Albania Defense and Foreign Policy

By | January 11, 2021

Foreign policy and defense

Albania is a nation in Southern Europe. Its capital city is Tirana. Following the fall of the Communist regime in 1991, Albania has endeavored to establish good relations with the West. The country was adopted as a member of the NATO defense alliance in 2009 and applied for membership in the EU that year. Albania was granted candidate status in 2014 and after many if and only in 2020, a clear sign to start membership negotiations.

albania military spending and defense budget

Albania applied for membership in NATO as early as 1992, but it took 18 years before membership became a fact. The first formal step towards EU membership was already taken in 2006, when a so-called Stabilization and Association Agreement was signed, but applied for membership only three years later. It was clear that the road to the EU would be long. The Union made far-reaching demands for continued political and economic reform work. Above all, Albania has to deal with corruption and the impact of organized crime within the state apparatus, it was called.

In the summer of 2018, signals emerged that membership negotiations could begin in 2019. But the decision was postponed and it was not until March 2020 that a clear announcement was made that Albania should start negotiations. However, no start date has been set and it will be a number of years before membership can be a fact. Albania still needs to reform the electoral system and do more about organized crime and corruption before negotiations begin.

When most of the neighboring countries in 2009 were allowed to enter the Schengen area without a visa, Albania still had so many deficiencies in its legal system that it was put aside. The following year, however, the EU decided to abolish the visa requirement for Albanians as well. In 2011, Albania signed an agreement with Macedonia (renamed Northern Macedonia in 2019) and Montenegro to allow the citizens of the three countries to travel between the countries with just one ID card.

Albania has approached the former colonial power of Turkey in an effort to attract investors and increase its foreign trade. A free trade zone between the two countries was established in 2008 and the Turkish government promised in 2012 to multiply trade. The government of Ankara described Albania as a “strategic ally” in the Balkans.

Close ties to the United States

The already good relations with the United States were strengthened when Albania supported the US government in the war against Iraq in 2003. Albania also won the United States’ favor by entering into an agreement not to extradite US citizens to the International Criminal Court (ICC). When US President George W Bush visited Albania in 2007, he was received as a hero and had a street named after him in the center of Tirana. After popular protests, however, the Albanian government in the fall of 2013 rejected a request by the United States to deal with and destroy chemical weapons collected in the war in Syria.

Albania’s relations with Italy are central. The Italian army was deployed in Albania during the political turbulence in 1991 and also participated in the international effort that took place following the collapse of the pyramid scheme in 1997 (see Modern History). In the chaos that followed, thousands of Albanians tried to make their way to Italy and other western countries. The unrest in Kosovo and NATO’s war against Yugoslavia in 1999 caused new refugee flows to Italy via Albania. Organized crime involving human and drug smuggling from Albania also affects Italy and other western countries.

Relations with Greece have occasionally been strained, partly because of border disputes. The treatment of the Greek minority in Albania, and the conditions of Albanians living in Greece, have also caused irritation. However, the relationship has been predominantly relaxed between the countries since several friendship and cooperation agreements were signed in the 1990s.

In the spring of 2014, Albania, Greece and Italy initiated increased cooperation against economic crime in the region. This was mainly related to the extensive drug and human trafficking between the three countries.

Tight relationship with Serbia

When the Albanian majority in Kosovo declared independence in February 2008, Albania was one of the first countries to recognize the new state formation. The decision was not controversial among the Western powers, which for the most part were also quick to recognize Kosovo. Albania has often been praised for not undermining Albanian nationalism in neighboring countries, but instead contributing to peaceful solutions. Several Albanian extremist nationalists from Northern Macedonia and Kosovo have been arrested in Albania and charged with rioting and rashness in their home countries.

However, the situation in Kosovo, where the Albanians were long discriminated against, disturbed relations with Serbia during the 1990s. After that, Serbia had no real influence in the province, and relations with Albania have slowly begun to normalize. The relationship with Montenegro, which was separated from Serbia in 2006, is good.

In the fall of 2014, a diplomatic dispute arose between Albania and Serbia in connection with a remote controlled small aircraft with a flag depicting a “Greater Albania” being thrown over the arena during a football match in Belgrade. The government of Serbia handed over a protest to the Ambassador of Albania and the Albanian Prime Minister Rama postponed a planned visit to Belgrade for a few weeks until the uprising took place. When the visit – the first in Serbia in 68 years by an Albanian head of government – was successfully completed in November, Rama happened upon an open broadcast with his Serbian colleague Aleksandar Vučić about Kosovo’s position. Despite this, Vučić visited Albania in May 2015.

Relations with Northern Macedonia were long stretched due to the difficult situation of the Albanian minority there. Increased rights and political representation for Albanians in Northern Macedonia have contributed to a better relationship. But when the government of Tirana in 2012 made a proposal that it would be easier for ethnic Albanians in other countries to obtain Albanian citizenship, Northern Macedonia, where every fourth inhabitant is Alban, experienced this as pure provocation.


The armed forces began to lose weight and be modernized with the help of the United States during the first years of the 21st century. The general military duty was abolished at the turn of the year 2010 and a skimmed-down occupational army was established. Large stockpiles of obsolete weapons and old ammunition were destroyed. Close cooperation with NATO on the reform of the armed forces has brought the country closer to the standard of the alliance. Albania has, or has had, soldiers on international peacekeeping missions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Chad, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo.


Army: 3,000 men (2017)

The air Force: 550 men (2017)

The fleet: 650 men (2017)

Military expenditure’s share of GDP: 1.2 percent (2017)

Military spending’s share of the state budget: 1.4 percent (2017)