Bulgaria and NATO Enlargement
Her Excellency Nadezhda Mihailova
Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bulgaria
GROWTH AND REFORM IN BULGARIA
The road that democratic Bulgaria has traveled over the last years has been difficult and sometimes painful. But today I am proud to state that the country has successfully passed the crucial test of democracy and that its political transition is over. The recent presidential and parliamentary elections confirmed that democracy and the rule of law in Bulgaria are deeply rooted and functioning. The changes in our country, I can assure you, are irreversible.
Bulgaria has the firm political will, the absolute parliamentary support, and the program strategy to continue to transform our country. The unity of purpose displayed by the President, the reform-minded parliamentary majority, and the strong cabinet, as well as the broad political and popular consensus achieved on all key domestic and international priorities, will be important pillars and guarantees for a stable course of reform in a Euro-Atlantic direction.
The government of the United Democratic Forces coalition, which I am honored to represent, is strongly committed to speeding up and finalizing the remaining changes Bulgaria urgently needs. Our program--symbolically entitled "Bulgaria 2001"--is a long-term social contract that we will implement by bringing the country into the 21st century as a modern European democracy with a market economy.
We firmly believe that the earliest possible admission of Bulgaria into NATO is of the most immediate national interest. The will to join the North Atlantic Alliance at such an early date is an expression of our categorical and sovereign choice and not the result of the politics of the day. Our willingness to accede to the Alliance is motivated by our adhering to the Western set of values.
NATO membership is seen as an efficient vehicle for the modernization of our country. The very prospect of joining Euro-Atlantic institutions has been a driving force for the pro-reform movement in Bulgaria and one of the main incentives for our constructive foreign policy over the last seven years. However, we firmly believe that Bulgaria's membership in the Alliance will not only provide a reliable source of guarantees for our national security. It will also enhance its capabilities to contribute to stability and security in the region. Our understanding of NATO enlargement is that it goes beyond the provision of a security umbrella to new members.
BULGARIA AND REGIONAL RELATIONSHIPS
President Václav Havel, said years ago that "a long-forgotten history will come back to haunt us, a history full of thousands of economic, social, ethical, ethnic, territorial, cultural, and political problems that remained latent and unnoticed under the surface of totalitarian boredom." Some of these problems have had tragic consequences in parts of Southeastern Europe. However, with its policy of good-neighbor and balanced relations with all countries in the region, Bulgaria has remained an island of stability and security. We have had no territorial, border, ethnic, or religious disputes with any of our neighbors. Over the last seven years the climate of religious and ethnic tolerance in Bulgaria has been praised internationally. Democratic Bulgaria has maintained friendly relations with all countries in the region and conducted itself internationally in a civilized manner irrespective of our integration priorities.
Bulgaria has a common border and forms a common security space with Turkey and Greece, two NATO member-states and two very good neighbors. We are convinced that Bulgaria's early accession to the Alliance would further strengthen security and stability in Southeastern Europe and NATO's southeastern flank. The enlargement of the Alliance to the southeast would provide for territorial and strategic continuity as well as additional guarantees against latent risks. It would certainly contribute to the greater coherence of the Euro-Atlantic security and defense area. Our early accession would also assure the safety of transregional infrastructure and energy systems.
A geographically balanced approach to NATO enlargement would minimize the risk of establishing gray zones on the Continent. In this context, we believe that the security of NATO and, indeed, of all Europe would only benefit from an equal treatment of the Black Sea applicant countries that qualify to become additional strongholds of regional stability. In our view, the ultimate linkage of NATO's northern and southern flanks would be an important step on the path to achieving the goal of an undivided European security space. Bulgaria is ready and willing to join the Alliance not in competition with but in cooperation with the other candidates.
In the area of defense, most of you are probably aware of the ongoing transformation and restructuring of our armed forces, including their downsizing and the strengthening of civilian control. Reforms are also underway in our defense industry, a significant part of which will be privatized. These changes will enable us to be a real net contributor to the Alliance's collective defense. Our record shows our committed involvement with peacekeeping, which we will further enhance. Our contribution to the NATO-led IFOR/SFOR in Bosnia is tangible proof of our readiness to contribute to Allied efforts toward securing peace and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area.
MEMBERSHIP IN AN ENLARGED NATO
I would like to state that the Bulgarian government welcomed the Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation, and Security between NATO and the Russian Federation, as well as the Ukraine-NATO Charter. These political documents represent a sound basis for the complete elimination of a divided Europe and for the transformation of our continent into a common, peaceful, stable, and indivisible security space. We welcome the provision in the Founding Act that reaffirms the inherent right of all states to choose the means by which to ensure their own security. We hope that the Founding Act will not lead to any delay or limitation of the forthcoming Alliance enlargement, nor confer second-class status to future new members.
I would not like to prejudge the decisions to be made in Madrid. Bulgaria respects President Clinton's statement that the U.S. will support inviting the three countries that most clearly meet NATO membership criteria to begin accession talks in Madrid. We expect from the Summit a clear and firm commitment that the Alliance will remain open and that the first-round invitations are only the beginning of a process that will continue without undue delay. Bulgaria expects to be designated one of the interested countries that the Alliance would help prepare for membership.
In this context, we are particularly encouraged by the fact that, during my recent visit to Washington, the U.S. government reaffirmed its position that it regards Bulgaria as a serious candidate for future membership in the Alliance. Also encouraging is the U.S. Senate's State Department Authorization Act, fiscal year 1998-1999, which designates Bulgaria as eligible for receiving assistance in preparation for NATO membership.
Bulgaria has made a definitive break with its past. Allied support for Bulgaria's early accession to NATO is an act of Atlantic solidarity my country deserves.