Why Albania Needs NATO Membership

Why Albania Needs NATO Membership 
Tirana Times - http://tiranatimes.com/

By Albert Rakipi 

The approach of the NATO summit and the possibility that Albania might receive an invitation to become a member of the alliance has encouraged a new political debate on the need for far reaching political and economic reforms. It is clear that in the remaining months, neither politicians in Albania, the Albanian society as whole nor the Alliance expect a miracle to take place in this regard and that the country will meet all the criteria required in order for it to become a NATO member. Nevertheless the remaining time is sufficient for the government and the opposition to demonstrate political will at least as far as the drafting of a complete and practical plan of action is concerned. But above all the remaining time is sufficient for the government and the opposition to start a process of cooperation and consensus, as opposed to the political conflict and zero sum game logic that has been one of the defining characteristics of Albanian politics since the fall of Communism. 

Following several messages by Prime Minister Berisha calling for cooperation with the opposition it has recently been the opposition that has proposed a resolution on the need for cooperation and on the need for reaching consensus on the reforms required for NATO membership. More recently there has been a proposal on a national pact on the reform of the justice system. This article argues that through these two proposals and especially through the national pact, as the leader of the Socialist Party, Rama calls it, it is possible to mobilize the institutions in politics and society in order to undertake the profound political and economic changes that would bring to an end the conflictual political transition in Albania. 

But how can this moment of debate be transformed into an agreement between parties that actually transcends partisan politics? There are several issues in this regard that bear some examination. 

Firstly the government and the opposition in Albania have tended to reach bipartisan agreements only in times of serious political crisis and under pressure from international institutions. 1997 provides one of the best examples. This is not a phenomenon that is limited to Albania, - as borne witness by the Albanians and Macedonians who managed to reach an agreement only after the serious crisis of 2001 - but it is typical of other countries and regions where the governments and societies have been involved in a process of transformation and modernization. But there is no such crisis threatening Albania today, although there is international encouragement and pressure. The demands of the international community for an electoral reform and a reform of the justice system have done much to urge Albanian political parties to do more than just talk on the need for reform and strive instead to reach political agreements. The fact that the encouragement and the pressure for politics of consensus and cooperation comes from the outside does not solely reflect on our culture of dependency but also on the level of political maturity in the country. 

Secondly the Albanian experience has shown that in weak democracies, the parties do not always respect the substance of political agreements. For instance the political agreement of 1997 was not respected on the all the issues that were agreed upon. So how long lived will the agreement or pact proposed by the opposition now be? A few months? Until the Bucharest Summit is over? In other words the issue is as follows: is the proposal by the Socialist Party a typical political move on the part of the opposition in order to exploit a significant political moment such as the issue of the potential invitation of Albania into NATO? In other words is the opposition simply engaging in a political move in order to provide itself with an alibi in case - and this is not impossible - the Alliance decides to postpone Albania's invitation? Is the opposition doing this so that it can later criticize the government for its failure in this regard? There have been several voices - individuals but not without influence - that have clearly expressed the view that the government should resign in case it fails to receive an invitation. And naturally were Albania to be invited during this administration's mandate it is very clear that most of the credit would go to the government, although all post-Communist governments in Albania have played their part in getting the country this far. NATO membership would become an important "weapon" for the government in the electoral campaign of 2009. But the opposite is not necessarily true. If Albania does not receive an invitation it will be hard to blame it on the government and use this outcome as a weapon in the 2009 elections. 

Naturally we would all wish that Albania does receive an invitation, but NATO membership would first and foremost be evaluated based on the level of readiness of the country as far as the functioning of the political and economic system are concerned as well as from the reform in the armed forces. And it would be hard to blame the government that has been in power for the last to years for not fulfilling these criteria. In any case, the decision that the Alliance will take in April will be political and will not be based solely on the individual performance of each candidate country but also on other considerations that do not relate to Albania proper but also to the region, the problems within the Alliance or the unresolved issues between FYROM and Greece or other countries. 

But let us return to the issue of whether the Socialist Party is proposing the deal as a preventive action that has the elections in mind. No one has the right to prejudice its motivation, but nevertheless clarity is needed because if it is asking for an bipartisan political agreement solely because of short term political objectives or for short lived agreements that last for only two or three months it would not simply mean that we are not serious about a very serious political issue, but we are also showing that we have not understood or do not want to understand why we need NATO membership. Integration into NATO is not a goal in itself. Normal politics, good governance, democracy and a functional economy as well as a functioning justice system are not needed so that we can enter into NATO but for the future of our country, its political, economic development and the modernization of the country and society. 

Thirdly, NATO membership as well as EU membership requires political cooperation and not just as far as the justice reform is concerned. The opposition is proposing a pact on the justice reform. According to the leader of the SP, Rama the agreement would bring about a spirit of consensus that would serve as a guide for the relationship between justice and politics and whereby the political rotation would no longer affect the institutions of the justice system. But the justice system, albeit one of the most important, is but one of the systems that are in need of reform as a result of interference by politics. The agreement thus would have to purely political and make provisions on how to reform the way in which politics is done in Albania. Albania reflects the characteristics of a weak state where there is no clear division between government and state. And as has happened before and can still happen in the future when the government loses its legitimity and support by the citizens the state also loses its legitimacy and support. And when that happens instead of opposing the government the citizens start to oppose the state and its institutions. Quite often the government is identified as the state and we have already seen in Albania and in other places the occurrence of what in political analysis is referred to as the governmentalization of the state. 

The national pact should not include just the justice system but all the fundamental institutions of the state as for instance the public administration which is very weak and is changed regularly every time there is a political rotation of power. Other issues such as the law and electoral institutions must be part of the package of the bipartisan agreement. Unfortunately in Albania the electoral law and the administration of the elections continue to cause deep political disagreements. The reforms on these areas and others must be inclusive, but above all the political agreement between the parties must be an act of reconciliation which would bring to an end the conduction of politics through conflict and the exclusion of the other.