Updated: 17-May-2001 NATO Speeches

At the Albanian Atlantic
Tirana, Albania
17 May 2001


by NATO Secretary General, Lord Robertson

Minister(s), Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me start by saying what a great pleasure it is for me to be in Tirana today, and to address this important gathering organised by the Albanian Atlantic Association. I want to recognise especially the man at the helm of the Association, Alfred Moisiu, who is an old friend of the Alliance and someone with whom I always enjoyed working when he was still his country's Defence Minister. I am quite sure Alfred is doing an equally splendid job leading the Albanian Atlantic Association. My Staff and I look forward to continuing to cooperate with him, as well as with the Albanian Government, in advancing Albania's relations with the Alliance.

We have a solid basis to build on. NATO's relations with Albania have both widened and deepened significantly in recent years. One reason has been the interest of the Alliance in working with Albania to help stabilise the troubled Balkans region. But equally important in fostering our relationship have been the strong efforts made by Albania to cooperate with, move closer to, and eventually join the Alliance. It is on these two dimensions of our ever-closer relationship that I wish to focus my remarks today.

Let me start with the Alliance's effort to bring greater stability and security to South East Europe, and to integrate all the countries of the region into the broader community of European democracies, which is where they belong. I think that, on the whole, despite a number of lingering problems and occasional serious setbacks, we are seeing important progress in the right direction.

Kosovo, for example, has undergone a dramatic transformation. Only two years ago, it was the scene of terrible violence. Now, it is largely safe and secure. Despite the occasional upsurge, overall numbers show that the level of violence is consistently going down. Refugees have felt sufficiently safe to return to their homes. Free and fair local elections have allowed the development of democratic self-governing institutions. Ultimately, the success of NATO's Kosovo campaign has been total: Kosovo is protected, the dictatorship abolished, the dictator imprisoned.

With the disappearance of the Milosevic regime, the future of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia has become a lot brighter as well; and with it the entire region's prospects for lasting peace, stability and prosperity. Under a democratic leadership, Yugoslavia has been keen to overcome its image as an outcast and become a responsible neighbour to the other countries in the region, and a constructive partner to the wider international community.

And then there is Bosnia. Several recent outbursts of old-fashioned nationalism and ethnic hatred cannot disguise the fact that real progress has been made in that country as well. Refugees have returned, roads and houses have been reconstructed, and communities rebuilt. New, democratically elected institutions are supporting inter-ethnic rehabilitation. Bosnia was very much a tortured country six years ago. Now, it is a country at peace - a fragile peace, perhaps, and buttressed by a robust international presence, but peace nonetheless. A peace that creates the foundations for the people of Bosnia to build a self-sustaining society.

We are seeing very clear examples of positive change throughout South East Europe. At the same time, however, it is evident that there is still a lot of work to be done. Of course, this is first and foremost a responsibility for the countries in the region themselves, for individual governments that need to implement domestic reforms and work together with neighbouring countries. And it is equally evident, that the international community must continue to encourage and support such efforts, and to help create a favourable environment for them to succeed.

As far as the Alliance is concerned, I see four areas on which I believe we must focus in the short to medium term. Let me mention them to you, in no particular order of priority.

In Bosnia, we must counter the attempts of hard-liners to establish self-rule for Bosnian Croat areas, in breach of the Dayton Peace Agreement and the legitimate state institutions. All Bosnian Croats must be made to understand that the interests of their community are best served by cooperating with the legitimate authorities of the Federation and with the High Representative. As before, NATO will not tolerate any acts of violence.

In Kosovo, we must build on our success, and extend peace and security to all the Kosovars, regardless of their ethnic identity. This principle is firmly enshrined in Security Council Resolution 1244, and the international community is determined to uphold it. Above all, this means that the violence against minorities must stop. But neither will we tolerate acts of aggression such as those perpetrated against representatives of the international community in recent weeks.

A third priority for the Alliance is to complete successfully the phased and conditioned release to the Belgrade authorities of the Ground Safety Zone, the buffer zone between Kosovo and the rest of Serbia. Two thirds of the zone have already been released without any major difficulties. The remaining part overlaps with the Presevo Valley, where NATO and the European Union have in recent months been engaged in facilitating a political dialogue between the Serb authorities and the ethnic Albanian community in the region. It is clear that the release of this part of the zone will require considerable restraint on both sides, and a number of confidence building measures by Belgrade, notably an amnesty for those who lay down their arms.

NATO's fourth, and currently perhaps most pressing, priority in South East Europe is to help preserve the security, stability and territorial integrity of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia . Irresponsible acts of aggression by ethnic Albanian extremists risk undermining peace in a country that is a successful example of a functioning democracy in the Balkans.

Let there be no mistake: the international community will continue to isolate the ethnic Albanian extremists, diplomatically and militarily, until they understand that their insurgency cannot and will not succeed, and that they have to pursue their aspirations through political means. I was in Skopje just last week, together with the European Union's High Representative Javier Solana, to stress this point, and to encourage the authorities to continue to show restraint, speed up the inter-ethnic dialogue, and form a broad coalition government. I welcome the formation of a government of national unity over the weekend. The people have stepped back from the edge of catastrophe.

The degree of consultation and coordination between NATO and the EU on this particular matter is unprecedented, and the UN and the OSCE are engaged as well. This shows the strong determination on the part of the entire international community to preserve peace and stability, not just in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, but in the region more widely.

It is obvious that there is a regional dimension to the unrest in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and indeed a risk of the hostilities spilling over and destabilising neighbouring countries. For this reason, KFOR has stepped up measures in the south of Kosovo to prevent people and supplies from slipping across the border. And I am both pleased and grateful that, with this same objective in mind, we have been able to initiate cooperation with the Albanian authorities to control the border of Albania with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

I am equally grateful for the strong political statements made by Prime Minister Meta on behalf of the Albanian Government, condemning the violence and supporting the line taken by the international community - including to dispel the notion of a "greater Albania". I welcome and encourage further such expressions of support, including by politicians who are not currently in power, as well as by the Albanian media. If we want to get the crisis in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia under control -- and surely that is what we all want -- it is absolutely crucial to refrain from making any statements simply for political reasons that will actually worsen the situation.

I am confident that the Albanian Government, for its part, and indeed the people of Albania, will continue to pursue a measured approach towards this security challenge that we face together. My confidence is based on the seriousness with which successive Albanian Governments have supported the Alliance's engagement in South East Europe over the past several years, most crucially during the Kosovo crisis at the beginning of 1999. A further reason for my confidence is the enthusiasm with which successive Albanian Governments have responded to the Alliance's policy of partnership and cooperation, right from the inception of this policy at the beginning of the 1990s.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

This year, we celebrate ten years of partnership and bridge building. Ever since 1991, through the North Atlantic Cooperation Council, and later the Partnership for Peace and the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, we have developed a network of security partnerships that stretches all across Europe, and even to the southern shores of the Mediterranean. It is a network that is truly inclusive and flexible, based on practical cooperation and a shared desire to support one another in dealing with common security challenges.

Albania has been keen to play its part in this security network; and has used the opportunities which PfP and the EAPC offer in advancing its own security interests. But it has also been keen to make an active contribution to European security where it can, such as by contributing to SFOR and KFOR, supporting activities under NATO's South East Europe Initiative, and of course acting as host to KFOR's communications zone (West), a vital part of the logistic support for KFOR.

NATO, for its part, has been glad to have Albania among its Partners, and to keep the country as engaged as possible. The EAPC and PfP nations have been used to good effect. NATO's PfP Cell here in Tirana has proved a very useful instrument for liaising with the Albanian authorities and streamlining cooperation in a wide range of areas.

Allies are of course also well aware that attaining NATO membership is the Albanian Government's strategic objective; an objective supported by all the nation's political parties and an overriding majority of the population. We want to help Albania as much as we can. Indeed, these last few years, in the context of PfP and later also our Membership Action Plan, we have made a considerable effort to help Albania in meeting some of the difficult challenges it faces.

I want to highlight just three of these challenges. The first one is economic reform. It is an area where NATO as such can make only a limited contribution. Yet it is an area that is crucial in order to benefit from working with NATO and eventually joining the Alliance. I know that all of you are realistic people, and that I won't offend anyone here by saying that there is still a lot to do in this regard. Allies are pleased to note, however, that the foundations of a functioning market economy have been put in place, and that Albania has achieved some positive results in macro-economic stabilisation - such as raising production and limiting inflation -- despite continuing serious budget problems.

Closely related to the challenge of economic reform is the critical need to get a grip on crime and corruption. We recognise the considerable determination shown by the Albanian Government. A number of very encouraging initiatives have been taken, but what will matter in the end will be their successful implementation. I am glad that the Alliance has been able to make a contribution in this field by reviewing, together with the Albanian authorities, their overall strategy on border security and border control.

A third area, and one where the Alliance obviously has a lot to offer, is defence reform. Over the past few years we have worked closely, and rather successfully, with the relevant Albanian authorities on various aspects of this crucial challenge. Welcome progress has already been made towards the establishment of a new command and force structure, improvement of living conditions of the military, better education and training for the military, and increased interoperability with NATO forces. NATO is keen to continue working with Albania on these and other priorities.

But, ultimately, it is the actual implementation of defence reforms that will count. Much will depend on the availability of sufficient resources. And, so I am about to make the same point in my speech here today that I have been making time and again before audiences in Allied and Partner countries: money has to be found, and spent wisely on defence priorities, if we are to meet the critical security challenges of the 21st century. It is clear, though, that in the case of Albania, not just defence reform, but also other critical reforms, and indeed the transformation of your entire society, are all crucially dependent on the success of your economic reform process.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I have just characterised you as realistic people. I also consider myself a realist, and hope to have painted a realistic picture here today. A picture of a NATO Alliance strongly committed to restoring peace and stability in a critical part of Europe; determined to help South East Europe shed its "Balkan" past, and embrace its European future.

Albania is an integral part of this objective. It is a country that has been eager to take its rightful place as a European nation. By offering forces to the NATO-led operations in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo, and by lending political support to the goals of the international community, most recently in the face of the crisis in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Albania has demonstrated that it wants to be not only a consumer of security, but indeed a provider of security.

NATO is grateful to Albania for taking such a constructive approach. The Alliance will continue to rely on you, and work with you to help you meet the many difficult challenges that you face. Albania, in turn, can rely on NATO. Rest assure that we will not let you down in your European and Euro-Atlantic aspirations.

Thank you.

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