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Opinion / Editorial

Strategy for protection and development of maritime interests of the Republic of Albania

Strategy for protection and development of maritime interests of the Republic of

General * Piro Ahmetaj, Strategy 2035: "For the protection and development of maritime interests of the Republic of Albania"! Our Albania is blessed with over 450 km of coastline, while the area of ??maritime interests (inland and territorial sea) are about 12 thousand km² or 45% of the land area (= 28 thousand km²)! Consequently, the Republic of Albania possesses maritime space and resources with a critical weight for the development of the economy and geopolitical interests for the Mediterranean nation. For centuries, Albanians' relations with the sea have been almost hostile. This is because the sea is perceived as the direction from which threats, invaders, disasters, bigots, disasters come and very little is considered, as a space with opportunities and critical interests for the development of the economy and with it for the well-being of the citizens. Until 1991, the communist regime defined the sea as a battleground from which our hostile neighbors or coalition of enemies would attack us (NATO & Warsaw) and spent almost 10% of the country's GDP (up to 25% in total on defense), to build ladders with fortifications, infrastructure, warships, submarines, torpedoes, etc., as well as much less to build a fishing and trading fleet for economic interests. After 1991, the sea served as an orientation, as a port and a bridge of hope for the exhausted Albanians towards the west. But unfortunately it is still perceived as: "source of trafficking, smuggling, organized crime", while the merchant and fishing fleets remain far in relation to the economic potentials that this space carries. Despite the projects for the modernization of the maritime space surveillance system and the construction of patrol boats, The Navy, in fact the Coast Guard, does not possess the capacity and operational capabilities to fully exercise state authority (maritime sovereignty), while the Border Police are weightless. Even after 1992, the Republic of Albania still does not have a Long-Term Strategy, clear objectives, responsibilities, matrix with interstate measures, culture of cooperation and integrated structures to exercise state sovereignty and sovereign rights in its space and maritime interests. For example, in the document (paper inventory): “National Strategy for Development & Integration 2015–2020”, the maritime sector is summarized in only 1 paragraph? Also, the infrastructure, equipment, capacities and operational capabilities of the 4 seaports (Durrës, Vlora, Shengjin, Saranda) remain modest, with high cost and non-competitive in the Mediterranean. While it should be reiterated that beyond some (messy) legal changes, such as for the Coast Guard, the establishment of the Inter-Institutional Maritime Operational Center (IACS) and efforts to modernize the surveillance system, the Republic of Albania lacks operational capacity to fully exercise state authority in space and maritime interests of the Republic of Albania. To argue even more clearly, we bring as an example that in the international intelligence reports, it was found that: "from the private fishing fleets of neighboring countries were robbed up to € 50 million per year, from the Exclusive Economic Zone of the Republic of Albania", without including pollution damage , smuggling, international trafficking, etc. Beyond the case of the Republic of Albania, at the core of some disputes are the division of assets and access to sea routes, as well as geopolitical interests such as: Greece-Turkey conflicts over the Eastern Mediterranean; USA - Denmark for Greenland; USA - China on the South Sea, etc. Also, as it is known, the Republic of Albania has signed agreements with Italy, but the EEA divisions with Greece and Montenegro remain unresolved. It should be added that the Governments, after abusing it as a patriotic-populist cause, for the last 30 years, have failed to find favorable solutions for the Republic of Albania! Failing to reach a negotiated solution, it was "agreed by the 2 countries and surprisingly applauded by the Republic of Albania (!)" To address it to the International Court, from which, please be wrong, but I remain skeptical that there will be expected and deserved. Norway, Malta, Denmark, remain the best model of maritime assets and interests management. This constitutes an additional reason for one of these countries to be considered as a long-term partner for the development of the National Master Plan for the sea. While based on world practices, countries that share borders and maritime interests (Italy & Greece), naturally can not be strategic partners in this area. To clarify the economic weight of maritime resources and interests, we bring as an example some comparative figures of Slovenia, which has only 47 km of access to the Adriatic, while financial revenues from the good management of maritime resources and interests alone reach over $ 15 billion or about 1/5 of GDP ($ 66 billion). This figure is equal to annual GDP or 10 times more than revenues from the sea, while the Republic of Albania has 467 km (10 times more than Slovenia) coastline on the Adriatic, Ionian and Lake Shkodra. It is approximately the same difference with Montenegro, which is in the size and possibilities of the Vlora region, but the revenues only from the sea, of course including tourism, reach more than $ 2 billion ?! From this point of view, it is easily ascertained that the space, resources, interests and above all the economic income of the Republic of Albania from the sea, ie only from this sector with strategic potentials, can and should be at least 10 times higher, or as much as the whole annual revenues (net GDP about $ 17 billion) for 2021. In short, clearly and in Albanian, I suggest that the goal and objective (endstate) of the Maritime Strategy 2035, be defined: “national defense revenues, development as and the management of space and maritime interests to reach over $ 15 billion for the next 8 years ”. Considering the above, maritime economic interests still remain a national opportunity, almost untapped. Therefore, I consider it a necessity: the drafting of a 13-year Maritime Strategy (SD - 2032) which not only goes beyond the "legacy of hostile behavior towards the sea", but through a master plan (preferably with international studios, eg Norwegian ) and a strategic assessment of the legal package, infrastructure, capacities, capabilities, interests and opportunities for the development of transport, fisheries and maritime tourism, as well as a matrix of state measures and responsibilities for the protection and development of maritime interests, integrated with a subproject for the management of water resources (rivers, lakes, reservoirs) of the Republic of Albania. This strategy should address with priority: Radical improvement of the legal package according to EU standards for the exercise of sovereignty and sovereign law in the maritime space of the Republic of Albania, which includes all law enforcement institutions at sea, as well as the construction of critical infrastructure for these institutions. Modernization of operational capacities for the protection and management of maritime space, including seabed resources (continental shelf), maritime space (EEA, TE), fishing industry, maritime transport, tourism and creating procedural facilities for navigation & register naval in the Republic of Albania. Establishment of the Institute of Maritime Studies at the Academy of Sciences, which will further identify and weigh the values, benefits and alternatives of protection and development of space and maritime interests! Modernization of processing infrastructures in the 4 existing ports and for tourism! Construction of the Regional Port (Western Balkans) with modern processing infrastructure, connection to the road & railway network, integrated with Corridor VIII and the Belgrade-Pristina peace highway. "A port with adequate depth in the Adriatic" was part of the Kosovo-Serbia agreement package, signed in the Oval Office in 2020 under the auspices of former President Trump, which remains on the agenda of US President Biden. Moreover, this port will serve as a gateway to the west, with economic interests, critical to the well-being of the citizens of the western lowlands of the Republic of Albania, the Balkan countries and beyond. Thus, I consider the construction of this port as an essential part of the maritime strategy 2035, but also among national works with geopolitical interests, compared to TAP, the Road of the Nation, Corridor 8, etc! This Master Plan will have to be complemented by the construction of a Mediterranean shipyard in Pashaliman, with the aim of producing and repairing small boats (yachts) for the development of elite tourism, but also for the repair of fishing boats, which mainly perform maintenance and repairs in neighboring countries. Modernization of the Navy with ships, surveillance equipment and operational capabilities capable of exercising state sovereignty and sovereign rights to protect the naval interests of the Republic of Albania. Also, the FD will have to improve the operational interaction with the "NATO Task Group in the Mediterranean", increasing the weight of our contributions to NATO, but also to demonstrate the geostrategic position of the Republic of Albania in the region. Having said the above, I think that a strategy in the format of a Master Plan and a long-term state matrix in the field of the sea will serve as a proper finding, as an additional opportunity and guarantee for maritime orientation and development of the economy of the Republic of Albania, improving standards maritime security in the Mediterranean as well as a convenient hub for the region. The development of this master plan, including the construction of the aforementioned regional port, fortunately I find also intertwined with the geopolitical interests of the US & NATO in the region and the Mediterranean, especially after the takeover of the port of Piraeus by China as well as desperate efforts of Russia to increase its influence in the Mediterranean and the countries of the Western Balkans. * General ® Piro AHMETAJ, Senior Expert for SK, the Region and NATO, Vice President of the Atlantic Council, Former: