NATO’s relations with Albania

  • Last updated 25-Mar-2009 10:23

NATO and Albania cooperate in a range of areas, with a particular emphasis on defence and security sector reform, as well as support for wider democratic and institutional reform. In April 2008, Albania was invited to start accession talks to become a member of the Alliance. The accession protocols were signed on 9 July 2008 and the ratification process is ongoing.

It is expected that the process may be completed in time for the Strasburg-Kehl Summit, so that Albania can join it as a full member of the Alliance.

During the period leading up to accession, NATO is involving Albania in Alliance activities to the greatest extent possible, and continues to provide support and assistance, including through the Membership Action Plan.

Beyond the focus on reform, another important area of cooperation is the country’s support for NATO-led operations. Albania is currently contributing to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan in 2003. In the past, the country contributed to the Stabilisation Force (SFOR) in Bosnia and Herzegovina; it also supported Allied peacekeeping operations in Kosovo by hosting a logistics support command, which became a regional military headquarters, NATO HQ Tirana, in 2002.

Framework for cooperation

Up to and until membership in the Alliance, Albania’s cooperation with NATO takes place in the framework of the Membership Action Plan. In the MAP framework, Albania sets out its reform plans and timelines in its Annual National Programme (ANP). Key areas include political, military and security-sector reforms. Important priorities are efforts to meet democratic standards, support for reducing corruption and fighting organized crime, judicial reform, improving public administration and promoting good-neighbourly relations. NATO Allies provide feedback on the envisaged reforms and evaluate their implementation.

Until the Bucharest Summit, where Albania was invited to join NATO, NATO teams visited Albania to draft a progress report on the implementation of the ANP, including possible recommendations for further action. These were agreed by Allies and then discussed by the North Atlantic Council with representatives from Albania at a high-level meeting at the end of the cycle. More specific and technical reforms in the defence area were discussed and assessed in parallel in the context of the Partnership for Peace Planning and Review Process (PARP), through which the country has accepted planning targets, or Partnership Goals, in a wide variety of defence capability areas. Following the invitation issued at the Bucharest Summit, work with Albania in the defence reform/defence planning areas has been gradually switched to the modalities which apply to Allies.

Albania also cooperates with NATO and Partner countries in a wide range of other areas through the Partnership for Peace (PfP) programme and the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC). It tailors its participation in the PfP programme through an annual Individual Partnership Programme, selecting those activities that will help achieve the goals it has set in the Annual National Programme.

Key areas of cooperation

Security cooperation

Albania played an important role in supporting Allied efforts in 1999 to end the humanitarian tragedy in Kosovo and secure the peace after the air campaign. The country allowed the Allies to establish a logistics support command centre in Tirana to help sustain peacekeeping operations in Kosovo. In 2002, NATO established a regional military headquarters in Tirana (NATO HQ Tirana), which was incorporated into the structures of the NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR). Albania also provided support to the Allies for the stabilization operations in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia1 from 2001 to 2003.

Albanian forces have joined Allied forces operating in Afghanistan. The country currently contributes some 135 military personnel to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) as part of the Turkish and Italian contingents. Four medical personnel were also sent as part of a combined medical team from all three MAP countries; they joined ISAF in August 2005 and are serving under a Czech contingent.

Albanian forces have also worked alongside those of NATO nations in peacekeeping operations in Bosnia and Herzegovina. An Albanian contingent joined in 1996 and the country continues its contribution to the European Union’s Operation Althea today. Operation Althea replaced the NATO-led SFOR force in November 2007. Preparations are ongoing for an Albanian contribution to Operation Active Endeavour, NATO’s maritime counter-terrorist operation in the Mediterranean.

Albania has identified a number of units available for operations, training and exercises with NATO, under the umbrella of PfP. These include an infantry company that remains on high readiness, a commando company, including Special Forces elements, and medical support, engineer and military-police platoons. Albania has also hosted and participated in a range of PfP exercises and activities.

Albania contributes to the fight against terrorism through its participation in the Partnership Action Plan on Terrorism. This includes sharing intelligence and analysis with NATO, enhancing national counter-terrorist capabilities and improving border security.

Defence and security sector reform

NATO is supportive of the wide-ranging and ongoing democratic and institutional reform process underway in Albania, which is outlined in its Annual National Programme. Specifically in the area of defence and security sector reform, NATO and individual Allies have considerable expertise that Albania can draw upon. NATO HQ Tirana is a key forum for bilateral consultations and advice on the implementation of Albania’s security and defence reforms.

A key priority for Albania is to ensure the maintenance of democratic control of the armed forces. Albania’s subscription to the objectives of the Partnership Action Plan on Defence Institution Building supports these efforts, by promoting effective judicial oversight, offering appropriate command arrangements and wider consultations.

Albania’s participation in the PfP Planning and Review Process (PARP) since 1999 has helped develop the ability of its forces to work with NATO. PARP is a core element of cooperation under the Membership Action Plan. The PARP provides a framework through which Albania can work with the Allies on achieving force interoperability with NATO. Consultations on the modernization of military civilian communications systems, surveillance systems, maritime units, logistics and other areas are ongoing.

Albania joined the Operational Capabilities Concept (OCC) in 2005. The OCC is a mechanism through which units available for PfP operations can be evaluated and better integrated with NATO forces to increase operational effectiveness.

Civil emergency planning

Albania is enhancing its national civil emergency and disaster-management capabilities in cooperation with NATO, and through participation in activities organized by the Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre (EADRCC). The country also participates in the work of the Senior Civil Emergency Planning Committee.

Science and environment

Under the Science for Peace and Security (SPS) Programme, Albania has received grant awards for over 20 projects for scientific and environmental collaboration. Many activities are aimed at supporting Albania’s reform and interoperability efforts.

Projects include collaborative studies on strengthening and promoting religious coexistence and tolerance, studies on overcoming the difficulties of secure networking, and the creation of computer emergency response teams.

Public diplomacy

During the MAP process, public diplomacy work focused on increasing public awareness of how NATO works, promoting understanding of the rights and obligations which membership brings, and encouraging realistic perceptions of the organisation. Public diplomacy activities also aim to develop and maintain links with civil society actors and to facilitate security-related activities and programmes in the country. NATO’s Public Diplomacy Division plays a key role in this area as do individual Allies and Partner countries.

Groups of opinion leaders from the country are regularly invited to visit NATO Headquarters and the Supreme Headquarters of Allied Powers in Europe (SHAPE). Albania has hosted seminars and conferences. A “NATO week” involving roundtable university discussions and conferences was held in 2007.

Evolution of relations

NATO-Albania relations date back to 1992, when Albania joined the North Atlantic Cooperation Council (later renamed the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council in 1997). Relations expanded when Albania joined the Partnership for Peace in 1994. Albania played an important role in supporting Allied efforts to end the humanitarian tragedy in Kosovo and secure the peace after the air campaign. Bilateral cooperation has developed progressively in light of the country’s membership aspirations and its participation in the Membership Action Plan since April 1999. Political and public support for accession to NATO has always been very high (supported by well over 95 per cent of the population). In April 2008, Albania was invited to start accession talks with the Alliance. NATO Allies signed protocols on Albania’s accession to the North Atlantic Treaty on 9 July 2008 and the ratification process is ongoing. It is expected that the process will be completed in time for the Strasburg-Kehl Summit, so that Albania can join it as a full member of the Alliance.

NATO HQ Tirana, which was established in 2002 to contribute to the command and control of KFOR, also provides advice, assistance and support to the Albanian government in its defence reforms efforts.  

Key milestones
1992 Albania joins the newly created North Atlantic Cooperation Council, renamed the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council in 1997
1994 Albania joins the Partnership for Peace (PfP).
1996 Albanian forces join the NATO-led SFOR peacekeeping force in Bosnia and Herzegovina
1999 NATO establishes a logistical base in Tirana to support Allied operations in Kosovo.
2000 Albania hosts the PfP exercise “Adventure Express” in April and “Cooperative Dragon” in June.
2001 Albania hosts the initial phase of the PfP exercise “Adventure Express 01” in April and May.
2002 NATO HQ Tirana is established to assist Albania in the implementation of its defence capability reforms as well as to contribute to the command and control of KFOR.
2003 Albanian forces deploy in support of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan.
2005 Albania joins the Operational Capabilities Concept.
  A combined medical team of the three MAP countries joins NATO-led forces in Afghanistan in August.
  Albania hosts the PfP exercise “Cooperative Engagement 05” in September.
2007 Albania hosts a meeting of the Euro-Atlantic Policy Advisory Group of the EAPC in May.
  Albania hosts the PfP exercises “Cooperative Longbow 07” and “Cooperative Lancer 07”.
2008 In April 2008, Albania is invited to start accession talks with the Alliance.
  NATO Allies sign protocols on Albania’s accession to the North Atlantic Treaty on 9 July 2008.