January 20, 2009:
Albania has done a remarkable job of finally collecting and destroying thousands of tons of munitions left over from the former police state government. Now it is going to finish the job, and destroy 85,000 tons of munitions (some of it over half a century old) and weapons. This will be completed in a year. This effort was encouraged by the series of explosions in a communist era munitions dump last year. Staff of the storage site, and nearby civilians, suffered 26 dead and over 300 wounded. There are hundreds of those sites around the country, and the new program intends to clean them out and close them.
For nearly half a century, Albania was run by one of the most oppressive and paranoid communist dictatorships in the world. We're talking a North Korea class government here. When Albania's communist (actually Stalinist) dictatorship fell in 1990, left in its wake were millions of rifles and thousands of tons of other weapons and munitions. For decades, the communist dictatorship had built fortifications, bought weapons and trained much of the 3.5 million Albanians to resist an invasion that never came (or was even planned by anyone.)
In the early 1990s, many of the weapons were promptly stolen and sold on the international black market. It was a gunrunners paradise for much of the 1990s. But the government eventually stepped in and stopped the arms trade. While most of the salable stuff was gone by then, plenty was left to collect and destroy. So far, the government has collected and destroyed 141,000 rifles and pistols and 511 armored vehicles, over a thousand artillery weapons, and 44,000 tons of munitions. All in all, an excellent peacekeeping effort.
Two years ago, Albania also became the first nation to destroy its entire chemical weapons inventory, under the terms of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). This treaty has most nations possessing chemical weapons (including Russia, China and the United States) agreeing to destroy their stockpiles, and for the wealthier ones to help the poorer ones in that endeavor. Thus Greece, Italy, Switzerland and the United States all helped Albania destroy about 16 tons of World War I class substances (mustard, lewisite, mustard/lewisite mixture, adamsite, and chloroacetophenone chemical weapons).