Security in south-eastern Europe
The profound changes in Central and Eastern Europe since 1989 have provided the countries of that part of the continent a unique opportunity to reintegrate into the community of free and democratic nations. In striving to join the Euro-Atlantic institutions, the new European democracies are seeking both to put the legacy of the communist past behind them for good and to contribute of their own free will to the building of a new, united Europe. This integration strategy is also motivated by justifiable security concerns, as demonstrated by the conflict in the former Yugoslavia. The formula of security through integration and cooperation has gained growing support as the most promising tool for enhanced regional stabilisation and security.
In Bulgaria, we see membership in the Atlantic Alliance, the European Union and the Western European Union not only as a reliable source of security guarantees but also as a natural expression of our foreign policy orientation. The very prospect of membership has provided an incentive for reform in our country, acting as a stimulus for modernisation and as one of the main influences on Bulgaria's constructive and peaceful foreign policy over the last seven years.
Bulgaria has no territorial, border, ethnic or religious disputes with any of its neighbours. We are committed to overcoming any bilateral differences in the spirit of partnership and cooperation represented by the new Europe. My country shares common borders and security space with two NATO member states, enjoying excellent ties with Greece and Turkey, including in the field of security and defence.
Preparing for NATO membershipA year ago, on the basis of the landslide support of Bulgarian voters for the foreign policy agenda of President Petar Stoyanov, the Bulgarian government stated clearly the nation's desire to become a member of the Atlantic Alliance and its readiness to be invited to start accession negotiations. After years of uncertainty, Bulgaria had returned to the path leading to integration into NATO.
This clear and irreversible policy to seek the earliest possible integration into NATO and other Euro-Atlantic institutions was reinforced by the establishment of an absolute pro-reform majority in parliament and a strong reform-minded government. This policy is backed by a significant proportion of the public, who share the values, principles and objectives that the Alliance represents. It reflects Bulgaria's readiness to make its contribution to ensuring Euro-Atlantic and regional security.
NATO's opening to the new European democracies marked a profound new stage in the political and strategic evolution of Europe. The decisions taken in Madrid will consign to history the artificial lines of division imposed by the Cold War. We hope that this ongoing process will eliminate all vestiges of the Yalta legacy.
It came as no surprise that the countries which had made the most substantial progress in democratic and market reforms were the first to be invited to join NATO. We applaud this achievement which resulted from hard work and sustained efforts. For our part, we were particularly heartened by the reassuring message which came out of Madrid: the doors of the Alliance remain open to any European democracy willing and able to assume the responsibilities of membership.
The Bulgarian government has developed a clear-cut national strategy to meet the criteria for membership, based on a comprehensive national programme of preparation. A key aspect of this strategy is to demonstrate Bulgaria's commitment to being a responsible partner and dependable future ally able to undertake the obligations of membership.
The intensified dialogue with the Alliance on political, military, financial and security issues relating to future NATO membership is an integral part of our comprehensive pre-accession strategy. Regular review of the progress achieved will help to identify any areas where more work is needed and to formulate joint recommendations for the way ahead.
Reform of the armed forces, strengthening of civilian control of the military and achieving interoperability with NATO forces are major priorities in this process. To this end, the Bulgarian parliament has introduced significant changes in national legislation concerning defence and the armed forces. The objective of this reform is to develop a highly mobile, more professional and well-equipped force which is significantly reduced in size, in order to meet NATO standards. The force structure will include main defence, rapid reaction and territorial defence forces, as well as reserves.
While strengthening and deepening relations between the Alliance and all partners is an important aim of the enhanced Partnership, particular attention should be devoted to accommodating the specific interests and needs of applicant countries. The challenges deriving from the integration of new members will have to be addressed at an early stage and the enhanced Partnership could facilitate this important task.
Increasing regional cooperation and integration
An important step was taken in regional Euro-Atlantic defence cooperation last October when Defence Ministers from south-eastern European PfP participating states and NATO member states Greece, Italy, Turkey and the US, met in Sofia. Ministers reaffirmed their determination to promote good-neighbourly relations and constructive defence and security cooperation in the region. They agreed that the strong and dynamic transatlantic link will remain the bedrock of European security and stability and the main guarantee of a free and prosperous Europe and declared that NATO will continue to be the major driving force in the construction of an inclusive European security architecture in close cooperation with the WEU.
Ministers welcomed the commitment of NATO leaders to extend further invitations in coming years to democratic countries willing and able to assume the responsibilities and obligations of membership, and voiced their belief that the integration of south-eastern European states into Euro-Atlantic security organisations, including NATO, would be facilitated by the expansion of regional defence cooperation and confidence-building measures.
We are particularly pleased that the Sofia Defence Ministerial endorsed a number of specific activities and measures to provide a strong impetus to the process of integration into Western institutions, promoting confidence and security-building measures, and regional defence cooperation. The Chiefs of Defence of these countries will meet on a regular basis to develop further steps for more dynamic and practical military cooperation. In line with this new concept of regional military cooperation, we have made marked progress towards the elaboration of joint peacekeeping arrangements with neighbouring allied and partner countries.
In parallel to the Sofia Defence Ministerial follow-up activities, Bulgaria has initiated together with other partners in the region in the framework of EAPC a process of wider consultation and security cooperation in south-eastern Europe and, possibly, the Black Sea region. This is designed to make full use of the merits of EAPC and enhanced PfP arrangements to the benefit of increased regional cooperation on political, security and defence matters. Enhanced Euro-Atlantic cooperation, building on initiatives already underway among the states of the region, and between the region and Western nations, should include political consultations on issues of regional security and regional cooperative initiatives in areas such as confidence and security-building measures, arms control issues, democratic civilian control of the military, defence planning and policies, force restructuring, multinational peacekeeping operations, and infrastructure projects.
We have completed an initial round of focused discussions on regional security cooperation in south-eastern Europe in the framework of EAPC and our assessment of the results achieved so far is positive. There seems to be a common commitment in the EAPC to support building greater stability and security in south-eastern Europe, and recognition that regional cooperation can enhance the Partnership objectives. A number of considerations expressed during the discussion are equally relevant to any regional cooperation initiative within the EAPC.
Regional cooperation should not lead to the creation of "regional clubs" but rather reinforce the broadening and deepening of the Partnership itself. Nor should this cooperation be seen as an alternative to early membership in NATO for qualified countries but rather as an instrument to better engage their efforts to the benefit of regional security. We are confident that further steps will be considered to enhance the regional dimension of the Partnership.
Enhanced regional cooperation in the security and defence area, however important it may be, is only part of the broader approach to security and stability in south-eastern Europe and the Black Sea Region. The Bulgarian government attaches paramount importance to consultations and cooperation on a regional level with regard to new challenges and threats of a wider nature such as organised crime, illegal arms trade, drug-trafficking and international terrorism. The radical measures we have undertaken against corruption and organised crime in Bulgaria provide a catalyst for our key role in regional cooperation in this field, in close interaction with our future allies. This has been strengthened by our intensive regional bilateral, trilateral and multilateral dialogues.
SFOR and beyondThe SFOR operation in Bosnia-Herzegovina is vitally important to security in south-eastern Europe and concerns the whole of the Euro-Atlantic community. Bulgaria shares this commitment in the pursuit of implementing the Dayton Peace Agreement to safeguard peace in the area. We have provided our support in various areas and stand ready to increase our contribution in future. In this respect, we were encouraged by allied statements of support for a post-June 1998 military presence in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Bulgaria will lend whatever assistance it can in this endeavour.
Non-governmental organisations and civil society also have an important role to play in the process of integrating new democracies into the Euro-Atlantic community. In this regard, Bulgaria was the first country in Central and Eastern Europe to host the General Assembly of the Atlantic Treaty Association last October. This important event provided a new impetus to the advancement of the Atlantic spirit in Bulgaria.
My country has made an irreversible break with the past. We have become a reliable producer of regional security and our eventual accession to the Washington Treaty will fulfil our natural destiny as an integral part of the Euro-Atlantic community.