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Small State Playing the Asymmetric Game

Small State Playing the Asymmetric Game

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Published by Dastid Koreshi

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Published by: Dastid Koreshi on Jan 05, 2011
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As tensions rose in the Balkans, the major concern with regard to Albania
was what policy it would adopt towards Kosovo, because Albania’s answer to this
question would have wider repercussions in the region. In fact, after the 1997
crisis, Albania was weakened to the point where it was barely able to act in the
international arena in any way other than that related to its own domestic stability
and economic recovery. Until the establishment of the Friends of Albania group in
early 1998 and its securing of a place on NATO’s agenda, Albania felt alone and
isolated in the international arena.90

The escalation of armed incidents in Kosovo
represented a clear security problem for Albania. The Albanian government did
not have the capacity to cope with a possible perceived military threat from Serbia,
and it could not in itself provide the political support that fellow Albanians in
Kosovo required in the international arena. However, as the US became
increasingly concerned with the situation in Kosovo, Albania began to regain its
importance for the Americans.
In fact, the ‘hands-off’ policy pursued by the US and NATO in relation to
Albania proved to be temporary, coming to an end once domestic stability had
been reassured and the government had changed hands following the elections.91
Although Washington had not had close contact with the SP since the regime
change, it did not hesitate to work together bilaterally with the party when it came
to power as a result of the 1997 elections, which happened to coincide with the
escalation in the Kosovo conflict. Thus, once again, Albania was able to attract the


“Albania Feels Lonely”, The Economist, 9 May 1998.


Ryan C. Hendrickson, “Albania and NATO: Regional Security and Selective Intervention”,
Security Dialogue, vol. 30, no.1, 1999, p. 112.


attention of a great power due to the changing international conjuncture and rising
instability in the Balkans.

As the armed clashes in Kosovo began to spread, the Kosovar Albanians
were subjected to constantly growing repression on the part of Serbian security
forces and the Milošević regime.92

Those Kosovar Albanians who were able to
escape the conflict began to cross the border between Albania and Kosovo to seek
refuge. At the same time, the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), the guerrilla group
fighting the Serbian security forces, was using Albanian territory to train and to
procure weapons.93

The Albanian government had minimal control over Albania’s
borders with the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY), and as a result, the
Kosovar Albanians were easily able to cross the border, as were the Serbian
security forces, which occasionally infiltrated Albania to pursue KLA guerrillas.
In early May 1998, NATO members discussed their options regarding
military assistance to Albania and the deployment of a force to help the Albanians
by operating aerial reconnaissance flights to monitor the border with the FRY, a
task that was realised under Operation Determined Falcon. On 15 June 1998, 85
aircraft from 13 NATO countries took off from 15 bases across Europe and
carriers in the Adriatic Sea to conduct flyover exercises around Albania and
Macedonia’s border regions with Serbia as a show of support for Albania.94

response to requests from Tirana, NATO also opened a PfP Cell in Albania on 1
June 1998 to increase the level of cooperation. Although NATO did not deploy
troops to Albania as part of a ground attack on Kosovo or to deter a Serbian assault


For an in depth analysis of the Slobodan Milošević and the Serbian security forces’ strategic and
political approaches, and military strategies towards Kosovo see; James Gow, The Serbian Project
and Its Adversaries: A Strategy of War Crimes, (Hurst & Company: London, 2003).


As of September 1997 the initial Ministry of Defense estimates concerning damages to military
arms facilities and the lost arms during the 1997 crisis was; 1,200 military depots were destroyed,
with around 652,000 weapons of different calibres, 1.5 billion rounds of ammunition, 3.5 million
hand grenades, 3,600 tons of explosive devices and one million mines were looted from these
depots and substantial number of these arms were sold in the illegal market and ended up in
Kosovo and in the hands of UÇK guerrillas. Turning the Page: Small Arms and Light Weapons in
Albania, Center for Peace and Disarmament Education and Safer World, December 2005, pp. 6-9.


NATO officials described exercise as “intended to demonstrate the alliance's commitment to
peace and stability in the region and [our] ability to project power into the region," Operation
Determined Falcon, http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/ops/determined_falcon.htm.


on Albania, Albania was included in NATO’s strategic planning when the Alliance
started its air strikes on Kosovo with Operation Allied Force.
Albania followed a difficult and cautious policy during the escalating

tension in Kosovo,95

attempting to maintain a balanced position by providing all
possible political, diplomatic and humanitarian support to the Kosovar Albanians
while at the same time trying not to provoke any further intensification of the
conflict. Aware that it was the great powers that would determine the outcome of
the Kosovo conflict, Tirana adopted a policy that was closely aligned with those of
Western governments, in particular, the US. Despite the internationalisation of the
issue, the US and the Western countries made it clear that they were against any
idea of independence or unification of Kosovo with Albania.96

The Albanian
government made it clear that while it was not interested in unification with
Kosovo, it supported the Kosovar’s right to self-determination in the future.
During the summer of 1998, international involvement in finding a solution
to the Kosovo conflict rose in parallel to the increasing tensions. Despite UN
Security Council attempts to contain the conflict97

and the deployment of an OSCE
verification mission to monitor a brokered agreement for the substantial reduction
in Serbian forces in the region and create an opportunity to negotiate for greater
self-rule for Kosovo,98

the security situation did not improve. NATO threats of a
possible military intervention in Kosovo were unable to influence the progress of
the conflict in the field. In a final attempt to achieve a negotiated settlement
between the parties to the conflict, an international conference was convened in


Miranda Vickers, “Tirana’s Uneasy Role in the Kosovo Crisis (March 1998-March 1999)”, in
Kosovo: Myths, Conflict and War, edited by Kyril Drezov, Bülent Gökay and Denisa Kostavicova,
Keele European Research Centre, Southeast Europe Series, 1999, pp. 31-2.


İlhan Uzgel, “Kosovo: Politics of Nationalism and the Question of International Intervention”,
Turkish Review of Balkan Studies, vol. 4, 1998, p. 226.


UNSC passed two resolutions in March (UNSC Resolution 1160) and September 1998 (UNSC
Resolution 1199) mainly condemning the Serbian violence and calling for ending of use of force in
Kosovo as well advising to take necessary measures to restore peace and stability in Kosovo.
United Nations Security Council Resolution 1160, S/RES/1160 (1998), 31 March 1998 and United
Nations Security Council Resolution 1199, S/RES/1199 (1998), 23 September 1998.


“Another Chapter Opens in Kosovo”, The Economist, 17 October 1998, pp. 49-50.


Rambouillet. The Rambouillet talks started on 6 February 1999 and continued into
March 1999, ending just before the NATO intervention in Kosovo.
The Rambouillet conference brought the Serbs, the Kosovar Albanians and
the international community together in an attempt to resolve the Kosovo crisis.
Albania provided diplomatic support to the Kosovar Albanians, and in doing so,
Albania’s political leaders maintained close contact with the US and other Western

Not only did the Rambouillet process bring Albania and the
Kosovar Albanians closer together, it also contributed to the enhancement of
Albania’s role as an actor in the international arena.
When the NATO campaign in Kosovo started on 23 March 1999, Albania
was faced with a massive influx of Kosovar Albanian refugees. Coping with more
than 430,000 refugees was an enormous economic, political and logistical
challenge for the weak Albanian state,100

and it was the US that was first to react
by sending immediate humanitarian aid to Albania and military support personnel
to both Albania and Macedonia to help in the ongoing NATO air operations.101
Shortly thereafter, NATO launched Operation Allied Harbour, the initial forces of
which began arriving in Albania on 9-10 April 1999. Within the framework of
Operation Allied Harbour, the NATO force established a humanitarian mission to
Albania, the AFOR, whose headquarters were based in Durres.102

The US also


Pettifer and Vickers, 2007, op.cit., p. 205. Albanian Foreign Minister Paskal Milo personally
involved in persuading the Kosovar Albanian delegation to sign the Rambouillet Agreement when
there was disagreements among the delegation. Tim Judah, Kosovo: War and Revenge, Second
Edition, (Yale Nota Bene: New Haven, [2000], 2002), p. 216.


After the Kosovo crisis the G-24, EU and international financial institutions assessed the
economic impacts of the Kosovo crisis on Albanian economy and created some funds for helping
the Albanian economy to overcome the negative ramifications of the crisis. For the details of the
economic assessments see, “The Impact of the Kosovo Conflict on Albania” Report prepared by
the European Commission, World Bank and the IMF, Albania: Emergency Joint G-24/Consultative
Group Meeting, Brussels, 26 May 1999; and “Albania: Impact of the Kosovo Crisis” Report
prepared by the Europe and Central region of the World Bank for Sector Donors Meeting, 9 July
1999. For the Albania’s approach to the economic impact of the crisis see the Albanian Minister of
Finance’s article; Anastas Angjeli, “The Impact and Economic Cost to Albania of the Crisis in
Kosovo”, Mediterranean Quarterly, vol. 10, no. 3, 1999, pp. 7-14.


“Letter to Congressional Leaders reporting on the Decision to Send Certain United States Forces
to Macedonia and Albania”, President William J. Clinton, 4 April 1999.


United States, Britain, Italy, France, Germany, Greece, Turkey, Austria, Slovakia the United
Arab Emirates, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, Poland, Slovenia, Spain, Hungary, Canada,
Czech Republic, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Portugal, Switzerland participated the operation. For


deployed a force to contribute to NATO attacks on Serbia and to help with AFOR
activities, which included humanitarian aid and medical support to refugees. The
US military force, Task Force Hawk, was comprised of AH-64A Apache attack
helicopters and other security support units based in Rinas Airport, Tirana.103
When the US force deployment ended in May, the Apache crews started training
for deep-strike missions against Serb forces in Kosovo; however, in the end, this
force was never used in the Kosovo military operations.
The already good public image the US enjoyed among Albanians was
dramatically raised by the lead taken by the US in the NATO operation in Kosovo,
the US military presence in Albania and its provision of direct humanitarian aid,
added to which was the airlift of around 20,000 Albanian refugees to the US. Once
again, the US had become the trusted great power for Albania and the Albanians.
Thus, the Kosovo intervention and the developments that followed created a
favorable environment in which Albania was able to move forward to further ally
itself with the US.

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