PRESIDENT OBAMA’S INTERNATIONAL AGENDA

President Barack Obama has inherited a heavy foreign policy agenda in addition to having to confront a severe and deepening domestic economic recession. In order to register progress the new president will need to pursue clear priorities in restoring the

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NATO A Start, Not The End Of The Process

This conference marks a seminal event in the history of the Balkans, indeed in the history of Europe. In less than two months, Albania will become a member of NATO with full rights and privileges, something which was unimaginable just

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United States-Albanian Relations in Transition

There is much to celebrate about United States-Albanian relations which have generally been strong, particularly in the period since 1991, but historically these relations have of course experienced many important changes and are likely to do so again with the

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Kosovo Plus One: A Balance Sheet

By: Tim Judah In the second week of February at the regular Monday morning editorial conference of the Economist, decisions were being taken on what should be in the next issue. The Europe editor said that he planned to run

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Why Albania cannot escape the global crisis

By Arben MALAJ The Albanian economy cannot be considered immune to the global crisis. First, the crisis in other affected countries is directly transmitted to us through effects on trade, on remittances and on foreign direct investment. Second, effects on

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Inter-State Relations and the Domestic Account of (In)Security

Talking about the Balkans, Chris Patten, the former Commissioner for EU External Relations, provided probably the most philosophical description of the Balkans’ technology of change when he said, almost a decade ago that “In the Balkans, like the old English

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The Others

By Jose Ignacio Torreblanca I have just come back from Albania where I found the people wonderful, but also rather unfortunate. If you ever want to check this for yourself, all you have to do is stand in the centre

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Climate Change – a terrifying Prospect for this Country

By Frank Ledwidge There are some very disturbing developments in science these days.. Theories and ideas that, just a few years ago would have been dismissed as belonging in the world of science fiction, are now commonplace. The driver for

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What does “Europe” mean to Albania?

By Tom Hashimoto Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but someday, Albania joins the European Union (EU). For Greece, for example, it is natural to have a “European” neighbor on her land path to the rest of Europe. On the

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The elections in Macedonia seen from the demographic point of view

The presidential and the mayors’ elections held in Macedonia Sunday, 21 March, offer an interesting though partial and to some degree refutable view of the composition of the Macedonian electorate as compared to the overall Macedonian population. Referring to the

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                    [post_content] => President Barack Obama has inherited a heavy foreign policy agenda in addition to having to confront a severe and deepening domestic economic recession. In order to register progress the new president will need to pursue clear priorities in restoring the U.S. economy and the country's international stature. However, in both economic and foreign policy nobody should expect instant achievements, particularly given the seriousness of the challenges. Indeed, one of the potential pitfalls for President Obama is that so much hope and expectation has been vested in his success that disappointment may start to creep in among the public if he does not begin to deliver. And this may be replicated in the international public arena. We must be patient and not expect overnight success.

The new president has moved swiftly in appointing key officials, especially in the national security arena. This is already a positive indication of Obama's seriousness concerning the gravity of many international problems. All U.S. foreign and security policies are in the process of thorough review, especially where the U.S. has ongoing military commitments, is engaged in intensive diplomatic efforts, or where the new team feels that U.S. involvement has been insufficient during the Bush years.

It is too early to speak about an "Obama doctrine" as doctrines emerge in practice and not just in theory, in implementation and not merely in intentions. Among the top foreign policy and security challenges facing the new president the following four categories can be outlined: 

1) wars or intense conflicts (Iraq, Afghanistan, Gaza); 
2) major impending confrontations (Iran, Pakistan, North Korea); 
3) critical global security threats (jihadist terrorism, economic recession, energy insecurity, arms proliferation);
4) key international relations (the EU, China, India, Russia). 

And of course, a new regional or even global crisis could materialize without any prior warning. Because my work does not cover the whole world and all of its problems let me look in a little more detail at three foreign policy and security challenges that I do cover -- the trans-Atlantic alliance, Russia, and the Balkans. I will briefly review what can be expected from the new U.S. government in these three domains..

Trans-Atlanticism

A top priority of the Barack Obama administration, as underscored by the newly appointed U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is to rebuild Washington's alliances and America's international prestige and leadership. This must entail dispelling any resentments of what has been perceived as U.S. unilateralism during President George W. Bush's two terms and Washington's evident unwillingness to closely consult with its Allies, including the Europeans. Indeed, given the interconnectedness of many global challenges Washington will need to restore America's status and revitalize the country's most important alliances if it is to play a more effective leadership role in countering numerous security threats.  

President Obama cannot be depicted as a unilateralist or a militarist. But his emphasis on diplomacy and bridge-building even with regimes that have been considered as international pariahs must not signify weakness in the face of aggression or indicate accommodation when confronting tangible security threats. During the election campaign, Obama signaled that he was willing to engage in dialogue even with the most repressive and threatening regimes if this would help moderate their policies and preclude outright conflict.

Indeed, Tehran and Pyongyang may be given the opportunity for a fresh start to desist from their threatening nuclear programs. But openness to dialogue does not necessarily correspond with surrendering core interests or compromising basic values. I am certain that the Obama White House will seek to avoid any perception of weakness and avoidance of conflict at all costs, as this would encourage various regimes to test his resolve and America's commitments. Obama's inaugural address struck a balance between openness to diplomatic breakthroughs and a readiness to protect U.S. interests and defend democratic values.

Because of his popular appeal around the world, Obama may be more difficult to resist by European states if he seeks greater military commitments from other Alliance members in unstable places such as Afghanistan. As the first non-white U.S. president, Obama will also have the opportunity to rebuild trust in the U.S. even in countries where anti-Americanism is prevalent and deep-rooted, including the Muslim world and even parts of Europe.

Reviving the trans-Atlantic relationship will necessitate a thorough review of American and European policies toward a host of global challenges, from the Middle East to East Asia, and from energy security to destabilizing climate change that could also generate conflict in future years. 

NATO's 60th anniversary summit next April and the EU-US summit, planned for the spring of 2009 will provide ideal venues for President Obama to spell out his vision for the future of the West and to give substance to his rhetoric. In practical terms, this could mean a more institutionalized format for closer consultation between the U.S. and the EU, an agenda of common priorities for the alliance whether in Middle East mediation between Israel and Palestine, in dealing with Iran, enhancing energy security, or in handling Russia. It should also entail closer trans-Atlantic coordination and consensus on future NATO enlargement in the wider Europe as well as on NATO's roles and missions both inside and outside Europe.


Russia

In rebuilding the trans-Atlantic alliance President Obama will also need to confront Moscow's strategic ambitions to divide Europe into permanent "spheres of influence." Facing a belligerent Russia and a fractured and often confused European Union, Obama needs to combine practical engagement with the Kremlin on issues of mutual concern or common interest, such as anti-WMD proliferation and counter-terrorism, together with a strategic assertiveness that strengthens the Atlantic community and does not allow Moscow to exploit or deepen any existing divisions.

Practical engagement will certainly be one hallmark of the Obama administration in such questions as arms control treaties, specifically in replacing the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START-1), due to expire in December 2009. However, although they are necessary arms control treaties will not be sufficient to forestall and deter Russia's expansionist political ambitions throughout its neighborhood in what is depicted in Moscow as the "post-Soviet space," or more accurately Russia's new imperial space.

President Obama's election has been perceived by the Kremlin as an opportunity to undermine America's global reach and the Russian authorities are likely to purposively test the new president and his resolve. In his "state of the union" address the day after Obama's election, President Dmitri Medvedev reasserted Russia's global interests, threatened to position nuclear weapons along Poland's borders, and accused Washington of provoking conflicts in the Caucasus. In effect, Medvedev challenged Obama to make strategic compromises by withdrawing from the planned Missile Defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic and acquiescing to Moscow's goal to establish more clearly demarcated "spheres of influence" in Eastern Europe.

However, behind the Kremlin's rhetoric lurks a lingering fear that the Obama administration may be a potentially grave threat to Russia's objectives to rebuild its superpower status and diminish U.S. leadership. The new president's evident popularity could raise America's global stature, reduce anti-Americanism, increase criticisms of Kremlin authoritarianism and human rights violations, and provide impetus for a renewed Western strategy that could undercut Russia's expansive ambitions. 

Since Russia's de facto partition of Georgia last August, two broad strategic approaches toward Moscow have been germinating in the European Union: the passive and the active. The passive "spheres of influence" position accommodates Moscow's goals to delineate Western and Russian zones of predominant influence within Europe, while the active "Wider Europe" approach seeks an expanded Euro-Atlantic community to incorporate all East European states other than Russia. Moscow is anxious that President Obama may embrace the activist position.

Russia remains a serious threat to its weaker neighbors, irrespective of its own structural and fiscal weaknesses and its over-dependence on hydrocarbon revenues. Moscow continues to engage in a policy of subversion and destabilization across the former Soviet empire especially through its control of vital energy resources and supply routes. The recent dispute with Ukraine over energy prices and the cut-off in Russia's gas supplies to Ukraine and through Ukraine to the EU, contributes to weakening and even fracturing the Ukrainian state and limits Kyiv's advances toward Western institutions.

Russia's internal problems during the deepening global recession could actually magnify its external threat. Moscow traditionally manipulates the sense of besiegement to mobilize the populace and applies pressures on neighbors to deflect attention from domestic unrest. The financial crisis is precipitating even tighter state control over the economy and further concentrating power in the Kremlin which may engineer crises in neighboring states to raise Russia's stature. In other words, Russia's internal problems could make it even more externally aggressive.

President Obama will therefore face two inter-connected trans-Atlantic challenges: rebuilding the Atlantic alliance and dealing with a neo-imperialist Russia that is active in the European space. Above all, Washington must reject any moves toward redividing Europe into Cold War zones or sacrificing the security of any European state. This can be accomplished by intensifying links with all of Europe's new democracies and offering NATO aspirants a clearer roadmap toward inclusion. 

If handled adroitly by a united West, Moscow's internal problems and its inability to construct a durable sphere of dominance will also provide an important boost for the reanimation of democratic and pro-Western developments along Russia's long and over-extended borders. 

Western Balkans

The Western Balkans does not figure on the list of U.S. foreign policy priorities that I have outlined and indeed the region has not been a priority throughout the Bush administration. And this in itself is not a bad thing if the region is no longer seen as a major security challenge. The problem with a region such as the Western Balkans is that it has also not qualified in recent years in Washington as a positive priority despite the fact that the work of the alliance, both NATO and the EU, in South East Europe has yet to be completed.

The Balkans will not emerge as a top five or even top ten priority for the Obama White House but at the same time there are those in the administration who understand the region and that it should not be neglected, not least because of the political and security investments made by the previous Democratic administration. Indeed, there may be a new push to complete the outstanding goals. 

For instance, as chair of the U.S. Senate's foreign relations committee, Vice President Joe Biden was at the forefront of American policy in Central-Eastern Europe throughout the Clinton years. His input and that of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (who of course is closely linked with the previous Clinton administration) will be important in ensuring that there are no more instabilities in Bosnia-Hercegovina, Kosova, Macedonia, and Serbia that could set back progress toward democratic rule and EU-NATO integration. There could also be added thrust to move all states in the region closer toward NATO and EU membership. 

The NATO summit in April, which will welcome Albania and Croatia into the Alliance, can also send positive signals to other capitals in the region. This can include a pledged membership invitation for both Montenegro and Bosnia-Hercegovina. Such moves would underscore Allied commitments to their security and integrity, strengthen centrifugal forces in both countries, weaken the partitioners, and ward off any lingering annexationist ambitions in neighboring capitals. A strong statement is also needed at the NATO summit to advance the resolution of the Greek-Macedonian name dispute in order for Skopje to receive a formal invitation to NATO. 

Alliance leaders need to issue a statement that both Serbia and Kosova belong inside the Alliance to complete the security structure of South East Europe. The absence of a NATO consensus for issuing invitations for Ukraine and Georgia can be compensated by a common Allied approach to speed up the entry of all remaining West Balkan countries so that the entire peninsula forms NATO's south eastern flank. Concurrently, the new U.S. foreign policy team can provide a fresh impetus to multiply Kosova's international recognition that would enable the young state to join key multi-national institutions and develop into a responsible regional player.

All governments in the region should focus on two priorities: first, actively engaging with the new U.S. administration and two, becoming part of the decision-making process within the Alliance and within the EU by fully meeting the criteria for membership. NATO itself will be reinvigorated with the involvement of all members, including Albania. Each government can offer constructive ideas and assistance in implementing policies for solving the problems that President Obama must now tackle.
________________________
The Author is Director at Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington.

This speech was delivered at the Security and Foreign Policy Forum  organized by Albanian Institute for International Studies  on January 26  2009

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                    [post_content] => This conference marks a seminal event in the history of the Balkans, indeed in the history of Europe.  In less than two months, Albania will become a member of NATO with full rights and privileges, something which was unimaginable just twenty years ago.  This transformation is symbolic of the progress we have made throughout Europe and throughout the world.

The Balkans have always been a microcosm of 20th century history played out on a local scale, ever since the day Bosnian-Serb Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, and since the day U.S. President Woodrow Wilson championed the new global ideal of self-determination, as he fought off great-power plans to carve up Albania among its neighbors.

With the fall of Communism, once again, the Balkans took center-stage in world history.  Two forces rushed to fill the void created by the demise of communism: the ideals of ethnic nationalism and liberal democracy, often clashing with each other.  As a result, the 90s were a troubled decade for the Balkans.  But with the birth of a new millennium came the birth of a new ideal: collective security achieved through mutual respect and cooperation.  This was symbolized best by the region's aspirations to join NATO, one of the most successful security alliances in world history.

However, it would be wrong to think of NATO as simply an alliance against military threats. NATO is about shared political and democratic values.  Allies share and defend democratic systems of government, respect for human rights, rule of law, and free market economics.  These values define NATO just as much as coordinated military structures.  And while the Balkans are too often portrayed as a region of conflict and enmity, in the past decade the Balkans have given an unprecedented example of cooperation as they have combined their efforts to advance their NATO aspirations.
   	

Albania has played a critical role in the transformation of the Balkans.  Albania's support to Allied efforts to end the humanitarian tragedy in Kosovo and to then secure the peace were crucial. Albania has contributed to several NATO-led operations,  including the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan and the NATO-led Stabilization Force in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  Albania was also a key member of the international coalition in Iraq and we applaud Albania on the successful completion of this mission.

NATO membership is the start of the process, not the end. Albania will have responsibilities as a democratic country, as a country with a market economy, and a contributor to common security. The path to unalterable, independent, democratic institutions takes time.  When NATO invited Albania to join the alliance last year, its expectation was that membership will not mark the end of democratic, legal and military form, but the beginning.  When the U.S. Senate ratified Albania's NATO Protocols, it was stating that Albania was on the right path.  We have confidence that Albania will stay on that path.   Without democracy, none of our mutual goals, neither the ones that we have outlined today, nor the broader goals of a free market, or regional stability, or human rights, would be possible.

As we have from the beginning, we will continue to help Albania to make the necessary reforms in order to build stronger and more democratic independent institutions.  We are grateful for Albania's responsible and constructive support of the Kosovo status process. The U.S. and European countries have partnered in a number of global challenges, including security cooperation, climate change, on Iran, on democracy promotion initiatives, the Middle East peace process, energy security, and Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the Balkans, of course, where we work very closely together.

Our policy in the Balkans will continue to be what it has been up to now: support for peace, democracy, rule of law, economic development, and Euro-Atlantic integration for the entire region.

                    [post_title] =>  NATO A Start, Not The End Of The Process 
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                    [post_content] => There is much to celebrate about United States-Albanian relations which have generally been strong, particularly in the period since 1991, but historically these relations have of course experienced many important changes and are likely to do so again with the inauguration of President Barach Obama.  It is the purpose of this short paper to explore the connection between the two states and then briefly examine three principal periods of bilateral relations; 1) the period from Albanian independence through the Hoxha years 2)  the post communist period since1991 3)  concluding with some thoughts on the future of Albanian American relations during the Obama presidency.
The relationship between the United States and Albania has been quite solid for a number of reasons, not the least of which is American stability concerns in the Balkans and Europe as a whole. Most American administrations, at least in recent years, have appreciated the strategic position which Albania occupies on the peninsula as well as the general significance of what has been described as the "Albanian question" for the stability of the Balkans and the region. America's stated policy goals of the promotion of democracy, some form of a market economy, and regional cooperation and integration, all of which are intended to promote regional stability, has dictated a certain focus on Albania.
Albania and Albanians have, in general, welcomed and striven to facilitate that focus, partly as a result of the clear physical and emotional attachment that many Albanians have to the United States (by 1945, for example, twenty-five percent of Albanians had either been to the US or had friends and relatives who had been there) and in part in recognition of the perceived power and resources that the United States is in a position to employ. Certainly one of the key actors here has been the Albanian-American community in the United States.  While the community was relatively small at the beginning of the 20th century, counting somewhere between thirty and forty thousand by 19181, it was led by a group of dynamic individuals who founded organizations which became more influential than the size of the community would dictate. The Albanian-American community grew substantially after the Second World War into one of the largest and possibly the best educated in the Albanian diaspora. It became highly concentrated in specific areas of the United States and generally prosperous2 which allowed it to wield considerable influence on issues relating to Albanian security and development, particularly in the post-communist period.
The Albanian-American community played a particularly important role during the first period delineated here, the independence-Zog period to 1939. The first two decades of the 20th century saw the creation of three of the more important US-based institutions of the Albanian Renaissance, the Albanian Orthodox Church in America (1908); Dielli (1909), the oldest continuously published Albanian-language newspaper in the world; and the Pan-Albanian Federation "Vatra" (1912).  The driving forces behind these organizations were the well-known Albania-Americans Fan Noli and Faik Konitza, both graduates of Harvard University. Among other achievements, they wrote and spoke prolifically, raised funds, and were able to attract the assistance of influential Americans, all in support of Albanian causes.3 The most important cause during this period, of course, was the recognition of Albanian independence and the maintenance of its territorial integrity. While more than half of all Albanians remained outside of the Albanian state confirmed in the post First World War period, it is certainly possible that without the persistent lobbying efforts of the Albanian-American community and its leaders, Albania would not have regained its independence or at the very least, would have emerged as an even smaller state. The refusal of American President Woodrow Wilson to support all of the provisions of an Anglo-French proposal that would have ceded more Albanian territory to Serbia and Greece, and granted Italy control over Vlore and the surrounding area as well as a mandate over the truncated Albanian state, removed the issue from the conference.4 The Albanian state was ultimately restored in November 1921 and recognized by the United States in July 1922. As a reward for their many contributions to this outcome, the Albanian-American community was allotted one seat in the new Albanian parliament and elected Fan Noli as their representative. Noli eventually rose to become prime minister in 1924 but ultimately proved to be more successful as an advocate and churchman than as a politician, and quickly lost the support of the United States and much of the Albanian-American community by failing to carry out promised reform, failing to hold elections to legitimize his regime, and by moving to extend recognition to the Soviet Union.
The return of Ahmet Zogu to power in late 1924 marked an end of a period of acute interest and participation in Albanian affairs on the part of the Albanian-American community and the United States in general. The community reduced its activity for a number of reasons, including internal rifts eventually exacerbated by the onset of the depression. The American government became less actively involved in part because of an increasing isolationist foreign policy, but also as a result of a number of other factors. The Albanian-American community became less effective as an advocate, and the first economic reports produced by American representatives in Albania were not encouraging. That the US was not overly interested is indicated by the level of diplomatic personal assigned to Albania - some of whom were uninspired political appointees. In contrast, the British, with their vast imperial/colonial experience, had many diplomats, like Sir Robert Ryan their last minister during the Zog period, who were well prepared, well informed and as a result much more active. It is interesting to read American and British dispatches from the period, where the American messages are occasionally trivial and when reporting on issues of some significance seem to mirror British dispatches sent a few days earlier.
But the US government did recognize the regime, as well as the creation of the monarchy in 1929, and concluded the usual treaties between states including a Treaty of Arbitration and Conciliation in 1928, a Naturalization Treaty in 1932, an Extradition Treaty in 1933, and a Nationality Convention in 1937. The presence of US nongovernmental organization and religious organizations provided various forms of aid including schools which further solidified the connection. With Zog's marriage to Geraldine in 1938, the connection between the court and the American mission became even stronger. Geraldine was born to an American mother whose influence seems to have been substantial and in consequence, aspects of American culture, at least in Tirana, became more pronounced in the period after 1938. The royal sisters also staged a rather flamboyant and somewhat extravagant exploratory visit to the US in that year which may have been responsible in part for Zog, in exile, purchasing an estate on Long Island New York with the prospect of settling there. That Geraldine influenced Zog in a pro-American direction is perhaps evidenced by the fact that it was to the American minister Hugh Grant that Zog turned when if came time to break his silence with regard to Italian demands during the crisis period just prior to the Italian invasion in 1939. Zog was also willing to put his family's personal security in the hands of the Americans when during the invasion he sought the protection of the American mission for Geraldine and her newborn son Prince Leka.5 Although Grant readily agreed, Geraldine recovered sufficiently from childbirth to flee the country with her husband. Zog's flight deprived him of much of his political legitimacy and despite constant efforts he was unable to convince the Americans to extend him recognition as the official Albanian government in exile.
The Second World War and Hoxha period, saw an even more restricted level of American involvement in Albanian issues. During the war, the American Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) agreed in 1942 that Albania was to fall within the British zone of operations. The British, therefore, took the lead in supplying Albanian resistance groups and carrying out independent acts of sabotage against Axis and collaborationist targets. The American did launch a series of small intelligence-gathering operations but not until November 1943, following the German invasion. There are a great many detailed reports filed by Albanian speaking OSS agents who sent back situation reports giving good descriptions of conditions in various part of the country.6 In one way this British-US arrangement and the lack of direct involvement during the war was to the advantage of future Albanian-American relations. The British, by frequent mistakes in political warfare during the course of the war, squandered some of the goodwill that they had developed in Albania during the interwar period. The United States, on the other hand, Hoxha's shrill anti-Western siege nationalism not withstanding, remained for many Albanians a hazy ray of distant hope - and we see the development of something of a myth of America.
Following the war the Americans established an unofficial observer mission under the experienced foreign service officer Joseph E. Jacobs whose mission was to study country conditions with a view towards the eventual reestablishment of diplomatic relations between the US and Albania. In a comprehensive 300-page report submitted to Washington in July 1945, Jacobs recommended that the United States recognize Hoxha at the easiest possible moment, but only in consideration of Hoxha meeting certain democratic criteria, including a free secret-ballot general election.7 While Hoxha announced a willingness to comply with these requirements, he would not agree to a further demand that his government confirm the treaties and agreements in force between the United States and Albania prior to 7 April, 1939. The US did not expect to maintain a large role in the Balkans in the postwar period so these negotiations dragged on as official anti-Americanism grew, resulting in severe restrictions on American representatives. The final result of these circumstances was the withdrawal of the American mission in November of 1946, and the freezing of relations until 1991.
Hoxha attempted on numerous occasions - in 1947 and 1949 - to restart talks but the US was uninterested. By this point it had of course already become involved in the abortive British plot to overthrow Hoxha. British MI6 and the CIA decided to focus on Albania as their first covert operation to roll back communism with the hope that trouble for Hoxha would encourage some remaining anti-communist guerrilla groups still active in other Eastern European countries. The CIA reasoned that the Soviets would not be provoked over Albania and with MI6 set up guerrilla training centers to train anti-communist Albanians in West Germany, Malta, and Cyprus with the active participation of David Smiley, who had served with the SOE in Albania during the war. The operation was doomed for various reasons, including the fact that the MI6 representative in Washington responsible for coordinating with the CIA was the Soviet mole Kim Philby. But it is reasonable to assume that even if Philby had not relayed detailed plans to the Soviets, the operation would have failed in any case due in part to increasing Hoxhaist security and a climate of fear, which MI6 and the CIA had seriously underestimated.8 
Very little changed in terms of US-Albanian relations until the collapse of communism in Albania in the early 1990s, which constitutes the second period upon which I would like to concentrate.  Desperate to save what could be saved, the Alia regime rapidly expanded foreign contacts including conversations with the US in May 1990. These initial contacts were limited however, as the George H.W. Bush administration gauged the Albanian government's willingness to support democratic reform.  As the Alia regime was pushed ever further down the road to reform, the US and Albania formally reestablished relations in March 1991, followed by the remarkable visit by Secretary of State James Baker in June. While US material assistance at this early stage was limited to a relatively modest six million dollars, American willingness to sponsor Albania for membership in various international organizations was of much greater importance. 
The US role expanded rapidly to include actual participation in the March 1992 elections which saw the American ambassador William Ryerson appearing at Democratic Party rallies. With the election of the Democrats under Sali Berisha, US interest and involvement expanded exponentially as the collapse of Yugoslavia presented new challenges and dangers. The great fear for Albania was the so-called "spillover" effect which foresaw the possibility of Albania being dragging into the Yugoslav wars.9 The Albanian government rightly concluded that since the Council of Europe and the European Union were essentially without a military component and could be of only limited help in terms of national security and border stability, NATO and the United States by necessity would be the focus of security policy.10 Albania requested the establishment of US military bases on Albanian soil and applied, in June 1992, for membership in NATO.
While not yet ready to grant all Albanian requests, the US nevertheless responded vigorously and expanded the relationship. Not only was there a growing understanding in Washington of the significance of Albania for the region, but the US also believed that military reform was a critical step on the road to democratization and stability.11 The US therefore initiated a policy of Albanian integration into Western security structures including the North Atlantic Cooperation Council, the Partnership for Peace program which aimed at creating greater understanding between NATO and Eastern Europe, and a bilateral partnership program with US state national guards. Bilateral defense consultations were begun facilitated by an increasing schedule of reciprocal visits. And despite the fact that the George H.W. Bush administration contained high-level foreign policy advisors who could be considered partial to Yugoslavia, in December 1992 it issued the so-called "Christmas warning" making it clear that unilateral military action in support of Albanian interests was not out of the question. This warning, while not seen as an official commitment, was welcomed by the Albanian side and reiterated by the Clinton administration in 1993.
The mid to late 1990s, however, saw a lull in the expansion of the US-Albanian relationship. This was due in part to the signing of the Dayton Accords in 1995 which for the US temporarily removed the Balkans in general from its list of policy priorities. The US saw Albania decline in terms of strategic significance. Part of the problem may actually have been that President Clinton preferred a foreign policy which avoided the overt use of American power particularly where others were better situated. As a result, the Clinton administration determined to allow the Europeans to deal with the crisis of 1997 in Albania, offering encouragement but little else.
But the growing Kosovo crisis reversed the lull and essentially forced renewed American interest in the region. Following a vigorous internal debate, the United States and NATO confirmed in December 1997 that NATO interest extended beyond Bosnia and expressed concern about the deteriorating situation in Kosovo. Albania emerged as a possible staging area for operations in Kosovo and once again offered all of its military facilities. Not only did it host a series of NATO exercises but also welcomed some 7,000 US troops, most of whom were assigned to a contingent of Apache attack helicopters.12 The Albanian-American community was mobilized in support of the KLA, contributing some thirty million dollars to the cause.13 In conjunction with the March 1999 air war against Serbian targets, the US, along with NATO and the EU, launched a series of extensive humanitarian operations in Albania to cope with the massive refugee crisis created by the war. As a result of these efforts, Serbian forces quit Kosovo and the US rose significantly in the esteem of Albanians everywhere.
In general, the post Kosovo war period saw the US continue to encourage regional and European integration as well as continue to encourage Albania along the lines of military and other reforms in preparation for NATO membership. But the George W. Bush administration was somewhat slower to develop the same enthusiasm for Albanian issues demonstrated by Mr. Clinton and the elder Mr. Bush. Ultimately, however, the Bush administration, too, became more aware and involved without giving up its long-term goal of disengagement.  This renewed interest stemmed from the realization that the status quo in Kosovo was unsustainable, the need to further stabilize the region, the continuing pressure from the Albanian-American community in the United States, and Albania's consistent support of US foreign policy objectives in the region and beyond. The US, although encouraging deeper reform internally, was very appreciative of what it considered Albania's moderating influence on the situations in Macedonia and Kosovo. Albania also proved to be very supportive in America's foreign policy priorities, including its struggle against international terrorism, as well as providing logistical support for KFOR in Kosovo, dispatching troops to support efforts in Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq, and the granting of airspace, ports and land bases at the disposition of the limited coalition which America collected to support its efforts in Iraq.  In a move that put Albania at odds with much of the EU, it also was willing, in 2003, to sign a bilateral agreement with the US to guarantee the non-surrender of US nationals to the International Criminal Court, which is generally referred to as "article 98." 
The Bush administration responded with further US involvement including encouragement in the creation of the Adriatic Charter to advance Albania's candidacy for NATO membership, a 2004 supplemental agreement to the Partnership for Peace program, as well as funds from the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program which allowed Albania to become perhaps the first state in the world to complete destruction of declared chemical weapons under the Chemical Weapons Convention in 2007.  Washington also remained a stalwart advocate of Albania's NATO prospects and played a significant role in the invitation to join which Albania received in April 2008 and which seems still to be fully on track. The Bush administration, despite some internal opposition from influential foreign policy advisers, like former UN ambassador John Bolton, also of course was an enthusiastic advocate of Kosovar independence. The relationship between the US and Albania was capped by top level exchanges which saw Secretary of State Colin Powell, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and others visit Albania and then reached a symbolic high point with President Bush's historic visit to Albania in June of 2007. 
This leaves us with the third period which I would like to briefly address; the Obama presidency and the future of American Albanian relations.14 It seems clear that the relationship will continue to be positive. The American side will continue to provide assistance of various types; this includes government grants for various rule of law enhancing projects, military advisors, including those attached to the ten year reform program launched in 2002 to trim down and modernize Albanian armed forces, technical advisors in some government departments, and active diplomatic support for further Euro-Atlantic integration. Private sector contacts will likely increase. These would include business contacts, American based NGO assistance, and of course, the still important immigrant remittances.  But the dollar amount of at least the latter will likely decrease because of the current economic problems impacting the US and now the rest of the world, which likely will not fully abate until 2010. Immigrant remittances are also of course impacted by the changing nature of Albanian-American society where we see the slow disintegration of the tightly connected extended family. As Albanian-American families continue to integrate into the prevailing nuclear family structure, contacts and remittances will likely continue to decrease.
The Albanian government will continue to stress the close relationship and strengthen it when possible, as with the recent offer to accept more released prisoners from Guantanamo Bay facility which, through a recent executive order, the president has announced he will close by the end of the year. 
In general terms there will be a major shift in the conduct of American foreign policy. There will be a renewed emphasis on so-called "soft-power" and multilateralism. This translates basically into less militarism, more traditional diplomacy, a policy of constructive engagement with adversaries and certainly more subtlety. This policy will likely be more effective. We can, I think see this trend in President Obama's frequent public statements, in his commitment to increase the budget of the State Department but also in the people who surround Obama and have emerged in top level positions. The recent appointees tend to be experts rather than aggressive neoconservative ideologues who often dominated the foreign policy establishment under President Bush. These new people include, among others, Vice President Joe Biden who is seen as a liberal-minded internationalist committed to seeking the support of friends and allies. Biden is also seen as a friend of the Albanians and a strong supporter of human rights for Albanians throughout the Balkans. Next we have Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with whom the Albanian lobby in the United States has good ties. Bill Clinton has of course been viewed as a close friend of Albania. Others in the new administration have considerable Balkan experience like Richard Holbrook while others, like Dennis Ross, a former Middle East negotiator, and former Clinton aides Kurt Campbell and Philip Gordon have a clear focus on the Islamic world. All of those listed above, like President Obama himself see the world less from a power-projecting perspective and more from looking at problems and seeing how to solve them.
But a certain disengagement from the Balkans will continue. The Balkans will likely be relegated to the back burner, a policy followed by the Bush administration and one which I expect will be followed by the Obama administration as well. The new president is aware that the United States likely lacks economic and military resources to deal with any new crises in region and clearly hopes to avoid a new conflict with Russia. President Obama's general domestic and global priorities will be the economy clearly impact by such considerations as climate change and oil dependency. There will also of course be considerable attention paid to the traditional concerns of Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea, and the Middle East, along with other issues relating to restoration of US world prestige. These priorities will encourage Obama to avoid extensive engagement in the Balkan region, where he will hope that Europe can take the lead in terms of developing solutions to remaining political problems as well as assisting with desperately needed economic development.
But having said that, for the Obama administration there will likely be no basic changes in specific policies towards the region. The priorities will remain 1) to maintain stability in the region 2) to promote the integration of Albania and South Eastern Europe into Euro-Atlantic structures. Quite specifically he has said that he will not change policy with regard to Kosovo or Albania. During the election campaign in September 2008 Mr. Obama announced in the press that he strongly supports Kosovo and its democratic process towards full sovereignty and promised to help Kosovo develop a strong economy. He pledged to defend Kosovo's sovereignty against possible Serbian aggression, and pledged to assist Kosovo in developing strong and healthy trade relations. He understands that stability depends on, among other factors, economic development and job creation, and promised to help by assisting Kosovo to build a powerful infrastructure and energy system. Mr. Obama also praised important achievements in Albania and congratulated Prime Minister Berisha and his government on their role in receiving an invitation to join NATO.  He expressed the hope that Albania become a member of the EU in the near future. But President Obama will likely facilitate this further integration by encouraging the Europeans to take a larger role as economic concerns become more prominent.
Attention directed towards Albania is shifting somewhat from security considerations to economic development. Whether this shift continues depends on a number of things not the least of which includes developments in Macedonia and Kosovo. But assuming the situation in Kosovo stabilizes and assuming that there are no other serious crises elsewhere in the Balkans, this economically-oriented attention will focus on the creation of an economically equitable and just society, which requires poverty reduction, a necessary ingredient for long term stability. And it seems clear that Albania's economic future rests more with the EU than with the US. Albania's close connection with the US has been very important, in terms of security integration, as well as substantial economic assistance since the collapse of communism - including in excess of 350 million dollars through the Support for Eastern European Democracy (SEED) program. During the same period, however, EU assistance programs amounted to more than 1.3 billion euros supplemented by the fact that over 75% of Albania trade is with EU counties15  - principally Italy, Greece, Germany and France.
I see this trend towards the EU accelerating while the US continues to direct its interest elsewhere. There is, of course historical precedent for this type of development- as for example with the declining significance of Yugoslavia for US policy with the rise of d굥nte, and US relative disengagement from Albania following the Dayton Accords. This redirection may be further facilitated by an unfortunate but growing lack of cohesion in the Albanian-American community which seems to be able to unite in times of crisis but then has a tendency to fragment when slow but sustained pressure for economy development would be very useful. The relationship between Albania and the US will certainly remain strong, particularly with the continuing process of aligning Albanian forces with those of NATO. Still the relationship will be transformed in a way that should encourage Albania to redouble its efforts to engage the EU. This should not be read to mean that the relations between the US and Albania will necessarily weaken - but they will continue to evolve.
As with any relationship, there are of course possible further complications for American Albanian relations in the near and long term. One such possible complication is the upcoming national election in June, and the functioning of the new electoral reform legislation. The physical and procedural arrangements for the elections will be a matter of keen interest to the United States. The difficulties with the voter identification cards need to be addressed and, as has happened in the past, the preparations for the machinery to conduct the elections are moving at a slow pace. The State Department will pay attention to how the parties and political leaders conduct their respective campaigns.
Washington hopes that there will be more constructive dialogue among the parties and the candidates during the campaign, more transparency concerning the funding of party campaigns, and more democracy within the political parties. There also will be attention paid to the functioning of the recently passed lustration law, the legislation limiting immunity of state prosecutors, the ultimate resolution of the issues relating to the Gerdec tragedy, and recently heightened concerns over press freedom. 
In addition, it is likely that the State Department will continue to encourage the Albanian government to vigorously address a litany of persistent problems including political and economic corruption, drug and human trafficking, organized crime, money laundering, the question of an independent and professional judiciary, minority issues, respect for the constitution, and the establishment of the rule of law in general, in the hopes of encouraging more substantial progress on these seemingly intractable issues. These issues are still prominently mentioned by the State Department itself in its Country Report of Human Rights Practices, and its Annual Trafficking of Persons Report, added to a series of other interested party and  NGO reports (to which Washington pays some heed)  including among others, the Commission of the European Communities Annual Progress Report, Amnesty International reports, Human Rights Watch reports, Transparency International reports, Reporters without borders reports, Freedom House reports, and the Economist intelligence unit reports. While there has been much praise for Albania's progress, these reports continue to raise concerns including, for example the Economist Intelligence Unit report of January 19, 2009 which rated Albania, as it did last year, as a hybrid state falling between "flawed democracies" and "authoritarian states." While we may not fully agree with all of theses assessments, attention should be paid to these periodic reports because these analyses have been produced by respected and influential sources whose conclusions have a voice and create international perceptions. In general the issues covered by the NGOs and other interested parties to which I have alluded are important  to the consolidation of the rule of law - which impacts among other things further European integration, foreign investment, and relations between Albania and the United States.
So there clearly are challenges ahead and obviously some uncertainty in terms of the direction of President Obama's general and specific foreign policy but, in the final analysis, while relations between the United States and Albania are in transition and will of course always be, they are currently quite strong and, subject to the level of attention paid to some of the issues mentioned above, will likely continue to strengthen during the new Obama administration.

Bernd J. Fischer  is Professor and Chair Department of History Indiana University, Fort Wayne. Bernd Fischer is also Senior Associate  researcher  of Albanian Institute for International Studies (AIIS). The first version of this article was presented at AIIS security and  Foreign Policy Forum  on   Foreign Policy agenda of new US  Administrating. January 26, 2009.

14 I should mention that these views are my own and may or may not reflect those of the American embassy in Tirana and or the US Department of State.
15 Binaj, "An Analysis of United States-Albanian Security Relations," p. 78.
                    [post_title] =>  United States-Albanian Relations in Transition 
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                    [post_content] => By: Tim Judah

In the second week of February at the regular Monday morning editorial conference of the Economist, decisions were being taken on what should be in the next issue. The Europe editor said that he planned to run a piece on the first anniversary of Kosovo's independence. A fellow editor interjected: "We'll that was a disaster wasn't itš"  In many circles this is a common refrain and a common perception. It is also, of course, quite wrong. 
One year on is a good moment to take stock of the situation in the region; to consider the fears that preceded Kosovo's declaration of independence on 17 February 2008, what has happened since and how nature of regional stability has changed. It is also a good moment to discuss the nature of the political landscape today, ie., which problems remain - and what is new, above all in the wake of the world financial crisis. 
On the eve of Kosovo's independence a diplomat in Pristina who had been very involved in crafting the plan of Martti Ahtisaari, the now Nobel peace laureate, for the territory looked gloomy. He was unhappy, not because Kosovo was about to declare independence but because it had not happened as he and his colleagues had planned. Serbia had not agreed to the Ahtisaari package and backed by the then resurgent Russia had indeed indeed actively opposed it. This, was not supposed to have happened. It meant, he said, that we had not got to "final status" or the end of the book, but rather we were simply closing one chapter on the story of Kosovo's status and opening another. "We had hoped we would be finishing the book by now," he said.
What he said was true and his downbeat assessment was correct but the gloomy predictions of many sceptics about the results of Kosovo's independence have since proved unfounded. Let's consider what they were: 
Firstly that there would be an exodus of the remaining Serbian population and that we would once again see columns of tearful refugees stuffed into cars and on tractors. 
Secondly that there would be a new upsurge of violence in Kosovo which also might spill over into the rest of the region, especially the Presevo Valley and Macedonia.
Thirdly that Serbia would fall into the hands of radical nationalists and finally that Kosovo would open the Pandora's box of secessionists across the world, starting with the Republika Srpska.  
Let's look at those one by one. Firstly, there was of course, no Serbian exodus. This was due to several factors none the least being the desire of both Serbian and Albanian leaders to avoid one and to avoid giving cause for one. A Serbian exodus would have been a disaster for all, quite apart from the people actually fleeing. It would have dogged the birth of the new state and hung over it as a kind of "original sin" - however caused, just as the 1948 exodus of Palestinians from the nascent State of Israel has been. In that sense, in terms of the media, political and historical impact of such an exodus it would have been far, far greater than that of the flight of Serbs in 1999. 
But, in terms of a balance sheet, there was a price to pay for this success of course. Barring a huge upsurge of violence there was no real fear of an exodus from the north of Kosovo, above the Ibar river. The real fear concerned those Serbs in the enclaves numbering perhaps 60,000. The price has been, and is, the fact that Pristina's authority does not run in these areas. 
The north lies completely beyond the remit of the authorities in Pristina, despite the symbolic presence of Serbian police in the uniforms of the Kosovo Police Service and officials from the EU's police and justice mission EULEX, on the border. 
Secondly; violence. Yes, there have been violent incidents, but far fewer than most expected. There was, in the wake of the declaration of independence the burning down, with the approval of the government, or parts of it, of the then Serbian premier Vojislav Kostunica, of the northern border posts and the tragic death of one Ukrainian soldier in a riot in Mitrovica. In recent months there have been bombs in Mitrovica too but no casualties. By contrast it is striking how at the edge of Gracanica, 10kms from Pristina, Serbian and Albanian businesses of all kinds now sit cheek by jowl next to one another in a way that has not been seen since 1999. There has of course also been no "spill over" violence in either Presevo or Macedonia. 
Thirdly: The fear that Serbia would fall into the hands of extreme nationalists. This was another legitimate fear but one which did not happen. On February 3rd Boris Tadic beat Tomislav Nikolic the then leader of the Serbian Radical Party by only three per cent in the presidential election. In the wake of Kosovo's declaration of independence some 200,000 people came or were bussed into the centre of Belgrade to hear Serbian leaders reject independence and Metropolitan Amfilohije saying: "Kosovo and Metohija are the apple of our eye, the heart of our hearts, our holy city of JerusalemƩn this worldly life nor in God's eternal one, any more than we can renounce our own soul and our own destiny" After that demonstration, and most likely with the connivance of elements of the security services, the US embassy was attacked and one of the attackers died in the fire. 
(Continued from page 7)

Then what happened? On May 11th Serbia elected a strongly pro-European government and most extraordinarily the Radical Party, which for so long had teetered on the brink of power had imploded by autumn, splitting into two and thus neutralising itself as a nationalist threat. Vojislav Kostunica is now a marginalised figure while Mr Nikolic is now a welcome guest amongst the diplomats as he seeks to reposition his party, the Serbian People's Party, (SNS) in the same way that Mr Sanader did with the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) in the wake of the death of its founder Franjo Tudjman. One of Serbia's problems is that now the (old) Radicals are vastly over represented in parliament compared to their support in public. 
And look at the figures too. A poll published last week taken by Strategic Marketing, a reliable Belgrade pollster found that 61.27% of Serbs thought that Kosovo was lost, 22% thought it was not while 16.23% had no opinion. In other words two of thirds at least have no illusions. 
Does that mean that Kosovo has disappeared from the Serbian government's public discourse? No, but the reasons for talking about it may be different from before. 
Let's consider its actions. It opposed the deployment of EULEX. It mounted a successful campaign to have the General Assembly refer the issue of Kosovo's independence to the International Court of Justice. It has banned exports from Kosovo bearing the stamp "Republic of Kosovo" and it has retained political control over Serbs in Kosovo. 
The ICJ campaign was an undoubted success for Vuk Jeremic, the Serbian foreign minister. In effect it has closed off the possibility of many more states beyond the 55 that now recognise Kosovo from doing so. In this way Kosovo remains in a kind of unusual limbo. It is recognised by many, but not all of the most important states in the world. It has no prospect of joining the UN for the foreseeable future, but a strong possibility of joining other organisations such as the IMF and World Bank. The ICJ move has also helped cement the division between those EU states that have recognised Kosovo and the five "refuseniks". Kosovo's government, lacking the experience and assets of Serbia's has been unable to mount a successful counter-offensive nor take effective counter measures on the trade issue, which it could, bearing in the mind the huge imbalance in Serbia's favour of the balance of trade. 
What is Serbia, or specifically Mr Jeremic and President Tadic, playing at here? The answer is, as I say, to watch what they do, not what they say. Kosovo, in the wake of independence was not sealed off, the borders were not closed and rhetoric aside, moves have been made to damp down possible flash points. The appointment to do just that of Oliver Ivanovic as deputy head of Serbia's Kosovo ministry is a case in point, in that his friendship and contacts with many Kosovo Albanian leaders has proved an asset and effective means of communication. 
Serbia's government publicly opposed EULEX. It then played hardball and won certain concessions important to it and for presentation purposes to its public. Now, neither side is happy but then neither lost much either. EULEX is deployed across all of Kosovo which many thought that would never happen. In the north, and on the borders, its presence may be symbolic, but that, for now, is better than nothing. 
Mr Jeremic's Kosovo campaign can be put down then to two perhaps not very surprising things. The first is that, being a politician, the issue serves him well. His popularity has grown thanks to the question and he is often talked about as a future prime minister. But, the campaign also serves to neutralise any possible opposition in Serbia accusing the Democratic Party of being unpatriotic and treacherous etc. In the longer term the aim may well be, or indeed actually is, in the minds of some high placed Democratic Party officials at least a way to position the party in such a way that it's nationalist credentials cannot be questioned if it proposes a formal partition of Kosovo in a few years, not excluding an exchange of territories for parts of Presevo. When it comes to the strategic rail and road links which pass through Presevo and have always been cited as a reason why this could not happen, there would appear to be no reason why diversions could not be built to bypass this problem. How realistic this is remains to be seen, how desirable too - but it certainly is an idea circulating at the top levels of the Serbian government.
The question of partition and division brings us onto the fourth issue on our list. The famous "Pandora's box". Did Kosovo's declaration of independence make the break up of existing states more likely? Undeniably the issue of Kosovo has been used, up to a point, in the discourse of Milorad Dodik, the prime minister of the Republika Srpska and of course Kosovo was cited when Russia recognised South Ossetia and Abkhazia. But, we have to be realistic here. Bosnia and it internal relations would hardly be easier if Kosovo did not exist. Indeed, the interesting thing is how Mr Dodik used Kosovo only briefly as a precedent before moving on. Above all though we need to consider the fact that Mr Dodik is interested in being a big fish in a small pond and that means remaining being exactly where he is now, retaining power for the RS but not destroying Bosnia entirely. It is not in his strategic interest to destroy Bosnia and not in Serbia's either. The prospect of an embittered and hence potentially radical Muslim statelet around Sarajevo is not a prospect which the current Serbian leadership finds appealing.  
As for South Ossetia and Abkhazia, both of which broke away from Georgia in the early 1990s it is instructive that apart from Russia only one or two other states have recognised them, such as Nicaragua and that Russia failed utterly in persuading even the states within its sphere of influence to follow it in recognising them. So it seems that difficult though Kosovo's birth was it was clear that a good many countries recognised the legitimacy of its claim to independence and self-determination in the post-Yugoslav context, whatever the legal technicalities. Many of course did not, but such a difference between the cases suggests that new states will emerge on their own merits, not because of what happened in Kosovo or South Ossetia. 
One year after Kosovo declared independence it is clear that the balance sheet is far more positive than negative. Independence has not led to new instability and indeed more likely staved that off. Having said that it is clear it has not solved all the residual post-Yugoslav problems of its inheritance either. In the short term though many are details rather than big picture questions - ie., what will happen to customs revenue from the north. In the medium term, we are likely to have more of the same, ie., a de facto divided Kosovo, which has been the case of course for the last decade, with  manageable outbursts of violence and in the longer term, in theory, increasing clout from the EU about coming to a final, "final settlement" in exchange for membership. But even that is questionable. After all, even states we think of as finished and final are open to question. Is the United Kingdom a final or an evolving state? How will it look in ten years? Will it still exist in ten years or will Scotland have seceded? 
Now we are into the realm of hypotheticals of course, but it seems to me that in fact the Balkans are moving in a direction which is somewhat novel. Despite the difficulties inherent in European integration this is a process which would seem to me to be irreversible, if not a long road strewn with difficulties. What we will see is a consolidation of generally weak states within their existing borders, but equally the ever clearer emergence of overlapping spheres. For example the Albanian sphere in terms of academia, business, media, culture and transport. The Serbian sphere covering the regions where Serbs live and of course smaller Croatian and Bosniak spheres. These are naturally developments and are plain already and they are not mutually exclusive. An Albanian from Tuzi can work happily in Podgorica, watch Kosovo or Albanian television and do business with colleagues from anywhere in the former Yugoslav states. 
Finally: The next year promises all sorts of challenges but for the first time in two decades these very challenges are not unique to the Balkans. They are all the fallout for the world financial crisis. For example how Serbia will deal with unemployment when its hitherto largest exporter, US Steel starts sacking now idle workers, or how Kosovo copes as remittances from a cash strapped diaspora fall off and no more or less easy to deal with or different than how Ukraine deals with unemployed steel workers in the east or Armenia deals with a decline in remittances. There is one key difference in the western Balkans which can help inoculate it from social unrest and worse, and that is that the experience of the 1990s was so bad for most people that whatever the financial crisis throws at them now it will not be worse than that. In other words, they have a far higher threshold of pain and thus greater resilience than the average European, certainly from the west and central Europe and for the most part from the rest of it too. 
Kosovo plus one then: Perhaps seven out of ten. Problems upcoming will be mainly due to fallout from the world financial crisis. Meanwhile a new Balkan political and economic geography is beginning to emerge within the confines of existing borders. The existing setup in Kosovo, ie., Kosovo pretends it is sovereign all of its territory and Serbia pretends Kosovo is independent cannot last forever, but there is no reason to suppose it cannot last for the many years to come, nor that some form of deal for the north can eventually be struck which will fail to satisfy both sides but be just enough to unlock the current frozen situation.  

Speech held Feb.21 at the 4th Albanian Institute for International Studies Security Conference titled "Desecuritization and Resecuritization of Western Balkan Inter/Intrastate relations."

                    [post_title] =>  Kosovo Plus One: A Balance Sheet 
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                    [post_content] => By Arben MALAJ
The Albanian economy cannot be considered immune to the global crisis. First, the crisis in other affected countries is directly transmitted to us through effects on trade, on remittances and on foreign direct investment. Second, effects on the banking system resonate in the entire economy. 
Our main trading partners have been affected by the crisis to no negligible extent, be it in their banking sectors or overall economy. According to IMF data so far on 2009, Italy will experience economic growth of 2.1% and Greece of 1.7%. As our main economic partners turn out to be considerably affected by this crisis, our economy will be negatively affected in at least three ways, a shrinking of exports, remittances and foreign direct investment.
The decline in exports, as testified by the tendency of these last months, has a considerable social impact. Some sectors that were revitalised during the period of high prices, such as mining and agriculture, are now hard-hit by the global crisis. Traditional sectors also, such as manufactured exports, seem to be affected to no negligible degree.
Naturally, by hitting hard some of the countries with the highest concentration of Albanian emigrants, this global recession will considerably reduce the cash inflow from emigrants and, thus, its contribution to the Albanian economy.
Another indicator of a negative impact is the halting and hindrance of some foreign direct investment projects. According to the latest IMF survey on the effects of the global crisis on low income countries, the share of foreign direct investment in the GDP is expected to go down to 3.5% this year, assuming the country receives loans from the IMF or other sources, from 4.9% in 2008. Overall, the decline in exports, remittances and foreign investment has tremendous impact on economic growth as well as on the balance of payments deficit.
The second source and indicator of crisis is our banking sector. Even though diversified, due to the global crisis, our banking system has been obliged to reduce the loan issuance rates, thus reducing the financial resources for economic activity. Furthermore, the credit structure, dominated by foreign currency for consumers and credit borrower with incomes in domestic currency, also risks enhancing the negative psychological effect if the devaluation of the lek continues.
If the banking crisis managed to bring an economic and social one in countries with modern and innovative banking systems, the financial sectors of countries with low living standards like Albania, affected by declines in growth rates, and increases in unemployment and poverty, are definitely, inevitably threatened.
The crisis is not the isolated event of a particular day. It started as a slowdown in growth rates, it continued as a recession and it comes now as a grave economic and social crisis. If we are to analyse the assertions of double-digit growth and the negative review that the IMF has made to the growth of the Albanian economy, from 6% to 3.7%, and then to the latest declining review of 2%, we will see that even though the figure is still positive, we are following the same tendency as that of the concrete phases of the global crisis. 
The current evaluations of the country's state of affairs conclude that due to the very low level of taxes, budgetary income and due to the rising level of budget deficit, Albania has very little room for fiscal manoeuvring.
Apart from the real economic effects, blocking local government budgets, as in the cases of Tirana and Durres, has a considerable psychological effect which is one of the most difficult factors to manage in crisis situations.
The lack of cooperation between political and economic factors in the country, and the rising political temperature due to the upcoming elections risk creating additional and harder to manage costs in this difficult economic situation.
No budgetary intervention can withstand the domino effect of psychological crises. Delays in accepting the hard economic reality, delays in determining cautious interventions as well as a disarray of fiscal policies under electoral fever influence considerably and negatively the management of this situation.

_______________________

The author is Member of Albanian Parliament , Former Minister of Finance.












Economic Crisis Starts to Hit World's Poorest Countries
IMF Survey online,   March 3, 2009
http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/survey/so/2009/NEW030309A.htm


IMF Report

Effects of the crisis by sectors:
Trade			Low
Investments		Low
Assistance		Low
Remittances		Average

Trade
Balance of Payments (as % of GDP)
2008            -10 %
2009            -7.5 %
2009 (in case of assistance)            -8.5%

Remittances
Cash inflows from emigrants (as % of GDP)
2008            11.5 %
2009             9.1 %
2009 (in case of assistance)            9%

Investments
Foreign Direct Investments (as % of GDP)
2008            4.9 %
2009             4.6 %
2009 (in case of assistance)		3.5 %
Foreign Assistance
Assistance from abroad (as % of GDP)
2008            2.7 %
2009             2.2 %
2009 (in case of assistance)            1.9 %

* "in case of assistance" means in case countries increase their foreign debt, receive assistance from the IMF or other loans. 

                    [post_title] =>  Why Albania cannot escape the global crisis  
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                    [post_content] => Talking about the Balkans, Chris Patten, the former Commissioner for EU External Relations, provided probably the most philosophical description of the Balkans' technology of change when he said, almost a decade ago that "In the Balkans, like the old English floral dance, it is often a case of two steps forward, one step back".
While this logic of the technology of change almost prevailed in the region for more than a decade, the year we have just left behind may be a turning point whereby the steps towards the creation and well-functioning of a Balkan order were not necessarily accompanied by steps backwards. 
2008 was an important year for security and stability. First of all, the countries of the Balkans, and consequently the Balkan order, confronted the critical test of accomodating the changes of the political map of the region after the declaration of independence of Kosova.
Second, Albania and Croatia were invited by NATO to join the Alliance, a process that is now in its final steps, expected to be wrapped up in the next NATO summit.
Last but not least, all countries in the region have made progress, however modest, in their efforts towards EU integration.
Albania's and Croatia's future membership in the Alliance, as well as the steps made towards the preparation of Balkan countries for EU membership, represent fundamental investments for the creation of a functional, liberal democratic order that would make conflict within or between Balkan states impossible and unimaginable.
Though true, such a reading of developments in the Balkans is optimistic, or at least it presents us with only one side of the medal. A simple effort to open up today's (in)security account shows that the agenda of political, economic developments, the modernisation of Balkan societies, and consequently integration at a regional and European level, are still threatened by security issues.

The Security Agenda at the Inter-State Level 

The main schools of thought in International Relations, and some of the contemporary approaches in Security Studies suggest that inter-state relations must be observed in order to understand and explain the process of desecuritisation, which unfortunately at times is accompanied by resecuritisation also.
A careful study of the present relations between states in the Balkans uncovers a series of issues for which one cannot safely exclude the possibility of transformation into security issues.
Alongside a status quo spirit in relations between Balkan states, several issues have emerged, the resolution of which is a prerequisite for further progress. Thus, Croatia, a country very close to EU membership, and Slovenia, one of the newest and most successful members of the EU, are involved in a very controversial border dispute. 
(Continued from page 7)
Despite its highly politicised nature, it nevertheless remains unimaginable that the recent dispute will become a security issue.
The failure to reach an agreement over the name issue between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia hindered the latter to join NATO during this current wave of the Alliance's enlargement, together with Croatia and Albania. Even though the disagreements between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia seem entirely politicised, to the extent that they incite nationalistic sentiments, it can be safely asserted that these disagreements are unlikely to become a security issue.
Although there are no security issues between Albania and Serbia, the relations between the two states after the declaration of independence of Kosova are poor. Political and economic exchanges continue to preserve the status quo of the last three-four years.
Albania's relations with Montenegro and fYROM seem to be on the right track, but the mal-functioning economies of each country limit further progress. In the meantime, there are no security issues between the three countries, but rather, an enhancement of political will to strengthen economic and political cooperation.
Albania is one of the countries that recognised Kosova immediately after the declaration of independence. At present, Albania and Kosova seem to be going through a phase of accomodation of the new state of affairs visible in their political and economic communications but also at a societal level. Albania has offered a supportive political stance towards Kosova and the political elite of Tirana sees future relations with Kosova as those between two future members of the European Union, as opposed to the mistaken theories that see Kosova's independence as a stepping stone towards Greater Albania.
Last but by no means least, Serbia-Kosova relations stand closer to a resecuritisation process that retains implications for the security and stability of the entire region. Relations between Serbia and the new state of Kosova are utterly and completely politicised. Despite the self-restraint that the governments of the two states have demonstarted since the declaration of independence of Kosova, their entirely politicised relations have very often been on the brink of a dangerous resecuritisation process. Serbia refuses to recognise the new state of Kosova and it has fully invested its diplomatic means in de-legitimising Kosova's independence and hampering the process of international recognition. By continuing to claim sovereignty over the new state of Kosova, Serbia has encouraged parallel institutions and structures, especially in the north of Kosova where in several occassions the situation has been very close to the eruption of a new conflict.
On the other hand, Kosova's government and authorities have refrained themselves from the idea of establishing control and authority over the entire territory of the country, especially over the northern part. Furthermore, the international presence, the EULEX mission, has also not been able to establish its full control there. 
This is the state of affairs with respect to security issues from an inter-state perspective in the Balkans.

The Security Agenda at the Intrastate Level
 
However, the other perspective that I would like to discuss here is that, currently, the security agenda of the Balkans depends more on relations within rather than between states. In fact, the domestic (in)security account has been and continues to be decisive for a functional and sustainable order in the Balkans.
This globally dominating trend in the post-Cold War environment applies to the Balkans also, indeed a special case if we keep in mind the political map of the region, which in the words of Pedrag Simic, resembles the leopards' skin due to the incredibly rich ethnic mix of the various ethnic groups that inhabit the peninsula.
It is precisely due to this reality that more often than not the domestic security issues in each country of the region have the potential to incite a resecuritisation process in inter-state relations.
If we try to open up the state to domestic (in)security accounts, almost in every country in the Balkans we will be able to easily discern that the main security threat is the weak state, lacking the domestic capacity to guarantee its citizens basic political goods, starting with law and order.
The sources of weakness of Balkan states nowadays are varied. They have historical roots and are related to the relatively poor state tradition in the Balkans, to the structure of the economies, the level of industrialisation, the level of modernisation of society, the armed conflicts that accompanied the dissolution of Yugoslavia and last but not least, to the stage of economic development and the nature of the regimes.
Out of all the above-mentioned factors that continue to keep Balkan states weak and mal-functioning, only the nature of the regimes and economic development are relevant to the idea of strengthening the states, making them functional and similar to the state model of the European Union members.
With respect to the nature of the regimes, in the case of the current Balkan states I believe that we can all agree that we mostly find hybrid regimes, or formal, unsubstantial democracies. Please allow me to bring some examples in order to support the argument of a correlation between weak democracies and security issues.
The main reason the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina is relatively weak and mal-functioning is the simple fact that it is not yet a unitary state. However, one of the non-negligible causes that keep Bosnia and Herzegovina a weak state I believe must be sought in the nature of the regime and the level of functioning of democracy.
Conflict and the zero-sum logic that has dominated Albania's transition, having established by now a legacy the political elite of the country has not entirely given up, has seriously threatened security and stability issues of the country.
The establishment of parallel institutions and structures in Albania, FYROM and Kosova is, amongst other things, a result of the nature of the regimes, not quite democratic and functional yet.
Seeking an enemy by all means and preserving  the status quo regarding the conflict has served and will continue to serve, not only in the case of the Balkans, the short-term interests of the political establishment in countries where democracy is still feeble and merely formal.
Serbia is opposing the independence of Kosova through diplomatic means but continues in the meantime to encourage and finance parallel institutions and structures within the state of Kosova. While the option of Kosova's reinstatement under Serbia is not even theoretically possible, the encouragement and funding of Serbian parallel structures in Kosova, including the diplomatic offensive meant to hamper the process of international recognition of the new state, can serve domestic, short-term, political interests in Serbia. Also, it is perhaps the time to address pointed questions:
If military conflicts are almost an impossibility in today's Balkans, are we heading towards a sustainable peace or towards the creation of a frozen conflict between Albanians and Serbs?

The Economy-Security Nexus 

The other impeding factor for strong and functional states in the Balkans - the poor state of the economy and infrastructure, the low level of foreign direct investments, the relatively high levels of unemployment - have the potential to incite a process of resecuritisation.
In the context of a global crisis, the effects of which the economies of the region cannot escape, economic matters ought to be prioritised from a security standpoint.
The discussion of economic issues in light of the need to strengthen the generally weak states of the Balkans can easily fall into a vicious circle. From a theoretical and practical perspective, the question that requires an answer is this:
Does a strong state bring economic development or does the state get stronger as a result of economic development?
The prevailing force for change (and desecuritisation) in the region, the European Union seems to see the strong state as effecting economic development. This is clearly visible in the Union's assistance priorities for more than a decade now. More concretely, the EU has dedicated much of its funding to capacity/institution-building in the countries of the region. In fact, the rule of law is an essential feature of the EU state model, and needless to say a fundamental pre-requisite for accession. In the Balkans much was needed in this respect and owing to EU assistance there has been good progress in Albanian institutional capacities.
However, the time may have come for a reconsideration of the question in hand, and thus of this strategy. In one way or another, investing in institution-building is a top-down approach. The suggestion here is not to entirely give up this approach, but rather to adopt a combined one: alongside investment in institutional capacity, the weak state in this region can be strengthened through strategic economic investment.
Allow me be more clear by referring here to what a great thinker like Karl Poper reminds  us of. In one of his latest interviews, he tells us that Gorbachev did something grotesque, ridiculous: he established a stock exchange in Moscow. We have seen pictures of its formal opening with great celebration. However, the reason the stock exchange was so ridiculous is that there was simply no stock and no money to buy stock at that time in Soviet Union.
Albania did something similar and certainly more ridiculous. It was 1992 when the government decided and established the Bursa in Tirana which is practically still not working, although they have offices and a code of procedures, so basically institutional capacity, just like in other western countries.
What I am trying to say is not that the top-down approach is not any more relevant in the state-building process. Rather, the argument is that, as the Balkan experience shows, a combined perspective of investment in institutional capacities and the economy would   really help in strengthening the state in the Balkans.

                    [post_title] =>  Inter-State Relations and the  Domestic Account of (In)Security 
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                    [post_content] => By Jose Ignacio Torreblanca 

I have just come back from Albania where I found the people wonderful, but also rather unfortunate. If you ever want to check this for yourself, all you have to do is stand in the centre of Tirana. Looking to one side, the massive North Korean styled congress centre dominated by an enormous mural depicting the people in arms looms into view; looking to the other, typical Italian fascist neo-classical design meets the eye, legacy of the occupation by Mussolini's troops. Turning round, you can see a small mosque, one of the few which survived the crazed regime of Enver Hoxha, who declared atheism the State religion, imposed a reign of terror on the country and destroyed a large part of its cultural heritage. This all makes for interesting pastiche, certainly, but it is problematic too from a historical perspective. 
Despite five centuries of occupation, the Ottoman Empire failed to leave so much as a single University behind, and Hoxha's dictatorship bequeathed the people half a million bunkers and a shattered civil society. The country's international image is still weighed down by the film "Lamerica", which portrayed the devastation brought about by the collapse of the banking system in 1997. At the time, people thought a Ponzi scheme of such proportions could only take place in a closed and backward society, but thanks to Bernard Madoff, the Albanians can rest easy, and even allow themselves a smile. 
And one thing Albanians certainly do is smile. Mediterranean as they are, Albanians look back on the past with a sense of humour; the bunkers have given rise to a buoyant souvenir industry with a popular line in ashtrays, and in the pyramid shaped mausoleum which Hoxha built, a restaurant called "The Mummy" has been opened. The Mayor of Tirana, weary of the dilapidated state of the city's buildings, encouraged people to paint their homes in eye catching colours, something which has become a tradition. Tirana has spruced itself up, and it is now a big, bustling city set against the backdrop of stunning, snow capped mountains. 
During my trip I had the chance to talk to members of the government and opposition, exchange impressions with leading staff from research centres, and chat with journalists from the local media. All of them impressed me with their intelligence and the clarity of their vision of the future, especially Rexhep Meidani, President of the country from 1997 to 2002. The message I received from the people I spoke to was unanimous; it's time to leave the past behind, to break with the image of the Balkans as a place of hatred, war, destruction, crime and corruption, and to turns our minds to the Balkans of the future. 
And there precisely lies the key - in a European future. Albania will become a full member of NATO this April and the Stabilisation and Association agreement which governs relations with the EU is about to come into force, which will immediately allow the government to request official recognition as an accession candidate. Albania is afraid it might be left straggling by the pack in the race to join the EU; Macedonia already has official candidate status and it appears that Montenegro and Serbia will present their candidacies as well before too long (possibly during the Spanish presidency). There is a lot still to be done before accession is secured, but Albania is on the right road. The forthcoming parliamentary elections to be held in May will be a test of its maturity, though work is still to be done on some things as obvious as the electoral roll, and the political class remains too caught up in the fight for power, diverting energy from some highly important reforms which are still outstanding. 
Naturally, Spain's success arouses a good deal of admiration in Albania. Our country has an especially strong presence in Albanian cultural and political life thanks to a very active Embassy and a technical cooperation office with numerous projects underway, including the training of Albanian civil servants and the modernization of the civil service. This makes up for some of the misgivings felt in Tirana by the Spanish government's decision to align itself with Serbia, something Albania has never quite managed to comprehend; at the end of the day, they argue, Albania has contributed a great deal more to regional stability. The tragedy of Kosovo, when Milosevic's regime drove more than seven hundred thousand Kosovars to the Albanian border after years of torture and killings, is still very much fresh in the memory. At the time, it became fashionable to accuse Tirana of promoting a "Greater Albania" - to include the Albanians of Macedonia and Kosovo - but the allegation has proved to be a complete myth. 
Back home, a strange feeling overcomes me that there are two kinds of European in the continent today; those who have Europe (and don't want it), and those who want it (and don't have it). 
jitorreblanca@ecfr.eu 

Jos顉gnacio Torreblanca joined the European Council on Foreign Relations as a Senior Research Fellow and Head of the Madrid Office in September 2007. Previously he spent three years at the Madrid's based Elcano Royal Institute for International Affairs as Senior Analyst for EU affairs. He has a doctorate in Political Science and Sociology from the Universidad Complutense de Madrid and teaches political science and EU affairs at the distance learning University in Madrid (UNED). He is also Fellow at the Juan March Institute of Studies in Madrid. He has been Fulbright scholar in the European Union-US Program, Lecturer at the George Washington University in Washington DC and a researcher at the European University Institute in Florence. He is also a member of the editorial board of the journal Foreign Policy en espa
                    [post_title] =>  The Others 
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                    [post_content] => By Frank Ledwidge

There are some very disturbing developments in science these days..  Theories and ideas that, just a few years ago would have been dismissed as belonging in the world of science fiction, are now commonplace. The driver for these ideas is of course climate change.  There is a growing acceptance that the consequences for the world of climate change could be far more serious than previously thought.  For Albania in particular, as for all Mediterranean countries could be virtually terminal.
The idea is that climate change will result in an increase in mean temperature of about 5 degrees.  This does not simply mean hotter summers.  This will mean the melting of the icecaps, flooding of lowland areas by a sea level increased by up to 80 metres (yes, 80 metres), and the dessication, acute drying of latitudes South of the Baltic. The consequences for humanity will be utterly radical.  Population will, or could be entirely relocated, with the vast social consequences that will .  Siberia will no longer be a barren freezing wasteland.  It may be the bread basket of what remains of the human world.  Countries like Britain will be crowded with high rise cities, which will also throng in Canada and once again, Siberia.  Because there will be too little land for the cultivation of animals, humanity will become an essentially vegetarian species.  The wholesale death of the Ocean Algae, at the bottom of the maritime food chain, will mean that the seas will be essentially dead. There will be little or no fish. 
These ideas, as I have hinted, are not confined now to Kooks and eccentrics.  This is the vision of James Lovelock. the originator of the now largely accepted idea that the Earth is what amounts to a self-regulating organism.  This is the so-called Gaia theory. It posits that humanity has proved itself unhealthy for this organism, the life-system  and the Earth is doing something about it. It is making itself no longer welcoming for us.   Lovelock believes that in as little as a hundred years, there could be as few as ten thousand people.  Yes, a few thousand people.  More optimistic scientists take the view that there may be a billion.  An article in the leading British magazine New Scientist stated however, that some scientists refused to comment on the consequences of climate change on the scale now envisaged, as it might make them seem scaremongers.
Jmkes Locelock is not afraid to comment. In his most recent book, The Vanishing Face of Gaia (2009), he  says that "There is only a small chance that... we could reverse climate change." The consequences of this are that now we should be thinking not about planning to reduce carbon emissions, any reduction would not be effective. They would be irrelevant, like shifting the deckchairs on the Titanic. Its too late for that.  We need rather to be thinking of how to cope with the consequences.  Those consequences are terrifying. 
Lets hope that these are indeed distopian visions and only that.  The trouble is that many serious scientists now believe that these predictions may be accurate.   If they are, the only people alive in Albania in 100 years time, will be living, if at all, in the highest mountain valleys.  There will be no water anywhere else.

                    [post_title] =>  Climate Change - a terrifying Prospect for this Country 
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                    [post_date] => 2009-04-03 02:00:00
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                    [post_content] => By Tom Hashimoto

Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but someday, Albania joins the European Union (EU). For Greece, for example, it is natural to have a "European" neighbor on her land path to the rest of Europe. On the other hand, there are some concerns for the financial and economic cooperation between the EU and Albania: the relatively weak Albanian financial market is too risky to be included in the Euro zone in this time of a global financial crisis. Then, what does "Europe" mean to Albania?
Economists at the Tirana Economic Forum last week (10 March) seem to be rather pessimistic on what the government can do to combat against the current economic crisis. Given the size of the Albanian national budget, the options are certainly limited. Foreign Direct Investments and financial assistance from abroad are shrinking, and thus, over all cash inflows (including remittances) are also not optimistic.
The different side of the same coin is that the Albanian economy will recover when the European economy recovers. Greek and Italian investments in Albania are the visible and direct part of this interdependency. Albanians who are working in Europe also contribute to the homeland economy through remittances. Hence, the Albanian government can prepare its economic recovery by further integrating with the European economy. 
Politically speaking, if the current administration succeeds the application submission to the EU, the governmental political party gains a credit for its diplomatic achievement: hence, the outcome of this negotiation affects the upcoming election in June. Not to mention, Albania's importance in NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) will increase as Albania becomes a member of the EU. Unlike some other candidate states, people in Albania almost unanimously support this EU membership application. It is time.
Albania today experiences the political and economic difficulties like many other countries in the world. In this time of pessimism, "Europe" is the last hope remained in the Pandora's box. That said, my fellow Albanians, I give the words of a Japanese leader in the late 16th century, Shingen Takeda: "people are the trenches, people are the stone walls, and people are the castle." Future of Albania is on your own hands, and people of Albania yourselves are the hope.
_____________________
Tom Hashimoto is Lecturer of Political Science and International Relations at University of New York in Tirana. He teaches diplomacy and international law.

                    [post_title] =>  What does "Europe" mean to Albania? 
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                    [post_date] => 2009-03-27 01:00:00
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                    [post_content] => The presidential and the mayors' elections held in Macedonia Sunday, 21 March, offer an interesting though partial and to some degree refutable view of the composition of the Macedonian electorate as compared to the overall Macedonian population. Referring to the State Election Commission of Macedonia, the turnout at the presidential election was 56.44 %. On results based on data following the processing at 2823 polling places or 94.86 % of the votes cast, the Albanian candidates for presidency Imer Selmani (New Democracy), Agron Buxhaku (Democratic Union for Integration) and Mirushe Hoxha (Albanian Democratic Party) totaled 250643 votes (25.58 % of the votes). The Macedonian candidates totaled 728973 votes (74.41 % of the votes).  The State Election Commission of Macedonia states that the election was not held in 134 polling stations. The voting participation of the Albanian electors compared to the Macedonian electors is unclear, and the general turnout at last Sunday's elections is lower than, for example, at the 2002 elections.  Many more Albanians from Macedonia (calculated in ratio to the stock of Albanians living in Macedonia) are reported to live abroad than Macedonians living abroad (calculated in ratio to the stock of Macedonians living in Macedonia). Many of them might not vote. But, if we were to refer to former elections, Albanian participation in the elections has generally been poorer than the Macedonian participation.
Cross-voting is thought to be low and should not account yet as a major contradictor to the ethnic vote, though the most successful Albanian candidate Imer Selmani (14.99 % of the votes) called for "an Obama effect in Macedonia" previous to the elections. The population in age to vote (over 18 years of age) might count out of the electoral body a larger part of the younger Albanian population than the Macedonian counterpart. The Macedonians consider the Albanians as the larger ethnic group that has a younger age structure than themselves.  This factor, as well as the historic tendency of Albanians voting less than the Macedonians might induce to think that, with more than 25 % of the voters in the last presidential elections, the Albanians might represent in Macedonia an ethnic body of nearly 30 % of the total Macedonian population. Whatever be the accurate percentage of Albanians in Macedonia, the Albanian vote will be perhaps determinant in electing the country's future president in the election runoff of 5 April. 

                    [post_title] =>  The elections in Macedonia seen from the demographic point of view 
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            [post_content] => President Barack Obama has inherited a heavy foreign policy agenda in addition to having to confront a severe and deepening domestic economic recession. In order to register progress the new president will need to pursue clear priorities in restoring the U.S. economy and the country's international stature. However, in both economic and foreign policy nobody should expect instant achievements, particularly given the seriousness of the challenges. Indeed, one of the potential pitfalls for President Obama is that so much hope and expectation has been vested in his success that disappointment may start to creep in among the public if he does not begin to deliver. And this may be replicated in the international public arena. We must be patient and not expect overnight success.

The new president has moved swiftly in appointing key officials, especially in the national security arena. This is already a positive indication of Obama's seriousness concerning the gravity of many international problems. All U.S. foreign and security policies are in the process of thorough review, especially where the U.S. has ongoing military commitments, is engaged in intensive diplomatic efforts, or where the new team feels that U.S. involvement has been insufficient during the Bush years.

It is too early to speak about an "Obama doctrine" as doctrines emerge in practice and not just in theory, in implementation and not merely in intentions. Among the top foreign policy and security challenges facing the new president the following four categories can be outlined: 

1) wars or intense conflicts (Iraq, Afghanistan, Gaza); 
2) major impending confrontations (Iran, Pakistan, North Korea); 
3) critical global security threats (jihadist terrorism, economic recession, energy insecurity, arms proliferation);
4) key international relations (the EU, China, India, Russia). 

And of course, a new regional or even global crisis could materialize without any prior warning. Because my work does not cover the whole world and all of its problems let me look in a little more detail at three foreign policy and security challenges that I do cover -- the trans-Atlantic alliance, Russia, and the Balkans. I will briefly review what can be expected from the new U.S. government in these three domains..

Trans-Atlanticism

A top priority of the Barack Obama administration, as underscored by the newly appointed U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is to rebuild Washington's alliances and America's international prestige and leadership. This must entail dispelling any resentments of what has been perceived as U.S. unilateralism during President George W. Bush's two terms and Washington's evident unwillingness to closely consult with its Allies, including the Europeans. Indeed, given the interconnectedness of many global challenges Washington will need to restore America's status and revitalize the country's most important alliances if it is to play a more effective leadership role in countering numerous security threats.  

President Obama cannot be depicted as a unilateralist or a militarist. But his emphasis on diplomacy and bridge-building even with regimes that have been considered as international pariahs must not signify weakness in the face of aggression or indicate accommodation when confronting tangible security threats. During the election campaign, Obama signaled that he was willing to engage in dialogue even with the most repressive and threatening regimes if this would help moderate their policies and preclude outright conflict.

Indeed, Tehran and Pyongyang may be given the opportunity for a fresh start to desist from their threatening nuclear programs. But openness to dialogue does not necessarily correspond with surrendering core interests or compromising basic values. I am certain that the Obama White House will seek to avoid any perception of weakness and avoidance of conflict at all costs, as this would encourage various regimes to test his resolve and America's commitments. Obama's inaugural address struck a balance between openness to diplomatic breakthroughs and a readiness to protect U.S. interests and defend democratic values.

Because of his popular appeal around the world, Obama may be more difficult to resist by European states if he seeks greater military commitments from other Alliance members in unstable places such as Afghanistan. As the first non-white U.S. president, Obama will also have the opportunity to rebuild trust in the U.S. even in countries where anti-Americanism is prevalent and deep-rooted, including the Muslim world and even parts of Europe.

Reviving the trans-Atlantic relationship will necessitate a thorough review of American and European policies toward a host of global challenges, from the Middle East to East Asia, and from energy security to destabilizing climate change that could also generate conflict in future years. 

NATO's 60th anniversary summit next April and the EU-US summit, planned for the spring of 2009 will provide ideal venues for President Obama to spell out his vision for the future of the West and to give substance to his rhetoric. In practical terms, this could mean a more institutionalized format for closer consultation between the U.S. and the EU, an agenda of common priorities for the alliance whether in Middle East mediation between Israel and Palestine, in dealing with Iran, enhancing energy security, or in handling Russia. It should also entail closer trans-Atlantic coordination and consensus on future NATO enlargement in the wider Europe as well as on NATO's roles and missions both inside and outside Europe.


Russia

In rebuilding the trans-Atlantic alliance President Obama will also need to confront Moscow's strategic ambitions to divide Europe into permanent "spheres of influence." Facing a belligerent Russia and a fractured and often confused European Union, Obama needs to combine practical engagement with the Kremlin on issues of mutual concern or common interest, such as anti-WMD proliferation and counter-terrorism, together with a strategic assertiveness that strengthens the Atlantic community and does not allow Moscow to exploit or deepen any existing divisions.

Practical engagement will certainly be one hallmark of the Obama administration in such questions as arms control treaties, specifically in replacing the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START-1), due to expire in December 2009. However, although they are necessary arms control treaties will not be sufficient to forestall and deter Russia's expansionist political ambitions throughout its neighborhood in what is depicted in Moscow as the "post-Soviet space," or more accurately Russia's new imperial space.

President Obama's election has been perceived by the Kremlin as an opportunity to undermine America's global reach and the Russian authorities are likely to purposively test the new president and his resolve. In his "state of the union" address the day after Obama's election, President Dmitri Medvedev reasserted Russia's global interests, threatened to position nuclear weapons along Poland's borders, and accused Washington of provoking conflicts in the Caucasus. In effect, Medvedev challenged Obama to make strategic compromises by withdrawing from the planned Missile Defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic and acquiescing to Moscow's goal to establish more clearly demarcated "spheres of influence" in Eastern Europe.

However, behind the Kremlin's rhetoric lurks a lingering fear that the Obama administration may be a potentially grave threat to Russia's objectives to rebuild its superpower status and diminish U.S. leadership. The new president's evident popularity could raise America's global stature, reduce anti-Americanism, increase criticisms of Kremlin authoritarianism and human rights violations, and provide impetus for a renewed Western strategy that could undercut Russia's expansive ambitions. 

Since Russia's de facto partition of Georgia last August, two broad strategic approaches toward Moscow have been germinating in the European Union: the passive and the active. The passive "spheres of influence" position accommodates Moscow's goals to delineate Western and Russian zones of predominant influence within Europe, while the active "Wider Europe" approach seeks an expanded Euro-Atlantic community to incorporate all East European states other than Russia. Moscow is anxious that President Obama may embrace the activist position.

Russia remains a serious threat to its weaker neighbors, irrespective of its own structural and fiscal weaknesses and its over-dependence on hydrocarbon revenues. Moscow continues to engage in a policy of subversion and destabilization across the former Soviet empire especially through its control of vital energy resources and supply routes. The recent dispute with Ukraine over energy prices and the cut-off in Russia's gas supplies to Ukraine and through Ukraine to the EU, contributes to weakening and even fracturing the Ukrainian state and limits Kyiv's advances toward Western institutions.

Russia's internal problems during the deepening global recession could actually magnify its external threat. Moscow traditionally manipulates the sense of besiegement to mobilize the populace and applies pressures on neighbors to deflect attention from domestic unrest. The financial crisis is precipitating even tighter state control over the economy and further concentrating power in the Kremlin which may engineer crises in neighboring states to raise Russia's stature. In other words, Russia's internal problems could make it even more externally aggressive.

President Obama will therefore face two inter-connected trans-Atlantic challenges: rebuilding the Atlantic alliance and dealing with a neo-imperialist Russia that is active in the European space. Above all, Washington must reject any moves toward redividing Europe into Cold War zones or sacrificing the security of any European state. This can be accomplished by intensifying links with all of Europe's new democracies and offering NATO aspirants a clearer roadmap toward inclusion. 

If handled adroitly by a united West, Moscow's internal problems and its inability to construct a durable sphere of dominance will also provide an important boost for the reanimation of democratic and pro-Western developments along Russia's long and over-extended borders. 

Western Balkans

The Western Balkans does not figure on the list of U.S. foreign policy priorities that I have outlined and indeed the region has not been a priority throughout the Bush administration. And this in itself is not a bad thing if the region is no longer seen as a major security challenge. The problem with a region such as the Western Balkans is that it has also not qualified in recent years in Washington as a positive priority despite the fact that the work of the alliance, both NATO and the EU, in South East Europe has yet to be completed.

The Balkans will not emerge as a top five or even top ten priority for the Obama White House but at the same time there are those in the administration who understand the region and that it should not be neglected, not least because of the political and security investments made by the previous Democratic administration. Indeed, there may be a new push to complete the outstanding goals. 

For instance, as chair of the U.S. Senate's foreign relations committee, Vice President Joe Biden was at the forefront of American policy in Central-Eastern Europe throughout the Clinton years. His input and that of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (who of course is closely linked with the previous Clinton administration) will be important in ensuring that there are no more instabilities in Bosnia-Hercegovina, Kosova, Macedonia, and Serbia that could set back progress toward democratic rule and EU-NATO integration. There could also be added thrust to move all states in the region closer toward NATO and EU membership. 

The NATO summit in April, which will welcome Albania and Croatia into the Alliance, can also send positive signals to other capitals in the region. This can include a pledged membership invitation for both Montenegro and Bosnia-Hercegovina. Such moves would underscore Allied commitments to their security and integrity, strengthen centrifugal forces in both countries, weaken the partitioners, and ward off any lingering annexationist ambitions in neighboring capitals. A strong statement is also needed at the NATO summit to advance the resolution of the Greek-Macedonian name dispute in order for Skopje to receive a formal invitation to NATO. 

Alliance leaders need to issue a statement that both Serbia and Kosova belong inside the Alliance to complete the security structure of South East Europe. The absence of a NATO consensus for issuing invitations for Ukraine and Georgia can be compensated by a common Allied approach to speed up the entry of all remaining West Balkan countries so that the entire peninsula forms NATO's south eastern flank. Concurrently, the new U.S. foreign policy team can provide a fresh impetus to multiply Kosova's international recognition that would enable the young state to join key multi-national institutions and develop into a responsible regional player.

All governments in the region should focus on two priorities: first, actively engaging with the new U.S. administration and two, becoming part of the decision-making process within the Alliance and within the EU by fully meeting the criteria for membership. NATO itself will be reinvigorated with the involvement of all members, including Albania. Each government can offer constructive ideas and assistance in implementing policies for solving the problems that President Obama must now tackle.
________________________
The Author is Director at Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington.

This speech was delivered at the Security and Foreign Policy Forum  organized by Albanian Institute for International Studies  on January 26  2009

            [post_title] =>  PRESIDENT OBAMA'S INTERNATIONAL AGENDA 
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