After 15 years of NATO membership, parliamentarians hail Albania’s outsized contribution to Alliance security and resilience

22 April 2024

The 15th anniversary of Albania’s accession to NATO provided an opportunity to reflect on the country’s remarkable Euro-Atlantic journey and the outsized contribution that it makes to the Alliance. As NATO grapples with the return of conflict and instability on the European continent, Albania’s steadfast commitment to upholding peace and security in the Euro-Atlantic region and beyond remains as strong as ever.  

Strategically located in the Western Balkans and along the Adriatic and Ionian Seas, Albania plays a crucial role in NATO’s adaptation to the new geopolitical reality. Its growing investments in defence, strong participation in Allied operations and decision to host NATO’s first air base in the region are testament to its determination to enhance the Alliance’s deterrence and defence posture on its eastern and southern flanks. Albania’s efforts to bolster its capacity to identify, resist and respond to hybrid threats also strengthen the societal and democratic resilience of the Alliance.  

These are the key messages conveyed to the delegation of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly’s Committee on Democracy and Security (CDS) during its three-day visit to Tirana, Durrës, and Kuçova from 16 to 18 April. The delegation was composed of 18 parliamentarians from 10 NATO countries. Vasile Dincu (Romania), Chairperson of the CDS Sub-Committee on Resilience and Civil Security, chaired the visit, which was hosted by the Albanian delegation to the NATO PA, led by Mimi Kodheli, former NATO PA Vice-President. 

Albania’s commitment to Euro-Atlantic security and unique contributions to NATO 

Amidst the resurgence of conflict and tensions on the European continent, “Albania stands resolute, focused on the future and more committed than ever to safeguarding the interests of the Alliance,” declared President of Albania Bajram Begaj to the delegation. Lindita Nikolla, Speaker of the Albanian Parliament, added that “through its steadfast commitment to NATO’s values and missions, Albania punches above its weight.” 

During the visit, representatives of the Ministry of Defence highlighted that Albania demonstrates its unwavering commitment to NATO by actively investing in its defence capabilities and contributing to NATO’s missions and operations. The country is modernising its armed forces and set on reaching the 2% of GDP NATO benchmark of defence spending. In addition, Albania’s Armed Forces participate in NATO’s KFOR peacekeeping mission in Kosovo and NATO’s mission in Iraq, while also contributing troops to the multinational battlegroups in Latvia and Bulgaria.  

Parliamentarians visited NATO’s first air base in the Western Balkans region, opened last March in Kuçova. The base will serve as a support hub for national, bilateral and NATO air operations, logistics, training, and exercises. Albania recently acquired two new US-made Black Hawk helicopters as well as three Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 drones.  

Albania also actively contributes to Allied maritime security. The Albanian Navy joined NATO’s Operation Sea Guardian in 2023 to help patrol the Adriatic and Central Mediterranean Seas and has offered to host a new NATO naval base in Porto Romano. The delegation paid a visit to the Inter-Institutional Maritime Operations Centre (IMOC) in the port city of Dürres. The Centre is responsible for the planning, coordination, and direction of sea operations in Albania’s maritime space.  

Albania’s priorities for the Western Balkans region 

Albania is a strong proponent of the Euro-Atlantic integration of the Western Balkans. “Albania is convinced that NATO and EU enlargement is the most effective way to secure a peaceful and prosperous future for the region and the wider Euro-Atlantic community,” said Mimi Kodheli, head of the Albanian delegation. This was echoed by Megi Fino, Deputy Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, who stressed that “by aligning with the values and principles of the Euro-Atlantic community, nations in the region strengthen their resilience against external threats and foster cooperation for shared prosperity.”  

Accordingly, promoting good neighbourly relations and building on synergies are key priorities for the Albanian government. The delegation was briefed about ongoing regional cooperation efforts by Amer Kapetanovic, Head of the Political Department at the Regional Cooperation Council, who noted progress in building a common economic and security order. However, Albert Rakipi, Chair of the Albanian Institute for International Studies, warned the delegation that attacks in Kosovo last December had marked an important setback for regional stability, and that malevolent actors could seek to exploit this volatile situation. In the light of these recent events, Albania’s active and constructive engagement in the region is more crucial than ever. 

Albania’s proactive support for Ukraine 

Since the onset of Russia’s illegal and brutal invasion, Albania has stood firmly in solidarity with Ukraine. “We are sparing no effort to continue providing Ukraine with the financial, military, political, and diplomatic support that it needs to win.” By joining the ranks of NATO countries supporting Ukraine in its legitimate fight against the Russian aggressor, “Albania has helped to demonstrate the strength, resolve, and cohesion of the Alliance” said Prime Minister Edi Rama to the delegation.  

Albania has adopted a particularly proactive role when it comes to mustering support for Ukraine. Albania is one of Ukraine’s most vocal supporters within regional and international institutions, including as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council last year. Earlier in February, Albania co-hosted the first ever Ukraine – South East Europe Summit to help gather regional military and financial aid for Kyiv. Albania and Ukraine have also agreed to reinforce their bilateral ties and strengthen cooperation in various fields, including defence and security. 

Albania’s experience in fostering societal and democratic resilience 

Strengthening national resilience to hybrid threats and non-military challenges was another important theme of the visit. Albania is a regional leader in the fight against foreign interference in the Westerns Balkans, particularly in democratic institutions and processes. Strengthening democracy, good governance, and the rule of law are also key requirements for Albania to advance on its path towards EU integration.  

Speakers from the OSCE Presence in Albania, the Coordination Centre for Countering Violent Extremism, and Tirana University briefed the delegation about Albania’s efforts and challenges in fighting organised crime, corruption, violent extremism and terrorism, and disinformation. They highlighted the importance of adopting a comprehensive approach to these issues, mustering sufficient political will and resources, and developing cross-border cooperation.  

Since 2022, Albanian authorities have also stepped up their efforts to address cyber security challenges after the country experienced a major cyber-attack that they attributed to a hacker group sponsored by the Iranian government. In meetings with representatives of the National Authority on Electronic Certification and Cyber Security and the National Agency of Information Society, parliamentarians heard that building capacity in critical sectors, investing in technology, promoting citizen awareness, encouraging public-private partnerships, and cooperating with international partners are the current key priorities to build a stronger cyber ecosystem in Albania. 

Advancing gender equality and implementing the Women, Peace and Security Agenda are another crucial component of Albania’s efforts to bolster democratic and societal resilience. Major General Manushaqe Shehu, the first woman named Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the Albanian Armed Forces, as well as representatives from UN Women and the Counselling Line for Women and Girls told participants that Albania ranks among the highest countries in the world on the participation of women in politics while also standing above the global average in terms of the gender balance in the security sector. Still, they pointed out, women remain underrepresented in the security sector, particularly in command and leadership positions.  

Photos of the visit