foreign policy, security and defense system, constitute the most prominent achievements of my country in fulfilling the obligations required to join NATO.
Establishing the democratic civilian control over security and defense structures and transforming Albanian Armed Forces from a people’s army with Cold War concepts into a modern small and professional army is the most impressive aspect of this process.
I would like to stress that not only during this deep transformation process of Albanian society, but even at the present day, the constant support of Albanian citizens (over 90% of them), and that of the public opinion, civil society and the broad political and inclusive consensus are the elements that highlight the case of Albania’s membership in NATO, showing therefore not only the political orientation, but above and first of all, the orientation and Western affiliation of the Albanians.
Our commitment to NATO and our engagement does not serves only our national security and our country’s development, but above all, it represents a great responsibility to serve the peace, stability and security of our region, of the Mediterranean one and beyond them as well.
Albania’s geostrategic position is a challenging potential in the interest of NATO’s engagement but at the same time an envious and attractive ground for the ambitions and goals of other state and non-state actors aimed at weakening the Alliance, the division of the European Union and undermining the cooperation and mutual trust that unites us in NATO and in the European Union as well.
Therefore Albania strongly supports the “Open Doors” policy to expand the Alliance with the other countries of our region.
We are convinced that Montenegro’s accession into NATO was a just and necessary action taken to have a regional and geostrategic impact. The Alliance proved its strength, power and determination by successfully challenging serious attempts aimed at forcing this process to fail.
We are happy today for the end of the lengthy saga of the dispute between Greece and the Republic of North Macedonia and the signing of the Prespa Agreement, because I am convinced that the membership of our neighboring country in NATO and in the European Union too marks another cornerstone of security and the stability of the Western Balkans.
Albania thinks that the acceleration of Kosova’ steps and those of the remaining countries of our region towards NATO and European Union would serve not only the long-term security and stability of the Balkans, but also the economic cooperation and growth and the increase of foreign investments, mainly from the North Atlantic Alliance and of the European Union member countries.
The legacy from the not so distant and bitter past, is still alive in the region. The prejudices, particularly the ethnic ones, continue to pop up and to hinder the indispensable process of reconciliation and cooperation among the countries and peoples in the region, – a vital challenge for its security and future.
My country, which once was a consumer of security, today is a contributor to the stability and security in our region and beyond it.
Albania will take over the OSCE Chairmanship-in-Office in 2020 and is prepared for that challenge.
The increasing ambitions and the “geo-strategic expansion” of third actors, state or non-state actors in the Western Balkans and beyond it, remain a potential and challenging threat and danger for both the Western Balkans and the Alliance per se.
Therefore, we deem that the NATO’s role and continuation of its presence in Kosova and our region, is crucial for the peace and Euro-Atlantic values.
Our Euro-Atlantic agenda is faced today also with the increasing threat of the religious radicalization and terrorism, with violent extremism, with foreign fighters and the consequences of their war, with illegal migration and human and narcotics trafficking, which threaten and endanger our national interests and those of the Alliance.
Yet again, the current world order appears to face major challenges of balances of powers.
New potential conflicts, the crisis of multilateralism, new forms of international cooperation, cyber and hybrid attacks, and the emerging of new economic powers with obvious and noticeable ambitions for geopolitical expansion, are threatening the current and the future of our societies.
The rapid pace of globalization, climate changes, the fight to establish the monopoly over resources and energy corridors are issues that have sparked intense debates in the framework of transatlantic relations trying to challenge them.
Under such conditions, we need to strengthen our partnership and mutual trust within the Alliance, to enhance and increase our co-operation, to share our experiences and information, especially among the relevant specialized agencies and security structures.
Albania guarantees to fulfill its responsibilities, about its engagement, commitment and solidarity enshrined in the principle of “the collective defense and security” of each NATO member country and of the strategic interests of the Alliance.
Albania has made available its entire infrastructure to the benefit of collective defense and the Alliance’s operations and military exercises by demonstrating itself as a reliable partner and leader in all regional initiatives with a view to enhance the confidence among the countries of the region, strengthening the cooperation and sharing of its membership experience.
In its 10 years of membership, Albania remains a major contributor to the implementation of United States and NATO initiatives and projects, contributing to peacebuilding and increasing mutual trust and stability in the region.
After its accession, Albania increased its ambitions and contributions of the NATO’s obligations by receiving deservingly in 2012 its official appreciation as “one of the 5 model countries for reforms, its defense budget, fulfillment of obligations and contributions for NATO” thanks to the 500 persons at the same time contribution placed at the disposal of the Alliance.
During its 10 years of membership, Albania has carried out important defense modernization projects such as the: Naval Space Monitoring, Patrol Ships, Helicopters, Special Forces, new Uniforms, High Security Course, Strategic Studies Center, digitalization of personnel data, the exemplary project of demolition of inherited ammunition (about 300,000 5 tons of ammunition), creating the museum and image of the Armed Forces; signing of several understanding agreements regarding Special Forces, Intelligence, Paris Protocol / SOFA, exchanging the classified information, etc.
Ever since 1996, my country has contributed to international missions alongside allied countries with about 8,000 men and women in uniform, a significant figure for a country with modest opportunities and counting on a relatively small population.
Almost all of our military personnel have contributed and taken part in NATO missions, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iraq, Afghanistan, Chad, Mali and Kosova.
By actually contributing to the international operations of the Alliance and the European Union with 210 military personnel, we are ranked third when it comes to percentage of the population for contributions to international operations.
Albania is seriously engaged in the Global Coalition for the destruction of the so-called Islamic State, and developing new capabilities and technologies to tackle the terrorist threat and to manage the consequences of a terrorist attack by substantially contributing to this very important challenge.
In the framework of its commitment in the global counter-terrorism efforts my country has taken concrete steps to establish the Center of Excellence combating the phenomenon of Terrorist Foreign Fighters.
The selection of Kuçova’s as the location of NATO’s modern air base is a strategic investment to the benefit of our national security, region and projects and also of the long-term goals of the Alliance in Western Balkans and beyond it, and also the expression of the mutual trust and appreciation of Albania’s contributions to the North Atlantic Alliance.
Any commitment and project that serves the strategic goals of the Alliance and strengthening of its role in the Balkans will enjoy my support for the timely and serious implementation as a major and national obligation.
I will urge and encourage the increase of the defense budget during the upcoming years because it is a priority and also as a commitment and engagement to the Alliance.
I am convinced that in this way, we will efficiently and proactively respond and answer to the new threats, dangers and challenges of security and improving the spirit of solidarity within the Alliance.
Ladies and gentleman,
On March 24th, 1999, NATO’s intervention in Kosova marked an extraordinary mission that not only prevented a humanitarian catastrophe and brought to an end the killing and ethnic cleansing of Albanians, but above all, established the peace and contributed to the security and stability of the region.
I reiterate my deep gratitude to the United States and to all the member countries that successfully completed that noble mission.
“We won the war, but you are the ones who need to gain the peace.” – stated former United States President Clinton during his visit to Kosova, that took place in November of 1999.
Albania, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, is determined not only to preserve this peace, but also to seriously remain committed to the common geostrategic challenges that the Alliance faces in the region and beyond it.
It is ready to take on all the responsibilities required from it, and to particularly fulfilling its irreplaceable role as a factor of stability in the region, as a tireless promoter of regional cooperation and integration, as a firm supporter of the NATO’s “Open Doors Policy” and as an Alliance’ strategic partner by following and implementing a coherent and credible foreign policy.
While expressing my warm congratulations on the occasion of the Alliance’s 70th anniversary and thanking you for your attention, I would like to extend to you the invitation to visit my country which, as you may know, enjoys a special cultural heritage, possesses a marvelous tourist seashore and mountainous environment, but above all, cherishes a unique hospitality that you cannot find anywhere else.
Thank you again and I am ready and open to answer to any questions you might put forth!]]>