AIIS conference: “70 years of NATO, 10 years of Albania membership”

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times March 23, 2019 14:54

AIIS conference: “70 years of NATO, 10 years of Albania membership”

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  • Since 1994, when Albania became a member of the Partnership-for-Peace program, through its full membership, the country has undertaken significant domestic, political, and military reforms.

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TIRANA, Mar. 21 – The Albanian Institute for International Studies, in partnership with Hanns Seidel Stiftung, held on Thursday the conference “70 Years of NATO, 10 years of NATO membership for Albania,” In commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Alliance, which coincided with Albania’s 10 year anniversary of joining the Alliance.

Supported by the NATO Public Diplomacy Division, US Embassy in Tirana and the Embassy of the Republic of Poland to Albania, the conference, which consisted of three experts’ panels, addressed the achievements and challenges of Albania’s first decade in NATO, and in the Western Balkans, in context of the new global security environment.

Invited to hold the opening remarks were AIIS Executive Director Albert Rakipi, HSS Regional-Director for South-Eastern Europe Klaus Fiesinger, US Embassy Charge d’Affaires Leyla Moses-Ones, Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany to Albania Susanne Schütz and Ambassador of the Republic of Poland to Albania Karol Bachura.

In his opening remarks, Rakipi recollected the unfolding of the Bucharest Summit in 2008 when Albania and Croatia received the formal invitation for joining the alliance. He reiterated the importance of the membership for Albania, emphasizing its subsequent contributions. Namely, membership has helped the country reconnect with the West and rebuild its institutions.

“Albania’s NATO membership 10 years ago has been one of Albania’s most notable events and achievements since the fall of communism, if not the most notable one. Over the last ten years, NATO membership has helped the process of state-building and the build-up of a democratic society and its further democratization.”

In his closing remarks, Rakipi underpinned that NATO is above all else an alliance of democracies and values, and as such Albania and other member states must continue to adhere to them.

“Above all else, NATO is a community of democratic states, not of autocratic regimes or fake democracies,” Rakipi concluded.

Fiesinger, on his side, emphasized the importance of democratic democratic values in domestic politics.

Following, Moses-Ones recollected the statement of President Truman at the signing ceremony in April 4, 1949, where he noted that the pact was “a shield against aggression that would enable governments to concentrate on achieving a fuller, happier existence for their citizens.”

That aspiration remains unchanged, according to her.

She added that the “U.S. commitment to NATO is absolute” adding that each new member has strengthened the alliance’s collective capabilities in protecting our common peace and prosperity.

However, Moses-Ones also reminded the audience that despite the achievements of the alliance in its 70 years of existence, it is not done.

“Russia is determined to undermine our democratic institutions and sew divisions among us and within our nations.  Russian hybrid threats aimed at our democracies have included nerve agent attacks and malicious cyber activities. Russia is one threat, but not the only threat.  North Korea and Iran, led by their rogue regimes, threaten to upset the world order through their dangerous tactics. And terrorism remains a constant and pervasive threat to our alliance.  NATO is as important to our security today as at any time in our 70-year history,” she said.

In reference to Albania’s membership, she emphasized that the country has made the Alliance “stronger,” pointing to its contribution with forces in Afghanistan, Kosovo, Bosnia or Iraq. As such, Albania plays an out-sized role in the alliance, that should serve as an example to other member states.

However, as its role and contribution grow, so do its responsibilities. In this regard, she reiterated the need for Albania to root out corruption, improve rule of law and fight organized crime. She mentioned the Justice Reform as an indicator that the country is headed in the right direction, despite the hard work that remains to be done. To those that claim the reform is either compromised or has failed, she added, “my message to you is this: You are wrong.”

In her remarks, Schütz reiterated the important role of NATO for Germany.

Regarding the region, she emphasized the EU and NATO’s enlargement policy impact, particularly in helping build and maintain peace in the Balkans.

Since 1994, when Albania became a member of the Partnership-for-Peace program, through its full membership, the country has undertaken significant domestic, political, and military reforms.

“Albania has since significantly contributed to security and stability in this strategically important region in South Eastern Europe. In addition, Albania has also contributed to international NATO led missions, i.e. Albania deployed over 3.000 troops with ISAF. It has also been an active supporter of the campaign against terrorism since 2001, and continues its participation in the face of new and emerging threats such as the Islamic State,” Schutz said.

She emphasized Germany’s support for enlargement with Montenegro and North Macedonia and noted that NATO relations with Serbia have also improved.

Bachura, who kept closing remarks in the first panel, drew back on the history of NATO and its importance to Poland. He noted that Poland has adapted on open door policy on enlargement. Today NATO’s mission is to “keep third parties out, American’s in and threats down” according to him. To underline the importance of the alliance, he noted that regions such as the Balkans or the Baltics can “sleep at night” due to security provided by NATO.

However, despite its importance, for him NATO does not stand alone as a guarantor of security in Europe. Organizations such as the OSCE also play an important role in this regard. Reminding the audience of the Russian threat, he noted that it is easy to be considered as a Russophobe, but one only needs to consider what happened in Georgia, Ukraine and particularly Crimea to understand the magnitude of the threat Russia presents. In his closing remarks, he emphasized that “our alliance endures because its principles are timeless.”

Chair of the Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs Mimi Kodheli and Former Deputy Speaker of the Parliament of Albania Valentina Leskaj spoke on the first panel, moderated by AIIS Deputy Director Alba Cela.

Kodheli reiterated the strong support for NATO among Albanians, and the firm belief on its unique function. As an alliance, member states need to focus on commonalities.

In respect to the Summit of Wales, she noted that the Government of Albania has ever since changed its downward spending trend on defense and continues to work toward fulfilling its obligations.

However, she noted that security starts at home, and Albania must do more to ensure democratic principles are upheld at home.

In her speech, Leskaj noted the importance of the alliance for Albania. In regards to the latter’s contribution, she noted that despite being a small country and possessing modest capabilities, Albania has demonstrated serious commitment to contribute to the alliance.

The second panel of the conference, moderated by Toni Gjuraj, took a wider approach in examining and interpreting the regional dynamics.

Sanja Bujas-Juraga, Ambassador of the Republic of Croatia who shares the same anniversary of NATO membership as Albania, opened her speech by mentioning the asymmetric threats that can be faced only due to the existence of the NATO umbrella that shields all member countries. Going back to NATO’s birth, she highlighted that the Alliance’s relevance is as strong as ever and that its enlargement has been one significant component of its success.

The Croatian Ambassador expressed her content at seeing the NATO flag being raised almost in all the countries of region and said that it was a testament to the success of NATO’s ‘open doors policy’.

“Albania and Croatia’s accession was important for all the region, it was the reward for their hard work and the fulfilment of the vision that both countries had,” the Ambassador said.

Bujas- Juraga also expressed positive evaluation for Bosnia’s membership Action Plan. Declaring the Adriatic Charter as a key instrument for enlargement the Croatian Ambassador urged for Kosovo to be included in this Charter and said she was hopeful a concrete invitation would be made soon to Kosovo.  

The Ambassador of the Republic of North Macedonia, Dancho Markovski reminisced at the beginning of his speech about May 2003 when in Tirana, the states of Albania, Croatia, Macedonia (at that time) and the US signed the US-Adriatic Charter which was later joined by others. Expressing his positive feeling about the perspective of the Republic of North Macedonia joining NATO as the 30th member state, the Ambassador said that it was not easy for his country to return to the path of Euro-Atlantic progress but that the government has achieved this.

It was done according to him especially by opening the strategic dialogue and trust building with its neighbor Greece, finalized in the historic Prespa Agreement.  

Charge d’affaires of Kosovo to Albania, Syle Ukshini in his speech focused on the intensive relation between Kosovo and NATO given the 20th anniversary of the NATO intervention in Serbia and Kosovo.

“Without NATO we would not have a homeland,” was his emotional opening continued by his description of NATO as an instrument of global security which cannot be substituted. Ukshini said that Kosovo’s approach was very clear and its western orientation very resolute. He said that Kosovo sees its own membership in NATO as the finalization of the security architecture in the region. He thanked all the men and women in uniform who served and are serving in Kosovo for their contribution.

Former deputy minister of foreign affairs and current adviser to the Prime Minister office, Odeta Barbullushi in her presentation focused on the multiple anniversaries that this year marks, describing NATO’s enlargement to the Central and Eastern European countries as the natural fulfillment of its profile. Barbullushi brought up again the vulnerability of the Western Balkans region which is exposed to threats and security issues coming from both the East and the South and in this context the guarantee of NATO for regional security.

Barbullushi focused on NATO as a “community of security” where the word ‘community’ was as important as the other one, since what unites the member states, their commitments and their values are as crucial to the Alliance as the interest to safeguard their countries.

Gjuraj, who is also a Rector of the European University of Tirana also mentioned some of the current challenges and parallel dynamics such as the state of regional cooperation, democratic development and good governance for both NATO members and aspiring countries as well as external issues such as perceived Russian impact and other external actors efforts to exert influence in the region.

The third panel, chaired by journalist Lutfi Dervishi, sought to explore the new security environment and the NATO future.

Marko Bello spoke about the dangers NATO is facing from doubts cast from within, and especially from US President Donald Trump.

According to Bello, Trump’s ideology of putting ‘America First’ has definitely worried many Europeans, but other American officials do not share the same doubts and NATO’s last actions in the region prove that.

On his side Plator Kalakula, from the foreign ministry’s NATO Directorate, said that since 2014, the international security situation has been unprecedented since the Cold War.

“NATO is misunderstood in many countries. Member States do not lose their sovereignty by joining NATO. Even a small country like Albania can block a NATO decision if it does not coincide with its interests. The approach towards the south, because the threat came from a non-state actor, such as ISIS. The budget issue is key, especially with the current US administration,” Kalakula said.

Meanwhile, AIIS researcher Alfonc Rakaj concluded by saying that Albania’s initiative in participating in far away missions fails at home, where we don’t take care of our democratic values.

The conference took place at the Tirana International Hotel, on March 21, 2018.

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times March 23, 2019 14:54