David L. Phillips is Director of the Program on Peace-building and Rights at Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights. He served as a Senior Adviser for Regional Stability to the State Department’s Bureau for European Affairs (1999-2001)
Greater security cooperation with Albania and Kosovo would augment Europe’s existing security architecture, and advance US strategic interests. Albanians are staunchly pro-American. They crave closer security, cultural, and commercial cooperation with the US. Albania and Kosovo would welcome the expansion of US military bases on their territory.
Albania and Kosovo are all the more important given trends with Russia and Turkey. Steely-eyed realism: Russia is a strategic adversary; Turkey an uncertain ally.
Vladimir Putin has dangerous disregard for the international system. After illegally seizing Crimea, Putin threatened other parts of Ukraine as well as Poland and the Baltic States. Russia sponsors European far-right parties in a bid to erode European unity and trans-Atlantic consensus. Russia’s insidious campaign to spread false news, propaganda, and disinformation may have influenced elections in the US and Italy.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has gone rogue. Erdogan is Islamist and anti-American. He hurls invectives at the US and targets “oppositionists” at home. Erdogan detained or dismissed 140,000 members of the military and police, as well as journalists, judges, mayors, parliamentarians, and teachers since the failed coup of July 2016. Turkey has more journalists in jail than any other country.
In response to this volatile environment and shifting alliances, the US needs a new security strategy.
Albania has been a NATO member since 2009. It currently contributes troops and medical personnel to the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. Albania also participates in Operation Active Endeavour, NATO’s maritime counter-terrorist operation in the Mediterranean. Albania contributed to the Stabilization Force in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It also supported peacekeeping operations in Kosovo, hosting a logistics support command that became a NATO regional military headquarters.
The Gjader Air Base in Albania could be expanded to complement other NATO facilities. Lengthening the runway and improved infrastructure would make Gjader a fully combat-ready air field for operations in the Middle East or to protect NATO members.
Cooperation with Albania is multifaceted. The US and Albania signed a strategic partnership agreement in 2014. Further integration with Euro-Atlantic institutions would make Albania a stronger security, political, and commercial partner of the West.
Increasing Kosovo’s capacity would also enhance NATO and US interests.
Camp Bondsteel is the main base of the US Army in Kosovo. Covering nearly 100 acres, Bondsteel hosts a Multinational Battle Group from NATO countries. Bondsteel could be transformed into a major transit hub for troops and equipment. It could also host a rapid reaction force for emergencies in the Baltics to the Black Sea.
Kosovo is more than willing. Kosovo Albanians are deeply grateful to the US for leading a NATO-led operation that drove out Serbian troops in 1999. They are also grateful to the US for spearheading Kosovo’s coordinated declaration of independence in 2008.
America’s presence in Southeast Europe also serves strategic interests. It would deter Russia from turning vulnerable states into proxies, or setting up bases in the Western Balkans. It would also act as a bulwark against Turkey’s export of Islamism.
Preventing violent extremism (PVE) is an important element of US-Albanian relations. Both Albania and Kosovo are pluralist societies with Muslim majorities. The US is supporting local leaders to reintegrate returnees from Syria and Iraq. It is also helping to prevent the further radicalization of their societies. The PVE experience in Albania and Kosovo could be a model to other countries.
Cooperation with Albanians transcends the territories of Albania and Kosovo. The Albanian neighborhood also includes Albanians in parts of Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Greece. More than any other nation in Southeast Europe, Albanians have a commitment to the United States and a bond with Americans.
If the US is looking for partners in an increasingly complex world, it can rely on Albanians. President-elect Donald J. Trump knows the value of a diversified portfolio. Albania and Kosovo are indispensable assets. Albanians are reliable friends.