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Balkan States to Cooperate on Next NATO Bid

The three Balkan nations who were not invited to join NATO this time round are to work together to succeed at their next attempt.
By Saule Mukhametrakhimova

Albania, Croatia and Macedonia have discussed plans to enhance their bid to join NATO, after missing out on membership last week.

The presidents of the three Balkan nations - which were not invited to become members at the alliance's Prague summit - agreed on November 21 to work more closely together to achieve their goal

Croatian presidential adviser Tomislav Jakic told IWPR that the countries would jointly seek to improve their economic situation and abolish current visa restrictions.

A series of regular meetings between the presidents, government advisers and foreign ministers have also been agreed.

"The three countries hope to get NATO membership as soon as possible," the leaders said in a joint statement following the Prague summit.

"Joint problems such as regional security, strengthening of democracy, market economy and armed forced reforms and the fight against terrorism will find a better solution through our cooperation."

The announcement followed a November 17 meeting between the Macedonian president Boris Trajkovski and his Albanian counterpart Alfred Moisiu in the Macedonian town of Ohrid. The Croatian head of state Stipe Mesic did not attend these talks but had agreed on the initiative.

The three nations will have to embrace broad economic, political and military reforms if they are to meet membership criteria in the next phase of NATO enlargement.

When asked about his assessment of the Balkan countries' application, NATO secretary-general George Robertson said, "They will have to work hard."

Croatia was the last in this trio to apply at the beginning of this year, and is in better economic shape than Albania or Macedonia, as well as having a stronger democratic record. But it is facing a difficult task transforming its military into a peacetime force.

Jakic told IWPR that the army must lose more than 13,000 troops who will have to be found jobs elsewhere. The military will also have to be depoliticised - ending the Tudjman-era policy of filling high-ranking posts with political allies.

Reforms made so far, though, have been praised by the alliance, which said, "Croatia has achieved encouraging progress and her membership will be considered in the future".

But many more changes have to be made, with international commitments such as cooperation with The Hague tribunal among the top priorities.

Macedonia, which has been working closely with NATO since 1995, must also carry out wide-ranging military reforms and has to improve its democratic credentials.

Skopje has been criticised by the international community for its handling of last year's ethnic Albanian uprising, which was sparked by the authorities' refusal to recognise human rights and accept a greater level of civil service representation for the Albanian minority.

Security analyst Constanze Stelzenmueller believes Skopje has to alter the current balance of power between the country's defence and interior ministries. At present, the latter often appropriates responsibilities of the former.

Albania is facing similar problems. NATO information officer Stephanie Babst told IWPR that Tirana has to work hard to combat corruption and introduce more far-reaching democratic reforms.

US president George W Bush met the Albanian, Croatian and Macedonian leaders on the second day of the summit, telling them that they would "have the support of the leading NATO member".

The alliance has played a major role in the region providing not only stability and security, but support for democratic development.

Saule Mukhametrakhimova is IWPR's Central Asia Project Manager in London.

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