Events

Bulgaria in NATO: Balkan Security and Black Sea Challenges

December 01, 2003 // 11:00pm

Overview
Summary of Conference Remarks
by Susan M. Spencer
Writer and Sr. Editor, Western Policy Center

Panel I: Balkan Security
Moderator: Janusz Bugajski,
Director, Eastern Europe Project, Center for Strategic and International Studies

Dr. John C. Hulsman, Research Fellow, Heritage Foundation
"After the Celebration: The Reality of Balkan Security During the Bush Administration"

With Bulgaria's official entry into NATO scheduled for 2004, the most significant aspect of the U.S.-Bulgarian relationship within the alliance is the issue of military modernization.

Seven or eight years ago, within NATO, only the U.S., Britain, and France were capable of large-scale deployments. The situation remains the same today, and this is a problem. Britain is very overextended militarily. France's interests globally do not coincide with those of the United States. Countries in NATO need to spend more than 3 percent of their GDPs on their militaries in order to overcome the power-sharing problem within the alliance. Otherwise, NATO will cease to be functional.

Bulgaria has come "so far, so fast" to join a NATO that works and functions. The alliance's rapid reaction force is the way forward and is the last chance to overcome the looming problem in NATO. We must make sure that the U.S. does not provide the "mercenaries" and Europe the "social workers." A commonality among the NATO nations will have to be developed.

Bulgaria has been very helpful with respect to the U.S.-led campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq. President Bush has said that Washington and Sofia have a reciprocal relationship. Bulgaria is "giving back" to the United States, and interests on both sides matter. A two-way relationship is vibrant, whereas a relationship in which there is an "overlord" and a "dependent" is unhealthy.

Clear answers are needed concerning the goals of the European Union with respect to security matters. Does the European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP) complement or compete with NATO? We should not "throw the trans-Atlantic baby out with the bathwater of Iraq."

The United States is becoming less interested in the Balkans as the region stabilizes.

As for the overall structure of NATO, the U.S. will move troops from Europe toward the south and east to the Caucasus region, central Asia, the Middle East, and northern Africa. Bases in these regions will be smaller, and there will be more rotation of troops. This phenomenon will be critical to the future of NATO.

Washington needs to assume that the EU is not a monolith and must approach Europe on a "case-by-case" basis.

Dr. Lyubomir Ivanov, Chairman, The Atlantic Club (Bulgaria)
"The U.S.-Bulgarian Strategic Partnership: Projecting Atlantic Values and Solidarity"

Bulgaria and the United States are enjoying a relationship described by Secretary of State Colin Powell as a "warm and developing strategic partnership." This partnership and the current NATO enlargement should be considered in the context of U.S. leadership in the war against terrorism and Bulgaria's contribution to peace and security in the Balkans and the Black Sea-Caspian region, in Afghanistan and Iraq, and in other missions outside the traditional Euro-Atlantic region in the future.

The national consensus in Bulgaria concerning NATO needs to be expanded toward more concrete practical issues such as maintaining adequate levels of defense spending (2.6 to 3 percent of GDP), U.S./NATO bases and other infrastructure, participation in joint peacekeeping missions, and the restructuring of the Bulgarian defense industry.

Bulgaria's ability to perform as a loyal and efficient ally requires building upon policies tested during the crises in Kuwait, Bosnia, Kosovo, F.Y.R. Macedonia, Afghanistan, and Iraq. This performance will also depend on the overall good functioning of the profoundly transformed alliance itself, deriving in part from the ability of Europe and the U.S. to overcome recurrent disagreements between major NATO allies that affect the new European democracies and send the wrong signals worldwide, feeding anti-American, and indeed anti-Western, sentiments.

The alliance's successful mission of containing and eventually eliminating the Soviet threat has evolved into a new joint historical mission that could be defined as the "eradication of non-democracy." This is carried out by (1) maintaining the capability and political will to project hard force when necessary against militant, non-democratic regimes, which is justified by their being a threat to regional security, as in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, and Iraq, (2) containing non-democratic or semi-democratic regimes in a soft way, combining deterrence and selective engagement and partnership as in the case of Russia or China, and (3) integrating former adversaries or "problematic" states as was the case in the past with Germany and Japan.

The region where Bulgaria has its most immediate interests and can contribute as an efficient NATO member is in the Balkans. Bulgaria could be particularly helpful in F.Y.R. Macedonia, Croatia, and Serbia, where it could assist on projects related to defense reform, military training, and democratization of the security sector.

International terrorism already exists in the Balkans. Middle East-sponsored terrorist networks penetrated the Balkans before the September 11 terrorist attacks. The Balkans face the risk of becoming a battlefield once again as a result of an activated al Qaeda strategy.

The U.S. focus is shifting away from the Balkans, with the Europeans taking over peacekeeping in the region instead, albeit with a credibility hardly matching that of the Americans. Local militants could care less about European troops, but an American presence is respected. It is believed that an attack on U.S. soldiers would provoke a forceful American response, something that is not expected from Europeans.

In 2007, Bulgaria is planning to have over 5,000 troops available for participation in allied operations worldwide, including armored, air, and naval units. Bulgaria and Romania offer the best locations for forward bases oriented toward action outside the traditional NATO area of responsibility. No region in Bulgaria is rejecting the idea of the presence of U.S. bases. On the contrary, there is a rivalry going on among various regions to attract the bases. These bases are appreciated not only for the security they bring, but also for their expected contribution to the local economy.

Dr. Jeffrey Simon, National Defense University
(no paper title)

The year 2004 will be a significant year with respect to Balkan security because of the dual EU and NATO enlargement. NATO will expand from 19 to 26 countries. Slovenia, which is not really considered a Balkan country, will join both the EU and NATO, while Romania and Bulgaria will become members of the alliance but will have to wait to enter the EU until at least 2007.

Three other Balkan states, Croatia, Albania, and F.Y.R. Macedonia, are in the NATO Membership Action Plan. Bosnia and Serbia and Montenegro are aspiring to join NATO's Partnership for Peace program. NATO is the basic institution playing a stabilizing role in the Balkans. It is offering incentives to encourage Balkan countries to share common values.

The EU will enlarge from 15 to 25 members. This enlargement will have an asymmetrical effect on the Balkans because of the delayed entry of Bulgaria and Romania into the bloc. The EU membership timeline for Croatia and F.Y.R. Macedonia is "far down the road." The northeastern quadrant of Europe is in a different situation.

Over the next two years, the U.S. military presence in Europe will change as downsizing takes place in Germany in conjunction with Washington's global re-basing strategy and the new risks.

There will be some U.S. military presence in Bulgaria and Romania, which will provide some assurance of stability. This presence will not significantly impact their economies. Large numbers of U.S. military families will not be transferred to Bulgaria and Romania.

The United States has vested interests in reducing its presence in the Balkans. It needs to have Europe take over the burden there as it has in F.Y.R. Macedonia. The SFOR peacekeeping force in Bosnia may also become an EU operation. There has not been a great deal of enthusiasm in F.Y.R. Macedonia regarding the EU takeover of the NATO peacekeeping force in the country. The same applies in Bosnia.

The U.S. is seeking the establishment of viable democracies in the Balkan region. The best contribution Bulgaria can make is to establish viable democratic institutions as an example for the rest of the Balkans.

Bulgaria and Romania are "joined at the hip." If the September 11 terrorist attacks had not occurred, the chances of these countries being asked to join NATO might not have been as great. Their contributions to the campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq have raised their credibility.

Bulgaria's special relationship with Russia will influence its reform process. It is critical that Bulgaria evolve democratically within its intelligence and defense sectors. Defense reform in Bulgaria "has gone nowhere" over the last year since the NATO summit in Prague. There has been a lack of transparency in this reform.

Boyko Todorov, Program Director, Center for the Study of Democracy (Bulgaria)
"Organized Crime and Corruption in Southeast Europe"

It is difficult to reconcile the fact that Bulgaria has been a stable U.S. partner in the region, with a predictable foreign policy agenda, and, at the same time, it has become part of a regional infrastructure of organized crime and trafficking. The latter is the greatest security concern in Bulgaria, outweighing the military and terrorist threats to the country. Some 90 percent of organized crime in Bulgaria is cross-border.

During the embargo years of the 1990s in the former Yugoslavia, trafficking was government policy in Serbia, Croatia, and Bosnia. For example, Serbia smuggled arms and oil to get around the embargo against it. Organized criminal elements in the region, including those in Romania, Bulgaria, F.Y.R. Macedonia, and Albania, made the most of the opportunities presented by the embargo, as smuggling operations in these countries were carried out with the involvement of the governments.

Today, there is a very good cross-border criminal network encompassing all of these countries, and it also includes Turkey and Greece. Thessaloniki, in northern Greece, has become a main port for the smuggling of South American cocaine into the region.

The Euro-Atlantic integration process being carried out in the region, through NATO and the EU, has failed to address this problem. Neither institution has the means to deal with it. Organized crime, cross-border trafficking, and corruption are viewed by both NATO and the EU exclusively as law enforcement problems.

There is a gap in the threat perception between the U.S. and Europe with respect to the sources of the greatest security risks. Bulgaria's commitment to Euro-Atlantic integration will involve determining how to merge the threat perceptions of the U.S. and Europe.

Featured Speaker
Gen. Boyko Borrisov,
Chief Secretary of the Bulgarian Ministry of the Interior

Gen. Borrisov noted that the Bulgarian Ministry of Interior deals with law enforcement issues that overlap with the collective security issues addressed within the NATO framework, such as matters relating to military bases, the handling of classified information, organized crime, and terrorism.

He noted that Bulgaria, on the outer frontier of the European Union, is in a location where crime networks from the greater region converge. Great strides, he said, have been made in combating the counterfeiting of money in Bulgaria over the last few years.

Currently, he said, there are some 300,000 illegal migrants waiting in Turkey to cross into Bulgaria through the aid of traffickers, who demand payment of about $2,200 from each individual for this service. These individuals, from countries that include Afghanistan, Pakistan, Ukraine, and Moldova, seek entry into western Europe and view Bulgaria as a transit point on their journey.

Gen. Borrisov stated that there is a need for reform in the Bulgarian judicial system, noting that the country's court system is too liberal. He said that 30 convicted murderers, sentenced to life imprisonment, are currently out on the streets of the country while their appeal processes are underway. These murderers have been killing each other, he said, to eliminate witnesses to their criminal behavior.

Gen. Borrisov was in Washington to discuss law enforcement issues with high-level officials of the Secret Service and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

Keynote Address
Elena Poptodorova
, Bulgarian Ambassador to the United States ,
"U.S.-Bulgarian Relations: The View from Sofia"

News reports on the Balkans are written during times of terrorism, tensions, and trouble. Otherwise, the region is ignored. As the secretary general of NATO, Lord Robertson, said: "For most of us, the Balkans are no longer the headlines."

The most difficult war to fight is the struggle to overcome perceptions concerning the region. The Balkans are an inextricable part of Europe, but Balkan countries are construed as "the other." For decades, the Balkans have been a "suspicious" part of Europe.

Bulgaria and the United States, which this year celebrate 100 years of diplomatic relations, have recently entered a strategic relationship marked by the possibility that U.S. military bases will be established in Bulgaria. A dramatic change has taken place. A high-level U.S. delegation will arrive in Bulgaria the week of December 8 to discuss the practicalities of setting up bases in the country.

There will be "no horn of plenty" associated with these bases in terms of U.S. funds, but there will be strategic advantages for Bulgaria associated with the bases. With the establishment of U.S. military facilities on Bulgarian territory, it will be easier for Washington and Sofia to compare notes when situations arise in Europe and elsewhere. There will be more give and take between the two countries in this regard. There is a "healthy measure" of support in Bulgaria for the presence of these bases and a closer relationship with the United States.

The fact that both Bulgaria and Romania are being considered for the establishment of U.S. bases is another reason for the two countries to work together.

Since 1990, all political parties in Bulgaria have realized that no government can succeed in the country without the United States on its side.

Panel II: Black Sea Challenges
Moderator: Col. Stephen R. Norton
(U.S. Army, Ret.)
Senior Policy Advisor, Western Policy Center

By 2004, Turkey, Bulgaria, and Romania, three of the six countries on the Black Sea, will all be NATO members.

The commander of the allied naval forces in southern Europe recently stated that control of the Black Sea is crucial to the effort to combat international terrorism. The foreign minister of Bulgaria has stated that Bulgaria would be the best place for the establishment of U.S. bases in the region. In addition, the U.S. Embassy in Sofia has confirmed that a high-level American delegation will travel to the Bulgarian capital to discuss the possibility of opening U.S. bases in Bulgaria.

In view of the possibility that U.S. soldiers will be based in the western Black Sea region, the U.S. Congress and the White House will be focusing on the region. Many issues converge in the Black Sea area, such as the drug trade, organized crime, the protection of energy sources, terrorism, and efforts to project power into the Caucasus region.

Dr. Ron Asmus, Senior Trans-Atlantic Fellow, German Marshall Fund
"Rethinking Black Sea Security"

Why is there a contemporary interest in the Black Sea? There has been a dramatic shift. In the past, the greatest threat to U.S. security lay in Europe. Now that the Cold War has been won, NATO enlargement has been achieved, the Balkan wars have stopped, and Europe is a more democratic and peaceful place, Washington does not worry about the possibility of fighting a war with Europe. Europe is no longer a strategic problem from Washington's viewpoint.

Since the September 11 terrorist attacks, the new threats to the United States have emanated from the greater Middle East, including the war on terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, and religious fanaticism. As Europe ceases to be a threat, will it be a strategic partner of the United States? What is the common strategic agenda of the U.S. and Europe? Bulgaria is an important element within the issue of defining a common strategic agenda.

The United States faces strategic challenges. Is Washington serious about extending the Euro-Atlantic integration process eastward to the countries bordering the Black Sea? From the U.S. perspective, the Black Sea region used to be "on the horizon," but now it is a new epicenter that is central to the agenda of meeting the challenges posed by the Middle East.

The U.S. and Europe have never had a coherent strategy for dealing with the Black Sea. The Black Sea fell into the crack between Soviet/Russian studies and policies concerning the Middle East.

Can the U.S. develop a long-term strategy to integrate the Black Sea region into Euro-Atlantic institutions? What is Bulgaria's role in this process? Bulgaria, Romania, and Turkey will be the countries in the region that the U.S. will turn to in the development of this long-term strategy. Can Bulgaria be an "intellectual and political" partner of the United States in developing this strategy, in addition to providing bases for U.S. troops?

Dr. Nikolas K. Gvosdev, Senior Fellow in Strategic Studies, Nixon Center
"Bulgaria's Role in Russia's Black Sea Strategy"

I would like to quote a line from "From Russia with Love," when James Bond arrived in Istanbul: "You're in the Balkans now. The game with Russia is played differently here."

The Black Sea did not lose importance when the Cold War ended and the Soviet Union collapsed. The Black Sea remains a key lifeline for Russia. Its attitude toward the Black Sea is different from that of Europe, and the Black Sea countries have a different relationship with Russia than they do with European countries.

The United States must ask serious questions concerning the role of NATO in the Black Sea region, particularly with respect to the role of Bulgaria.

In the 1990s, Moscow's view, one that still prevails, was that the raison d'etre of NATO was not to provide security but to contain Russia and block its economic and political interests. Russia fears that its neighbors could be brought into Euro-Atlantic structures, forming a new dividing line from which Russia will be excluded.

In the last four years since the Kosovo war ended, it has become clear that Russia is not in a position to exercise hard military security power in the Balkans. The neighbors of the former Yugoslavia have been firm in their support for NATO, and the European Union clearly intends to include the Balkans in its expansion.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has reoriented Moscow's relationship with NATO, seeing no reason why southeastern European countries cannot be friends of Russia despite their movement toward Euro-Atlantic integration. There is a new algorithm at play, in which economic and commercial ties cross institutional boundaries.

Bulgaria's desire to join NATO and the European Union is not seen by Moscow as a move against Russia and does not preclude ties between Sofia and Moscow. Russia sees Bulgaria's entry into NATO as a positive step since the alliance will act as a rampart to secure Russia's Black Sea interests and provide security for the Black Sea basin. However, Russia hopes that NATO expansion will not go farther east than the west end of the Black Sea.

In addition, Russia envisions the possibility of further cooperation with Bulgaria in the defense industry after it becomes a NATO member. NATO member Greece, for example, buys Russian weaponry.

Will Russia be a partner with NATO in promoting Black Sea security? Bulgaria can help define a strategy in this regard.

The United States needs to take into account the fact that countries in the Black Sea region have strong economic ties with Russia.

Bruce Jackson, President, Project on Transitional Democracies
"The Challenges Facing Bulgaria"

Although Bulgaria is slated to be a NATO member by June 2004, the country will not participate in the alliance unless its internal reforms have been completed, such as laws governing arms sales, the elimination of organized crime, and reform of the judicial system. Reform is inseparable from responsibility in the alliance. Bulgaria's strategic role in the alliance will not outweigh the need to complete the necessary reforms. The permanent redistribution of NATO toward the Black Sea will not be carried out until these reforms have been completed, which is several years away.

How the European Union will proceed in its plans for expansion into the Black Sea region is an overall structural consideration concerning the future of the region. What will happen if Turkey is not given a date for the start of EU accession talks in 2005 or if Bulgaria and Romania lose ground in their efforts to enter the EU by 2007?

There are residual Soviet forces, criminal enterprises, and large amounts of weapons for sale in Moldova, which could pose problems with respect to Romanian and Bulgarian security. Russia is involved in a maritime dispute in the Crimea. In addition, the Turkish-Armenian border is the only border of a NATO country that is closed.

The United States military is involved in a training and equipping program in Georgia and would like to see Bulgaria play a role at the eastern end of the Black Sea.

No work has been done concerning the "norms" of Black Sea security. The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline constitutes a central security issue in the region.

What is "wider Europe?" Why isn't the whole Black Sea region in wider Europe? The Black Sea is the last great challenge inside Europe, one that is ready for Bulgarian and Romanian leadership. It will take at least 15 years to integrate Turkey, as a frontline Black Sea country, into the European Union.

Dr. Ognyan Minchev, Executive Director, Institute for Regional and International Studies (Bulgaria)
"Bulgaria-NATO-Russia: Security Dimensions of a Changing Regional Environment"

Bulgaria is on the dividing line between two social systems: the West, which represents normative capitalism, and the "other," which represents chaotic oligarchic authority and an initial capitalistic system, as in Russia.

As a new member of NATO, Bulgaria has to maintain its dynamic relationship with Russia with respect to security issues. Russia is a partner of the West, so all NATO members must work toward an extended partnership with Moscow. Can Bulgaria be a mediator between the West and Russia? Moscow does not want Bulgaria to have that status.

Russia cannot be an international power unless it has influence in Europe. The Black Sea basin, and Bulgaria in particular, is one of the few regions in Europe where Russian influence can be exercised.

The traded commodities of the former communist states of central and eastern Europe are taxed by Russia at a low rate under a Russian law pertaining to "developing" countries. However, commodities traded by Bulgaria are taxed under a Russian law pertaining to "developed" countries, resulting in a higher tax.

The Bulgarian energy system is almost 100 percent dependent on Russian sources and technology. Bulgaria imports Russian natural gas, oil, and nuclear fuel. Most of the facilities involved in energy generation in Bulgaria use Russian technology.

From 1997 to 2001, there were efforts to diversify Bulgaria's energy portfolio, but they failed since there was no interest in the West to participate in the privatization of the country's energy system. International financial institutions and the European Union, which is conducting accession negotiations with Sofia, are pressing Bulgaria to further privatize its energy sector. With respect to natural gas, Gazprom practically has a monopoly in the Balkans.

What will be the outcome of Bulgaria's NATO membership, on the one hand, and the Russian monopoly on the country's energy sector, on the other? U.S. bases in Bulgaria will be powered by electricity generated by Russia.

The lack of interest on the part of the U.S. and the EU in investing in Bulgaria's energy sector could have long-term political and security implications.

Experts & Staff

  • Christian F. Ostermann // Director, History and Public Policy Program; Global Europe; Cold War International History Project; North Korea Documentation Project; Nuclear Proliferation International History Project
  • Emily R. Buss // Program Assistant

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