Albania is one of the poorest countries in Europe. Since 1990, the economy has struggled to recover from the distortions of the communist regime, the impact of the move to a market economy and the 1997 Pyramid Crisis. Growth is strong albeit from a very low base. The maintenance of law and order remains a problem in Albania. There are high levels of organised crime and corruption. When Albania started the transition from central planning to a market economy, it was the poorest and most isolated and backward country in Europe. For centuries, Albania had been largely unknown and inaccessible, and, from 1945 to 1985, its isolation was compounded by the rigid communist dictatorship of Enver Hoxha.
The reform of the Albanian Armed Forces began in 1991, together with the transformation of Albanian society from a centralized planned economy to a market-oriented one with respect for rule of law and democratic values. The reform of the armed forces is a complex process that is complicated even more by the ways that national interests are defined in the post-Cold War era.
Two idiosyncratic features that can be said to define the state of civil-military relations in Albania. First, historically there have been no tendencies in the Albanian army to seize controlover politics and civic affairs. This is an attribute of the Albanian army that find its explanations in the national tradition rather than in the establishment and functioning of democratic institutions, since Albania - as is the case in most of the states of the region - is lacking in democratic experience and tradition. Second, while there is little evidence of the tendency of military structures to intervene in the civic affairs, the opposite tendency is discernible. The (mis)use of the military by civilians is a dimension of civil-military relations in Albania, and politicized and partisan reforms have negatively influenced the process of professionalization of the armed forces and its establishment. The military has often been the target of political purges in the event of drastic changes in the governance of the country.
The year 1997 was a momentous year for Albania. A general violent outburst spread all over the country due to the frustration caused by the loss of life savings by hundred of thousands of Albanians in a large number of "pyramid" investment schemes. The event was followed by a total disintegration of the nation's military structures and capabilities. As a result, conscripts abandoned military units and their officers, military installations became prey to criminal elements, and arms and ammunition were stolen. This situation led to new elections and the establishment of a new socialist government.
After the 1997 crisis that saw the dismantling of the Albanian armed forces, the Partnership for Peace (PfP) took the main role in developing a program of assistance to rebuild the armed forces through the Individual Partnership Program. One of the most urgent tasks for Albania was the restoration of civil order and the creation of a viable security structure consistent with a democratic society. The task included the reconstruction of the Albanian armed forces and the training of a non-partisan professional police force.
Preparing seriously for membership in NATO, the National Membership ActionPlan (MAP) was issued by the Albanian Ministry of Defense in October 2001. In April of 2000, Albania accepted a very demanding Partnership Goal package, comprising fifty-three Partnership goals, of which thirty-one were MAP-related. This package aimed primarily at improving the interoperability of the Albanian armed forces
Since the fall of communism in Albania in 1991, the country has played a constructive role in resolving several of the interethnic conflicts in south central Europe, promoting peaceful dispute resolution and discouraging ethnic Albanian extremists. Albania sheltered many thousands of Kosovar refugees during the 1999 conflict. Albania is part of the international force serving in Bosnia (EUFOR), and Albanian peacekeepers are part of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan and previously contributed to the international stabilization force in Iraq prior to its mandate expiring in December 2008. While in Iraq, Albania was one of only four nations to contribute troops to the combat phase of Operation Enduring Freedom.
Albania and the U.S. enjoy a military partnership and are signatories to treaties including the 2003 Prevention of Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction and the Promotion of Defense and Military Relations and the 2004 Supplementary Agreement to the Partnership for Peace Status of Forces Agreement, which defined the status of American military troops in Albania, further enabling military cooperation. In May 2003, Albania, Croatia, Macedonia, and the U.S. created the Adriatic Charter, modeled on the Baltic Charter, as a mechanism for promoting regional cooperation to advance each country's NATO candidacy. In spite of strong EU objections, Albania also signed in May 2003 a bilateral agreement with the United States on non-surrender of persons, based on Article 98 of the statute of International Criminal Court.
In 2004 President George W. Bush authorized the use of the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction program funds for projects in Albania, marking the first time such funds were used outside the former Soviet Union. With this funding the United States has assisted the Government of Albania with the destruction of a stockpile of chemical agents left over from the communist regime. Under this program, Albania became the first nation in the world to complete destruction of declared chemical weapons holdings under the Chemical Weapons Convention in July 2007. Albania received an invitation to become a NATO member at the April 2008 NATO Summit in Bucharest. The U.S. Senate unanimously ratified Albania's Protocols of Accession to NATO on September 25, 2008, and President Bush signed the Accession Protocols on October 24, 2008. Albania became a member of NATO on April 1, 2009.
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