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          At the NATO Summit held in Prague in 2002, seven new members from the "Vilnius Group" have been welcomed into the Alliance membership - Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria and Slovenia. The presidents of the remaining countries from this group - Stipe Mesić from Croatia, Alfred Moisiu from Albania and Boris Trajkovski from Macedonia, promoted the idea of starting a new mechanism for the cooperation among their countries to achieve their common goal - a continuation of trilateral defence cooperation and NATO admission. The idea of the Balkan leaders fits well into President Bush’s vision of a NATO "from the Atlantic to the Ural", and was therefore met with undivided US support. After a series of meetings of top state officials from these three countries, this idea has been moulded - with ample State Department assistance - into a document officially entitled "American-Adriatic Charter on Partnership". On May 2, 2003 the Charter was signed in Tirana by US Secretary of State - Collin Powell, and foreign ministers of Albania - Ilir Meta, Croatia - Tonino Picula and Macedonia - Ilinka Mitrev. On June 24, 2003 the House of Representatives of the U.S. Congress passed a resolution commending the signing of the Charter and asking NATO to assist the signatories in becoming members of the Alliance. The US Congress decision made official the activation of another informal group of countries - probably the last one in Europe because only Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia and Montenegro have been left out of this process - that link their future to the Euro-Atlantic integration as a guarantee of their safety, stability, development of democracy and economic progress.

          On the other hand, the Charter has been signed by countries which - except for being part of a single geographic region of the Western Balkans - differ among them in all other aspects. There is an evident difference in the degree of democratic society development, in the level of democratic changes and conditions in which they take place, in the extent of reforms in the legal, political and economic system, in the defence system and in the sphere of human rights. Though burdened by residues of recent past (Tudjmanism and isolationism it faced in the 90’s), Croatia stands out in this triangle due to its economic resources, implemented reforms and the national consensus on adherence to Euro-Atlantic integration. Relying on such advantages, Croatia tried to impose itself as the undisputed leader of this group, demanding certain privileges that such a position entails. However, the Croatian ambition regarding leadership has been "spent" right at the start, by the US decision that the signing of the Charter should take place in Tirana, and not in Zagreb. In spite of a certain progress achieved in the overall reform of its society, Albania, the second member of this informal group, is still considered the least developed country in the region. Albania is troubled by internal political, social, security and ethnic problems, it has the lowest economic development indicators, and a low standard of living of the population. It is also hampered by corruption, organized crime and frequent accusations of offering safe haven to various terrorist groups. Macedonia is the most interested in the realization of the provisions of the Charter in this group, since it is the best, if not the only way it can preserve stability and territorial integrity and ensure its survival. Burdened by the requests of the ethnic Albanians for territorial economy and the omnipresent tensions and threats of the country eventually being divided, as well as by the internal political crisis and dangers coming from Albania and from Kosovo, Macedonia views the adherence to the American-Adriatic Charter and its signing as the "life belt" that can ensure its survival.

          Such views of the citizens of these countries and of their political and state leaders are underpinned by the provisions of the Charter preamble, since they propose a "vision of a peaceful southeast Europe, fully integrated into the Euro-Atlantic community, devoted to democracy, the rule of law and the respect of human rights and basic freedoms", a Europe in which "every state, every ethnic group, every citizen and every religion will enjoy safety and respect". The Charter provisions also stress the principle of "individual accession to membership of every candidate country". Bearing all this in mind, the question remains what is the "guiding idea" that can serve as a rallying factor for these countries? The answer would be simple - the common denominator being the support they have been given by Collin Powel's signature - if something else were not apparent in the skilfully phrased provisions of the Charter: their obligations. Those obligations are very precisely defined in those parts of the Charter that deal with Euro-Atlantic integration, democratic reforms, human rights and the American-Adriatic relations, and especially in the section on regional security. The Charter provisions define the duties of the body in charge of implementing the duties that stem from the document. The body in question is the "Partnership Commission" due to meet twice a year to evaluate the results of bilateral consultations on democratic and economic reforms, human rights, crime, corruption and regional security.

          At the first meeting of the Partnership Commission, held on November 14, 2003 in Washington, the Albanian side proposed an "Action Plan" and the Macedonian the "Plan of Cooperation in the area of defence for 2004", which both harmonize concrete activities in the defence sector: the creation of a regional Centre for peace operations in Krivolak, joint military exercises within the territory of the signatories, preparation of joint units for peace support operations and peacekeeping missions, consultations on security and defence policy, exchange of military training elements, military-technical cooperation and arms control. At the Partnership Commission meeting held in Skopje in March 2004, and new Action Plan for cooperation has been agreed, anticipating conference meetings about public diplomacy involving the chairmen of parliamentary foreign policy committees, defence ministers, political directors of foreign ministries and NATO experts, as well as meetings of the prevention of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. In each of these meetings experience on defence reforms has been exchanged and discussed, as well as issues related to legislative procedure and intensified joint consultations took place with regional countries - NATO members (Italy, Slovenia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey).

          Obligations stemming from the Charter provisions

          In its part about Euro-Atlantic integration, the Charter reveals a clear aim of the three countries to achieve "full integration into European and trans-Atlantic economic, security and defence institutions", because they believe that Europe cannot be "free until Southeast Europe is made safe". Such joint expectations are backed by the view that the US "endorses the aspirations and efforts of Albania, Croatia and Macedonia to be integrated", albeit with a condition that this will occur only when they "become capable of assuming responsibility for membership and become ready to defend democratic values protected by the Alliance itself". The formulation on "readiness and responsibility" is a way of avoiding a specific timeframe for their integration, and this is the basic "catch" in this essentially positive, but extremely uncertain process. By including such a provision in the Charter, the US has preserved the option to guide and set the dynamics and the course as well as the time limits for the process. The countries that signed the Charter and are candidates for NATO membership, will be constantly faced with the question: Will this process end with a simultaneous admission of the entire group (like the Vilnius Group), will they be offered membership individually according to specific values that each of them achieves, or will something - that none of them want - occur: the expansion of the integration process to Serbia and Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina with the simultaneous NATO membership for all the countries in the region? The Adriatic Charter provides no answers to any of these questions. It merely "opens possibilities", makes demands and assesses achievements.

          The acceleration of democratic reforms in the ulterior transformation of administration, civil society and civil institutions is yet another set of conditions that the signatories have to meet as the "best way of preparing the common European future for their people". But these provisions also clearly illustrate the fact that the US, in accepting the joint obligations set by the Charter, confirms its determination to "operate actively" in order to alleviate the integration of Albania, Croatia and Macedonia into NATO and the European Union through its "permanent engagement in the region via financial and material assistance in the implementation of democratic, economic and military reforms". Such a US involvement has become evident immediately after the signing of the Charter in the form of a joint request made to all the countries: reforms in legislation, judiciary and ministry of interior, as well as in state administration; a new attitude towards nongovernmental organizations and free media, respect of human rights and freedoms. However, along with this joint request of, special requests have been put before each of them. In the case of Croatia they concern the cooperation with the Hague Tribunal, the return of exiled persons and refugees and the restitution of their property, whilst Albania is expected to fight corruption and organized crime, cut the communication lines in drug and arms trafficking and block the activities of radical Islamic (terrorist) groups within its territory. For Macedonia, special conditions concern the respect of the provisions of the Ohrid Agreement which alters the territorial structure of the country, i.e. the status of the ethnic Albanians.

          Bearing in mind the well-known fact that the Balkan Peninsula is a crisis area and a region of poorly developed democracy, a potential hotbed for new conflicts, a region marked by the trafficking of narcotics, arms and people, as well as by an unstable security-political situation and the presence and activity of terrorist groups, the US and the signatories have given great importance in the Charter to the regional security-military issues. The Charter provisions on "regional security" anticipate mutual consultations in case of "danger or threats to territorial integrity, independence or security of any of the partner countries". The US - acting as the mentor of the implementation of the Charter - will undoubtedly support "regional security cooperation of Albania, Croatia and Macedonia" within the framework of military (SEEBRIG) and political (SEDM) institutions and other mechanisms, as well as their involvement in solving conflicts in the region and their participation in NATO operations.

          By signing of the "American-Adriatic Charter on Partnership" the three countries involved have assumed the obligation "to be active subjects of trans-Atlantic security, to take concrete steps to enhance the security of their borders and remove international threats, to ensure sufficient capacities for defence needs and the implementation of the reform of the military, which will strengthen democratic civil control but also allow those countries to act together with NATO forces, and to protect their citizens". Concrete results stemming from such obligations are evident: the protection of borders is transferred within the jurisdiction of the police (the process is not complete in Croatia, and by the end of 2005 it will also be completed in Albania and Macedonia), defence budgets are brought to the level of NATO countries (2.2% of the gross national product), mechanisms for the democratic civil control of the military and special services are being perfected, regulations and legislation concerning security issues an compliance with international obligations of their armed forces are being harmonized.

          However, most of the activities that have been carried out concern the reform of the military in order to bring it to NATO standards. All three countries have transformed their defence ministries and their general staff structure, and defined transformation processes for operational units. Faced with the problem of redundant troops, Croatia has intensified its efforts to find employment for them, but also to change the organizational structure of the military. Its Army still comprises four corps, but plans have been made to reduce and transform them into rapid reaction forces, defence forces, and territorial forces. In the Air Force precedence is given to transport aviation, reconnaissance aircrafts and helicopters, and the Navy is being transformed into Coast Guard. Albania and Macedonia are also deeply involved in transformation processes marked by specific political and economic conditions that exist in those countries. Both countries have in fact implemented two subsequent Membership Action Plans, they have prepared the Strategic Defence Plan, Annual Plans and all other necessary documents concerning defence. Honouring its special obligation, Croatia has signed a memorandum with the US granting - free of charge - the use of airports, ports and training grounds to the US armed forces, and allowing their movement pending notification, but without escort - on roads and railway corridors. Thus, US troops will be using the airports of Pula, Zadar and Udbina, the ports of Split, Rijeka and Dubrovnik and the training grounds in Slunj and Gašinci.

          A particularly important activity in this domain - stemming from the provisions of the Charter - and applicable to all three countries, is the creation, preparation and deployment of military observers and units in peace operations in the region, UN operations and operations under the command of NATO and the EU. All three of them are members of the anti-terrorism coalition, and each has provided (in line with its capacities) units for missions in Afghanistan and Iraq, SFOR and KFOR, SEEBRIG and the Quadrilateral, as well as observers in missions in Africa and Asia.

          Another major obligation stemming from the Charter and concerning regional security is the fight against "corruption and organized crime" which represent serious threats to the stability of the entire Western Balkan region. In this sense, Albania, Croatia and Macedonia have assumed the obligation to undertake measures on state and multilateral level to combat the trafficking of arms, narcotics, people and goods as well as other forms of transnational crime. These measures will be implemented through the strengthening of regional cooperation, and on the national level, by adopting and enforcing efficient anticorruption legislation and ensuring an independent judiciary.

        • Tags: adriatic charter, cooperation, Balkan, nato, region, Security of Western Balkan, integration
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