Live Webcast--Strengthening Albania's Security Sector: Defense Reforms, Regional Stability, and Euro-Atlantic Integration
Minister Fatmir Mediu Remarks
Wilson Centre, March 2006
When I started my involvement in Albanian politics, in the very beginning of the 90's, I read a comment from a political analyst who, among other things, was convinced that, I quote: "In the Balkans it is more difficult to construct than to demolish".
The first feeling I experienced was a mixture of sadness, anger and disappointment. That phrase was quite self-explanatory of how, the region I come from was seen in the eyes of the rest of the world, while so rich in human and natural potential and able to produce a lot more than "demolition".
But allow me to remind that what has happened in the Balkans is not something extra-terrestrial. The human race, universally, has shown itself capable of anything and everything.
During the 20th Century the human race waged three great interstate wars. The third of those, the virtual conflict that was the Cold War, could have well terminated in a bloodbath unprecedented in all historical experience. If Man's inhumanity to Man is not sufficiently indicated by the argument thus far, one need only cite the repeated exercises in genocide, quasi-genocide, or in crimes on a massive scale against helpless civilian population. Consider the Holocaust committed by Nazi Germany that surely would be remembered for beastliness for ages; the Communist gulags in Eastern Europe and Asia; the Balkan and Central African atrocities of the 90's and the Sudanese mass murders of the 2000s.
Is the past haunting our future?
Fifteen years after the collapse of the last communist regime in the region, the Balkans is a relatively stable area, with no imminent or expected danger of war. However, it still has to deal with many problems haunting the presence and adding to the other many issues of a more modern origin and nature.
While the stability of the region is still weak, various issues are still pending solutions and final settlement. Governments have undertaken quite radical reforms. In so doing they are hindered by the legacy of the past: immense structural challenges, constitutional problems, political uncertainty, economic growth difficulties, high rate of unemployment, organized crime and corruption, etc.
The South-Eastern European governments are indeed faced with a great challenge - to build multi-ethnic, inclusive, democratic and stable societies, eligible to join European structures, after more than a decade of ethnic hatred and in some parts wars, as well as economic and political isolation.
These governments often find it difficult to cope with this complexity of hard issues, while trying not to fail the expectations of their population and give them an economic and political perspective. The real issue is that governments are coping with disappointment, institutional weakness and distrust and patience wear-out; and not only in countries with an undefined status.
The picture of the region has changed a lot in the past decade or so. Yet everybody knows that new changes have still to come, and they neither are easy ones nor worry-free.
The future of Kosovo is to be decided.
Macedonia received the EU candidacy, still there are some pending issues from implementing the Ohrid Agreement.
The future of the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro is unclear.
Albania is about to sign next month the Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the European Union. It is still on its way to indoors strong democratic institutions, tackling problems such as organized crime and corruption and winning the trust of citizens on the government institutions.
Bosnia and Herzegovina is struggling to change its status of de facto international protectorate.
The actual situation in some of the Balkan countries gives the perception of certain "Hot SPOTS" on the map of the region, which needs to be scanned as soon as possible, in order to avoid any negative impact that can influence the perspective of the region.
Bosnia and Herzegovina is a sad example of a modern half-protectorate; its weakness is demonstrated by the influential presence of the international actors in the country. The ongoing discussion on the constitution is unclear.
The Union of Serbia and Montenegro has yet to make its choice: to function federatively or separately. The May's referendum in Montenegro may lead to some new situations.
Macedonia has made good progress. The majority of ethnic Albanians and ethnic Macedonians have now made their peace with the Ohrid Agreement and are working on its implementation. Receiving the EU candidacy helps people to see forward. Yet, stability relies heavily on the preservation of the current ethnic and political consensus.
Kosovo is 'the hot issue' on the current international and regional agendas. Peace is fragile; yet one can not and should not expect the accumulated pain and anger of years and decades to disappear in an instant. Serbs fear that the new Kosovar leadership – where the presence of ex-KLA leaders is growing - would not be particularly fond of Rugova's peaceful ways. On the other hand the Kosovors are growing impatient of waiting and of pending issues.
It is obvious that progress has been made in Kosovo. Despite the progress made with regard to resolving conflicts, a right and final status of Kosovo is a necessary prerequisite for lasting peace and stability in the region.
I believe that the final status must assure full respect for the rights and freedom of Serbs and other minorities in Kosovo, considering the return of the displaced persons and a proper decentralization of local government. All this must be defined in clear Rule of Law and procedures monitored by the International Community.
In my opinion, independence, as is the expressed will of the people of Kosova, based on such strict rules and procedures, is the solution.
On the other hand, Belgrade leaders are considering Kosovo's status talks more related with their political future than with the future of Serbia or with regional stability. Increasing the expectations of the local population for a hypothetical return of Kosovo into Serbia, is going to become counter-productive for the political future of the current leaders in Belgrade.
The international community has been active, but response in more than one occasion has been belated. Hesitation, postponement and shunning away from problems, does not actually solve them. It simply transports them and bears the risk of generating new ones.
The International Community has held that maintaining stability in the Balkans is of paramount importance. The Euro-Atlantic Community and perspective has been the only glue and crucial factor for peace and prosperity in my region. However, thinking to prolong the current status quo by postponing crucial solutions is helpless for lasting peace and stability in the region.
As it has been, if the status quo were to prevail or be prolonged, a new European ghetto would arise in the heart of an ever more integrating continent. This ghetto would comprise most of the Balkan peoples, queued behind a wall of visa restrictions that blocks them from seeking work elsewhere, or even getting a tourist glimpse of Western life.
There is the risk that, instead of catching up with the rest of the continent, the Balkan countries would fall further behind, generating deep sentiments of disappointment and negative reactions among their populations. The other risk is that of creating development gaps between various countries in the region.
In addition and as a result, the prospects of never-ending conflicts, constant flows of immigrants, economic ordeals, flourishing of Balkan-based criminal networks are certainly no good news for anyone.
If the regional governments fail to successfully implement the reforms, if the international community does not give encouraging signs to the population, the Balkans may run the risk of political instability, which is not good for the region and beyond.
The region is closer to success that otherwise. We are confident that the burden of building our common future rests on us, regional actors. Yet we believe that the international community, the European Union and NATO, in particular, have a historical responsibility to face and a decisive role to play in winning, together with the people of the Balkans, the future for the region.
Therefore, it is essential for all actors to hold fast to 'the integration key" and present it as it is - the only viable way to secure the integrated future and leave the divided past behind.
The truth is that 'common destination' and 'the interdependence of states' in our region is vital for our future.
Fortunately enough, in today's globalized world, the leaders of the Balkans have realized that integration is the only way to ensuring lasting peace and stability, economic prosperity, as well as state and regional fulfilment. Considerable efforts and various actions and initiatives have actually brought about a positive change of climate.
In all meetings with distinguished personalities of the region, I have been happy to witness that all share the same vision for the region, that of common values and destination.
All countries and governments of the region have undertaken positive steps in defining common security risks and bringing about collective security and stability, developing common ways and means to cooperate and fight common evils.
The Albanian Government is fully determined to continue the fight against organized crime and corruption. It however deems that these phenomena are rooted and widespread even beyond our immediate region. They indeed have a trans-national character. Only through joint efforts we can successfully prevail upon them. This is not just a regional problem and can not be tackled from governments alone; it certainly needs clear commitment and work from the governments in the region and beyond. It also needs a clear plan of action and coordination within the region, combined with strong involvement of the Euro-Atlantic Community.
Yet, while we try hard to cooperate and co-act, those who deal with illegal trafficking, organized crime and corruption have already perfected their networks. Therefore, it is our common responsibility to join efforts and fight these common evils, which are also our worst integration enemies.
Also, since our region represents small markets, our economic sustainability depends also on building of regional approaches for development in addition to indispensable merited and recognizable individual progress.
What needs to be done?
Strengthening regional cooperation and giving an active support from EU and US to the Euro-Atlantic integration of the Balkan countries will surely have a very positive impact on the governments and the populations as well.
Economic underdevelopment, high levels of poverty and unemployment could become a risk and resource of instability. A basic condition to overcome low economic performance would be to include the region in the major infrastructure projects of EU.
Albania's position and role
Both NATO and EU share a common vision for the future of our region: a stable, democratic, efficiently governed Balkan, integrated in the Euro-Atlantic structures. The United Europe, both as a vision and a reality, represents values and interests shared by Albania.
Albanians have lacked democracy for 50 years. It suffered most seriously from isolation, and therefore was in search of a different future for itself. Because of that, Albania was thus the first ex-communist country of the eastern block to apply for adherence in Euro-Atlantic structures.
Albania views its national security closely linked with the regional, European and international security. It is firm in its commitment to meet adequate standards for membership in Euro-Atlantic structures.
Albania is engaged in the Association & Stabilization process with the EU, is going to sign it in April or May, and has a clear objective of EU and NATO integration. It is part of the EU Security and Defence Policy from the Summit of Thessalonica.
In order to implement the EU Thessalonica Summit agenda for the Western Balkans in 2003, Albania has worked from January 2004 on aligning its foreign and international policy with the EU Common Foreign and Security Policy.
What is of paramount importance is that NATO and EU integration enjoys the full support and consensus of all political parties, the Government and the general public opinion in Albania.
NATO has played the role of a fast integration track for the Central and East European countries. It should do the same for the Balkans as well.
This is why the "Adriatic 3" countries, Albania Croatia and Macedonia that have signed the Adriatic Charter with the USA, have stressed that it is important that NATO sends out positive messages for the future membership of these 3 countries and eventually the whole of the region.
The progress of Albania
We are conscious that integration does not depend on good will and wishes only. It requires reforms in the field of politics, economy, legislation, military, strengthening of institutions, and playing a constructive role in the region, based on principles of partnership and trust.
We have come a long way from where we started. Progress has been recorded. More tasks and responsibilities await us on our way towards Euro-Atlantic integration.
An essential contribution of Albania to secure lasting peace and stability is certainly the strengthening of democratic institutions and the rule of law. The recent parliamentary elections were held normally, followed by a peaceful transfer of power, which is seen as a clear sign of political maturity and growth. However, there are still shortcomings in holding completely undisputable fair elections. To this end, the government and other political parties are seriously dealing with improvement of electoral reform and trying to reach a consensus.
Fighting crime and corruption is the Albanian Government's top priority. The results of the recent elections were a clear sign that the Albanians were fed up with the arrogant corruptive-ness of the previous government. The new government won on an anti-corruption platform and sees fighting against corruption and organized crime as its main responsibility in not failing the expectations of its voters. A number of actions have been undertaken to manifest its commitment in this continuous fight and building a new image of governing.
More money is being put on education and health, civil administration is undergoing downsizing, government expenditures are being limited, the parliament passed the law on conflict of interests, while transparency is constantly highlighted.
The Albanian Armed Forces have made substantial progress in the past years and we are working hard to receive the invitation for NATO membership in 2008.
I can openly state that from a consumer of security, Albania has become a producer of security not only for the region, but way beyond it. We have our most qualified troops contributing to Peace Support Operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Bosnia & Herzegovina.
We are aware that our efforts or those of any other country in the region would be pointless, without a successful regional cooperation, and a common Euro-Atlantic vision of partnership, peace and security. I am sure that moving forward in this way we would speed up our integration process.
A policy of constructive cooperation
We consider it very important to play a responsible role in promoting and establishing peace and security in the immediate region, even more so for the fact that the Albanian element is present in almost every country in the region.
In this important moment for the future of Kosovo and the region, we are working to positively impact on Kosovo leadership by clearly underlining that the final status, Independence of Kosovo, and its future must be based on the respect of rule of law, full respect for Serbs and other minority rights and peaceful coexistence of all ethnic groups in a common society.
We are engaged in full range cooperation with Macedonia and affirm that full implementation of the Ohrid Agreement remains the key to peaceful lasting coexistence of all citizens of Macedonia.
Albania is committed to improve relations and cooperation with Serbia & Montenegro and Bosnia & Herzegovina. It deems that the region can not advance unless each and everyone, and the region as a whole, move towards integration. This said, however, lack of progress in one cannot keep hostage the other.
Various actors and bodies, regional or international, have played an important role in building and preserving means of understanding and mutual trust in the region, pacification of political or ethnic tensions, paving the way for the Euro-Atlantic integration of the Balkans.
The Adriatic Charter 3 Initiative has proved to be an important regional asset. It has greatly enhanced cooperation and benefited all countries in helping us come to envision a common future of Euro-Atlantic integration.
Various joint activities and Peace Supporting Operations, not only have improved the operational capabilities and interoperability level of our Armed Forces. Most importantly they have brought about an environment of cooperation, trust and understanding among MoD-s, governments and countries.
I consider military cooperation in the region as a model of very beneficial activity, because it helps people live the reality of common destination. They see that other Armies are not our enemies but our allies and friends, and this is extended to all other fields of cooperation among the countries.
The Adriatic 3 countries have made considerable progress and we have requested that the NATO 2006 Summit clearly recognizes the progress of the A3 countries; and reaffirms its commitment for enlargement.
We are convinced such an act would greatly encourage our efforts, but most importantly launch a very positive message to the populations and positively impact the overall regional stability.
The South Eastern Europe Defence Ministerial initiative, in the framework of the Stability Pact, has also greatly contributed to the enhancement of regional security and cooperation. It started as a merely regional initiative and grew to be a lot more than that.
The SEDM nations agreed to deploy SEEBRIG HQ in Afghanistan under ISAF, in February, for a six month period. Albania has chaired the SEDM-CC and PMSC Secretariat from July 1st 2005, has constantly supported the initiative, even when it meant undertaking the rather heavy step of equal cost sharing.
This mission demonstrated that the region was capable enough, to undertake important projects, no longer to the benefit of the immediate region only, but to any place in the world.
We have also made substantial progress in the demilitarization field and have become a leading country in this respect. After destroying a considerable amount of surplus ammunition, weapons, tanks, vehicles, and recently established a demilitarization plant, we have send out a peaceful message to all governments and people of the region and set up premises for a very peaceful future.
The existing regional cooperation in the Balkans is a valuable premise for developing common future projects, focusing on practical and concrete results beneficial to all parties.
Solidarity versus competition and regional ownership versus artificial solutions ensures the framework for approaching security in the Balkans. Our responsibilities in the Balkans are collective and continual. A long-term commitment is required. Such a commitment is worthwhile since security is indivisible.
Finally, coming back to where I started, I hope that it will not take long before the phrase "In the Balkans, it is more difficult to construct than to demolish" will disappear from political analyses and all together we will see that change, progress and prosperity are driving this region for good. Without any turn back!