Albania Table of Contents

Like any country, Albania's national security was largely determined by its geography and neighbors. It shares a 282- kilometer border with Greece to the south and southeast. It has a 287-kilometer border with the Yugoslav republics of Serbia and Montenegro to the north and a 151-kilometer border with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to the east. Albania's other closest neighbor and one-time invader, Italy, is located less than 100 kilometers across the Adriatic Sea to the west. Albania had longstanding and potentially dangerous territorial and ethnic disputes with Greece and Yugoslavia. It traditionally feared an accommodation between them in which they would agree to divide Albania. Greece had historical ties with a region of southern Albania that was called Northern Epirus by the Greeks and inhabited by ethnic Greeks, with estimates of their number ranging from less than 60,000 to 400,000. Moreover, there was serious potential for conflict with Yugoslavia, or specifically the Yugoslav Republic of Serbia, over Kosovo. Nevertheless, for many years, Albania perceived a seaborne attack by a superpower from the Adriatic Sea as a greater threat than a large-scale ground assault across the rugged terrain of eastern Albania. Any attack on Albania would have proved difficult because more than three-quarters of its territory is hilly or mountainous. The country's small size, however, provided little strategic depth for conventional defensive operations.

In the early years, Albania's national security policy emphasized the internal security of the new communist regime and only secondarily external threats. Evaluated against this priority, Albania's national security policy was largely successful until 1990. Because its military forces, however, were incapable of deterring or repulsing external threats, Albania sought to obtain political or military guarantees from its allies or the international community.

Initially, Albania's national security policy focused on extending the authority of the Tosk-dominated communist party from Tiranė and southern Albania into Geg-inhabited northern regions where neither the party nor the NLA enjoyed strong support from the population. In some places, the party and NLA faced armed opposition. The government emphasized political indoctrination within the military in an attempt to make the armed forces a pillar of support for the communist system and a unifying force for the people of Albania. In general, however, there were few serious internal or external threats to communist control. In the early years of communist rule, the communist party relied on its close alliance with Yugoslavia for its external security. This alliance was an unnatural one, however, given the history of mutual suspicion and tension between the two neighbors and Yugoslavia's effort to include Albania in an alliance of Balkan states under its control. In 1948, Yugoslavia's expulsion from the Soviet-led communist world ended the alliance.

The Soviet Union assumed the role of Albania's principal benefactor from late 1948. Albania was a founder member of the Warsaw Pact in 1955, and its security was guaranteed against Yugoslav encroachment by its participation in the Soviet-led collective security system until 1961. However, the Soviet Union suspended its military cooperation and security guarantees when Albania supported China in the Sino-Soviet split.

Albania's military weakness and general ideological compatibility with China led it to accept Chinese sponsorship and military assistance. It did not, however, formally withdraw from the Warsaw Pact until September 13, 1968, after the Soviet Union- led Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia. After the invasion, Albania drew closer to China, seeking protection against a possible attempt by the Soviet Union to retrieve Albania into the East European fold. China subsequently increased its military assistance to Albania. Despite Chinese guarantees of support, Albania apparently doubted the efficacy of a deterrent provided by a distant and relatively weak China against a proximate Soviet threat. Some knowledgeable Western observers believed that, at Chinese insistence, Albania had signed a mutual assistance agreement with Yugoslavia and Romania to be implemented in the event of a Soviet attack on any one of them.

Following China's lead, Albania accused both the United States and the Soviet Union of tacitly collaborating to divide the world into spheres of influence, becoming a vociferous international opponent of the use of military force abroad and the establishment of foreign military bases, particularly by the United States or the Soviet Union. In particular, Albania persistently called for a reduction of United States and Soviet naval forces in the Mediterranean Sea.

During the 1970s, Albania viewed improved relations between the United States and China as detrimental to its interests. This perception increased after the death of Mao Zedong in 1976. In 1978 China ceased its military and economic assistance to Albania as the Asian superpower adopted a less radical stance on the international scene and turned more attention to its domestic affairs. According to some analysts, however, China continued to supply Albania with spare parts for its Chinese-made weapons and equipment during the 1980s.

In the decade between Mao's death and Hoxha's death in 1985 Albania practiced self-reliance and international isolation. After succeeding Hoxha, President Ramiz Alia moved in a new direction, seeking improved relations with Yugoslavia, Greece, and Turkey and even participating in the Balkan Foreign Ministers Conference in 1988. He attempted to moderate the impact of the Kosovo issue on relations with Yugoslavia, and Greece downplayed its historical claims to the disputed territory of Northern Epirus during the 1980s, when the two countries improved their bilateral relations. Alia also encouraged Greece and Turkey to withdraw from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and Bulgaria and Romania to withdraw from the Warsaw Pact. In addition, Alia improved relations with Italy and the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), which may have resulted in some military sales to Albania, including missile and military communications systems.

In 1986 the first deputy minister of people's defense and chief of the general staff summarized Albania's approach to national security when he stated that Albania's security depended on a careful study of the international situation and taking corresponding action. Better ties with its neighbors promised to give Albania time to generate support in the international arena and bring international opprobrium to bear on any potential aggressor while its forces mounted a conventional defense and, then, guerrilla warfare against enemy occupation forces.

In early 1992, the outlook for Albanian national security was mixed. There were important positive developments but also some negative trends. The Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe--usually referred to as the Conventional Forces in Europe, or CFE, Treaty--was signed in 1990 and promised reductions in the ground and air forces of nearby NATO members Greece and Italy and former Warsaw Pact member Bulgaria. It therefore placed predictable limits on the future size of the military threat to Albania from most of its neighbors. But the CFE Treaty did not affect nonaligned states such as Yugoslavia, and Albania remained militarily, economically, and technologically weak.

In June 1990, seeking to develop closer ties to the rest of Europe, Albania began to participate in the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE--see Glossary) as an observer state. It received full membership one year later. Until joining, Albania had been the only state in Europe that was not a member of CSCE. Membership afforded Albania a degree of protection against external aggression that it probably had not enjoyed previously. It also committed Albania to respect existing international boundaries in Europe and basic human rights and political freedoms at home.

In the early 1990s, Albania sought a broader range of diplomatic relations, reestablishing official ties with the Soviet Union in 1990 and the United States in 1991. It also sought to join the North Atlantic Cooperation Council, a NATO- associated organization in which other former Warsaw Pact countries were already participating.

On the negative side of Albania's national security balance sheet, the improved European security environment undermined the communist regime's ability to mobilize the population by propagandizing external threats. In the early 1990s, the military press cited problems in convincing Albania's youth of the importance of military service and training, given the fact that the Soviet Union was withdrawing its forces from Eastern Europe, the CFE Treaty promised major reductions in conventional forces, and most conceivable threats seemed to be receding. The accounts cited instances of "individual and group excesses," unexcused absences, and the failure to perform assigned duties. These problems were ascribed to political liberalization and democratization in the People's Army, which supposedly weakened military order and discipline, led to breaches of regulations, and interfered with military training and readiness.

Albania's most sensitive security problem centered on ethnic Albanians living outside the country's borders, including the nearly 2 million living in Kosovo, a province of Yugoslavia's Serbian Republic. The area recognized as Albania by the Great powers in 1913 was such that more ethnic Albanians were left outside the new state than included within it. Tension in Kosovo between ethnic Albanians, who made up 90 percent of its approximately 2 million residents, and the dwindling number of Serbians living there was a constant source of potential conflict between Albania and Serbia.

Yugoslavia's Serbian Republic ruled Kosovo harshly until the 1970s when it became an autonomous province, theoretically with almost the same rights as the Serbian Republic itself. In 1981, however, one-quarter of the Yugoslav People's Army (YPA) was deployed in Kosovo in response to unrest, which began with riots in Pristina. Yugoslavia asserted more direct control over Kosovo in the late 1980s in response to alleged Albanian separatism, which aimed to push Serbians out of an area they considered to be their ancestral home. In 1989, relying on scarcely veiled threats and actual demonstrations of force, Serbia forced Kosovo to accept legislation that substantially reduced its autonomy and then suspended Kosovo's parliament and government in 1990. Sporadic skirmishes erupted between armed Albanian and Serbian civilians, who were backed by the Serb-dominated YPA. Meanwhile, the Serbs accused Albania of interference in Kosovo and of inciting its Albanian population against Yugoslavian rule.

For their part, Kosovars claimed that they were the victims of Serbian nationalism, repression, and discrimination. In 1991 they voted in a referendum to become an independent republic of Yugoslavia, and Albania immediately recognized Kosovo as such. Although President Alia criticized Yugoslav policy in Kosovo, he carefully avoided making claims on its territory. Nevertheless, Serbs believed the vote for republic status was a precursor to demands for complete independence from Yugoslavia and eventual unification with Albania. As Yugoslavia collapsed into a civil war that pitted intensely nationalist Serbia against other ethnic groups of the formerly multinational state, Albania remained circumspect in its pronouncements on and relations with Kosovo in order to avoid a conflict. However, a series of border incidents, involving Serbian forces killing ten Albanians along the Albanian-Yugoslav border, occurred in late 1991 and early 1992. Albanians and Europeans were seriously concerned that Serbian forces would direct military operations against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo and spark an international conflict with Albania. Albania's armed forces were poorly prepared to fight the larger, better equipped, and combat-experienced Serbian forces.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress