Bulgaria and NATO: 7 Lost Years

By Simon, Jeffrey | Strategic Forum, May 1998 | Go to article overview

Bulgaria and NATO: 7 Lost Years


Simon, Jeffrey, Strategic Forum


Conclusions

* Bulgaria's actions and policies on military reform between 1990 and March 1997 left the country's institutions and military largely unprepared for integration with the Alliance.

* Bulgarian government and military officials have emerged from the state's self-imposed isolation lacking an understanding of how far behind they are, as well as what they need to do, to seek integration.

* Bulgaria's armed forces are only now starting to reform and downsize. The resultant social and economic pain has yet to be felt, and the state is likely to suffer significant political consequences.

* Some social and political figures may elect to portray the United States and NATO as the cause of Bulgaria's social, economic, and political pain. Bulgaria's citizens, politicians and military need NATO to better define its standards for interoperability.

NATO's Enlargement "Principles"

Since the beginning of the Partnership for Peace (PFP) program in January 1994, NATO has been refining its criteria for enlargement. The NATO Enlargement Study, briefed in September 1995, emphasized that candidate states should be democratic, protective of individual liberty and human/minority rights, and dedicated to the rule of law. The study also indicated that civil governments should control their militaries, and possess certain levels of military capabilities and NATO interoperability.

In 1996, after three rounds of discussions with NATO concerning prospective desires to join the Alliance, Bulgaria--under Bulgarian Socialist Party rule--concluded that it did not want to pursue membership. Only after a February 1997 change in government did Bulgaria formally announce an aspiration toward NATO membership.

Premature Quest for NATO Membership?

Bulgaria has only recently become quite active in its quest for "second tranche" candidacy for NATO membership (along with Romania and Slovenia). Members of the new government believe that their change of policy and good intentions are enough to merit serious consideration. Though Bulgaria now appears serious in its quest, unfortunately it has lost seven years. Bulgaria is still trying to understand what is expected of it, and remains ill-prepared.

Part of Bulgaria's problem stems from the fact that NATO's information programs have not reached their audience. This contributes to the fact that many responsible politicians as well as the broader Bulgarian society have an insufficient understanding of NATO. This situation has been exacerbated by the lack of societal consensus as reflected in Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) opposition to NATO membership. Because the Bulgarian leadership and society do not yet really understand how much time they have lost, and just how much work remains to be done, NATO needs to clearly define its interoperability standards.

Assessing Bulgaria's Progress

Bulgaria's candidacy for NATO membership can be assessed based upon its progress in fulfilling the following "criteria":

Political reform/democratization. Bulgaria has held democratic elections and exhibited a peaceful transfer of power from the Bulgarian Communist Party under Todor Zhivkov to the Union for Democratic Forces (UDF) in 1991. Power returned to the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) in 1994, and with the implosion of the Bulgarian economy in 1996, a caretaker government was set up under Renata Indzhova until elections returned the Union of Democratic Forces to power in the Spring 1997. The political system appears to work, but the ability of the new government to implement economic reform will significantly determine whether or not lasting political reform can take hold in Bulgaria. If the new government fails to meet popular expectations for the economy, confidence in democratic rule could wane.

Economic reform. The political system experienced enormous stress in 1996 because of economic collapse. …

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