A New Era for Southeastern Europe
His Excellency Luan Hajdaraga
Minister of Defense of Albania
THE STATUS OF KOSOVO
In June of 1999, NATO was concluding one of the most successful missions it ever undertook in the post-Cold War period. Its troops entered Kosovo, beginning a new era for the whole of Southeastern Europe. It is now time to take stock of what was achieved, and to see where we go from here.
First, as someone who was personally involved in confronting the humanitarian catastrophe that Mr. Milosevic unleashed upon the Kosovarsa catastrophe that threatened to destabilize the entire region, in particular my own countryI can tell you that NATOs action in Kosovo, as Secretary General of NATO, Lord Robertson, said, was not only the right thing to do. It was also the only right thing to do.
One year after NATO troops entered Kosovo, we see a different Kosovo. The region is stable. The overwhelming majority of refugees are returning and reconstruction has started. The local elections in the fall of 2000 will further contribute to stabilization. The problems and challenges are still enormous, but we must not allow them to be an element of satisfaction for professional critics and skeptics who always see the glass as half empty rather than half full.
If you take a close look at Kosovo, you will see that it is free. This is probably the most important thing that is different one year later. Of course, freedom alone is not enough; without democracy freedom is destined to vanish. Democracy is what Kosovo needs most now: the rule of law, a market economy, human rights, and so on. This is what the international community and, I believe, the political class in Kosovo consider their most important current challenge. In addition, schools and education systems need to be rebuilt. So does the banking system, the justice system, and all the other segments of a normal democratic society. For that to happen, the continued presence of the international community and, most important, the continued presence of NATO, is of vital importance.
The issue of Kosovos final status can be discussed at a later stage when conditions are right. Our firm belief is that the final solution can only come within the framework of Southeastern Europes integration. Yet the integration of Southeastern Europe in itself is not enough. It also must be integrated with European and Euro-Atlantic institutions.
THE STATUS OF THE STABILITY PACT
I would like now to comment on the Stability Pact. Almost a year has elapsed since this initiative was conceived, and important developments have indeed taken place since then. A successful Donors Conference was recently held in Brussels, but the desired results have yet to materialize. The region needs to see that this is an initiative and a process that works; otherwise the Pact may not produce the desired results.
We believe that NATO has a very important role to play in this framework. Indeed, it cannot be a substitute for the Stability Pact, but neither can the Pact be fully successful without NATOs presence, efforts, and cooperation with the individual countries in the region.
ALBANIAS EFFORTS TOWARD NATO MEMBERSHIP
Albanias strategic objective remains to obtain full membership in NATO. We have engaged seriously in the Membership Action Plan (MAP) process, and believe that it constitutes a clear road map leading us toward membership.
Albania sees the MAP process as having two key points: one, it is bringing our country closer to the Alliance, helping us to achieve one of our foreign policy goals; and, two, it is consolidating all our democratic achievements from all fields, giving us further incentive to work hard. As we work, we feel that we are not alone in our efforts. Apart from the strong support we have received so far from the Alliance, we have also entered into a united front with the other eight NATO aspirant countries.
As a signatory party, Albania hails the results of the meeting in Vilnius of the aspirant countries Foreign Ministers and pledges to increase cooperation with them in our joint endeavors to integrate into the Alliance. We share a common cause, along with a belief in democracy, human rights, and a market economy. We also attach the utmost importance to the preservation and development of the transatlantic link. It is for these reasons that we are prepared to also share the responsibilities that membership in the Alliance brings.
Insofar as the army is concerned, we are engaged in serious reform. Two important documents approved by our parliament at the beginning of 2000 have provided us with a solid legal basis for this reform. The National Strategic Defense and Security Document as well as the Defense Policy Document will guide us in our efforts. Based on those documents, the size of the army is being scaled down and we expect significant increases in our defense budget over the next years. Our army structures are being adapted to ensure compatibility and interoperability with those of NATO countries.
The assistance we have received so far from NATO within the framework of the PFP has proved invaluable, and we look forward to continuing our cooperation in this area. We remain committed to following this road to membership and will do our best to see that our efforts succeed. We will also do our utmost to speed up our reforms, since we are convinced that reform will in turn speed up the process of our Euro-Atlantic integration as well as stabilize our region and beyond.