Analysts: Albania is strengthening its army due to NATO requirements, but also potential conflicts in the Balkans

Vojska Albanije
Source: Facebook

The Government in Tirana, as recently announced by Prime Minister Edi Rama, plans to increase the military budget to two percent of the gross domestic product next year. Kosovo Online's interlocutors explain this decision by Albania's obligation as a NATO member to align defense expenditures with the alliance's standards and criteria, as well as the need to enhance the defensive capability of the Albanian Army in the face of deteriorating security situations in the region, primarily in Kosovo.

Until the late 1980s, the Albanian Army had 22 divisions and a total of 60,000 soldiers deployed across three fronts. It had more than 1,000 tanks, 4,000 cannons, over 180 combat aircraft, and four submarines. With the fall of the communist regime, the combat readiness of the Albanian Army declined, leaving the country without military protection for 30 years.

After joining NATO, things started to improve, but not to the desired extent, Kosovo Online interlocutors say, emphasizing that the Albanian Army has not yet reached NATO's military standards and needs to be prepared to respond to challenges in the Balkans.

According to announcements about allocating two percent of GDP from next year, Albania's defense budget is expected to be around $386 million, about $50 million more than the current budget.

Socialist MP and former senior military officer Denis Deliu believes that by allocating additional funds to the Albanian Army, it will become more professional and be able to meet NATO standards.

"Increasing the military budget to two percent of the gross domestic product is good news, something that NATO has been requesting for years. It is necessary for Albania and NATO, given the situation created by the war in Ukraine. As a member of the parliamentary National Security Committee, I believe that Albania will reach and exceed two percent of the GDP defense budget in 2024. Our country has its role in the Alliance, and with an increased budget, the army would become more professional and capable. Albania is a small country that does not have the economic power of Germany, but certain standards are expected from us in land, air, and naval forces. We may not have submarines or sophisticated aviation, but Albania has extensive experience in international missions combating terrorism," Deliu says.

He emphasizes that Albania is a safe country, but there is a potential danger of conflict in Kosovo, so the country must be prepared to respond to challenges in the Balkans.

"The situation in the Balkans is not entirely calm. We can say that Serbia has its goals in Kosovo and is not giving up on them. The war in Ukraine has shown that conflict could erupt in the Balkans to divert attention from Ukraine and demonstrate that Russia is a global power. Albania is 100% safe because it is a part of NATO, and Article 5 of the agreement protects it. We have no threat from any country, but there is a conventional threat in northern Kosovo, or in Kosovo as a whole because Pristina is not yet a part of the EU and NATO. In any case, Albania must meet the standards, and it is on the right path to respond to challenges in the Balkans. The NATO base in Kucove is a guarantee for Albania and the Albanians. The Prime Minister and the President have asked NATO to establish a naval base in our country. This would be important for NATO as well because Albania has a key geostrategic position, and it would make it difficult for hostile countries to threaten us," Deliu concludes.

On the other hand, analyst and experienced journalist from the news agency "Tema," Jili Pata, says for Kosovo Online that one of the reasons for Albania's armament is that the surrounding countries are also arming themselves and investing in military capabilities, such as Serbia, Croatia, or Greece.

"The issue of a defense budget amounting to two percent of GDP is an earlier NATO requirement. Albania faced several problems in tough negotiations in 2005 and 2006 precisely on this issue. This is because Albania had neither an army, nor a defense strategy, nor a military budget since 1990. Albania has never reached the level of two percent of GDP allocation for the military, and this is due to the fact that the Ministry of Defense took on the burden of paying former army officers from the communist era who retired. This did not happen even during the 1999 crisis during the Kosovo war. The Albanian Government began to think more about defense two years ago. All of this makes sense because Croatia and Serbia are two states with significant investments in defense. Moreover, Greece, an old NATO member, has the highest military spending in the last 10 years. Prime Minister Rama stated that he would increase the defense budget by focusing on military technology. The Minister of Defense has said that we will receive drones and US surface-to-air missiles used in Ukraine. There are also plans to reconstruct artillery because we do not have artillery batteries positioned today as we did in the past," Pata says.

The Albanian Government has signed a contract with a US company to purchase military and transport helicopters called "Black Hawk". A few years ago, Albania bought helicopters called "Cougar" from France, which they use in civil emergency situations, as well as several patrol boats for international missions in the Aegean Sea and the waters of Italy, Greece, and Turkey to prevent illegal migration. The Albanian military has replaced AK-47 rifles, known as Kalashnikovs, with weapons from Western companies like the Italian Beretta, and they have recently received three Bayraktar drones from Turkey, which will be stationed at the NATO airbase in Kucove.

The Albanian Parliament will consider the proposal to increase the military budget during the regular autumn session in November when discussions about the state budget for 2024 will take place.