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Old Foes, New Choices in Albania

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

TIRANA, ALBANIA, April 9, 1996 – When the walls of the Soviet empire came tumbling down, the former Yugoslavia viciously turned upon itself like a mad dog biting off its own tail.

When freedoms light reached the deepest, darkest cave of the Soviets Eastern bloc, Albania turned to the West like a gentle, awakening bear eager for spring.

Bosnia is what happens when too many people focus on old hatreds instead of new challenges, William J. Perry recently said at a gathering of South Balkan defense officials here.

While Bosnia became mired in civil war, Albania chose a political and economic reform, Perry told defense ministers from Albania, Bulgaria, Italy, Macedonia and Turkey. The nation of 3.2 million people on the Adriatic coast of the Balkan Peninsula put its armed forces under civilian control, he said.

Albanian officials also elected to build relations with its neighbors, and to that aim, they invited Perry and the other defense leaders to the first South Balkans Defense Ministerial. Defense officials from within and outside the South Balkans region met for the first time to discuss ways of maintaining peace and stability in the region after NATOs peace implementation force leaves Bosnia.

Historically, the Balkans have the reputation of being the powder keg of Europe, said Safet Zhulali, Albanian defense minister. We are here today to throw water on this presumption. Now is the time when the countries of the Balkans should demonstrate that they too can play an important role in the establishment of regional peace.

During the twoday conference, the ministers discussed regional security and cooperation, including peacekeeping missions and humanitarian and disaster relief. They also discussed exchanging military information, conducting joint exercises and training and improving civil military relations.

The overall goal is to have these countries take preventive measures to avoid another Bosniatype situation, according to Franklin Kramer, assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs.

Peacekeeping Eagle, a joint disaster relief exercise involving all the countries present at the ministerial, will be held in Albania this summer. Plans also call for setting up a regional disaster relief exercise to be held in the late summer or early fall, Kramer said. Its something that each of the countries has the capabilities to participate in, he said.

NATOs Partnership for Peace serves as a firm base for enhancing confidence among countries in the region, Zhulali said. Who could have imagined only a couple of years ago that elements of the Albanian armed forces could be trained abroad and could today exchange their experiences in such diverse activities as peacekeeping, search and rescue, and humanitarian and disaster relieftype operations? he asked.

Partnership for Peace and cooperative relations with Russia are key to future stability in Europe, Perry told the Europeans. Bosnia is proving that NATO remains the foundation for the future security of Europe.

It is in Bosnia where NATO and our new peace partners are first reaping the benefits of our joint peacekeeping training, Perry said. In Bosnia, future NATO members are beginning to shoulder the burdens of membership, and NATO forces, including about 20,000 Americans, and Russian forces are working together, he said.

Russia has been an integral part of the European security picture for over 300 years, Perry said. It will remain a key player in the coming decades, for better or worse. Our job is to make it for the better.

The convening ministers agreed on three principles: the importance of defense cooperation highlevel visits to joint peacetime exercises and operations; the importance of Partnership for Peace membership and regional partnership activities; and the need to be open about defense budgets, plans and strategy.

No country in the region should have to guess about the capabilities or intentions of its neighbors, Perry said. To demonstrate DoDs commitment to openness in the United States, Perry said, he recently distributed copies of the Annual Defense Report to Congress. The report is the official statement of DoDs plans, programs and policies.

It lays out what kind of military force we are building, why we are building them and how much we plan to spend on them, Perry said.

Each year, the defense secretary and chairman of the militarys joint staff also present the presidents defense budget request to Congress and to the media in open hearings and at a press conference, he said. In a democracy, Perry said, civilian defense leaders need to work to develop the defense budget with their military staff.

For democracy to take hold in the region, Perry said, it is crucial that nations have modern defense establishments under democratic control.

According to Perry, three benchmarks of good civilmilitary relations are a defense law defining each government leaders role in national security affairs; a national security strategy drafted by the defense ministry and the military staff; and a professional cadre of welltrained, highly skilled civilians.

In addition to cooperating on defense matters, the Macedonian defense minister suggested countries work together to combat transnational terrorism and drug smuggling. About 600 U.S. troops are serving as part of a U.N. peacekeeping force along the Macedonia/Serbian border. A sixmonth mandate for the operation was recently extended another six months. U.S. and Macedonian defense officials said they expect the mission to continue as long as it is needed.

Although no date was set, the Bulgarian defense minister volunteered to host a second South Balkan ministerial to continue the groups efforts toward regional security.

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