15 years of membership in the Alliance have not been enough to make us feel pro-Atlantic
Elena Poptodorova is an international diplomat and analyst. She graduated in English and Italian philology at Sofia University, diplomacy at the University of National and World Economy. He specializes in Great Britain and Italy. Long-term ambassador of Bulgaria to the United States. Member of Parliament with 4 seats in parliament. Vice President of the Atlantic Treaty Association, Director of Euro-Atlantic Activities at the Atlantic Club of Bulgaria. He speaks English, Italian, Russian, French.
Today marks the 15th anniversary of our membership in NATO. Are we ready for the new security challenges?
Bulgaria is not ready to face the challenges alone in this new and much changed security environment. We have greatly delayed the modernization of the army, so we do not have the actual capacity to deal with a sudden emergency. It is true that we are protected under Article 5 of the Treaty with the Alliance, which is a guarantee in principle. But it is also true that we are not ready for effective enough action in immediate regional conflicts, in a terrorist act, God forbid. I am uneasy both in terms of combat capability and in terms of our political readiness to deal with emergency crises.
Is NATO really a shield for us?
We do not realize that we are participants in a very well-organized system of collective security, in which our active participation is necessary. For example, the very hot topic of hybrid wars. Bulgaria has finally shyly admitted that we were the target of a cyber attack in 2015, when several state information systems were hit during elections. Only a few days ago, the source of this attack was officially identified.
We are clearly timid in considering these risks and threats only because they come mainly from Russia. Bulgaria should be part of the defense of this already easternmost flank of the Alliance, but I do not think we are ready for this responsibility.
When will we find a successful balance between Russia and the West?
It’s about a different kind of relationship. Here is an example from Poland: it has declared Russia a threat, it has bought American F-16 fighters, it wants (and is paying!) To build an American base on its territory in order to have protection from Russia. But the same Poland has an annual trade turnover with Russia of $ 25 billion. And we are afraid to formulate our own interest.
We are afraid of being punished for an independent decision in the field of defense, security, energy… And as part of the Alliance, we must naturally develop our national defense within NATO.
It is high time for an objective public discussion to show clearly that Bulgaria understands the new risks from Russia – cyberattacks, heavy propaganda that floods us through various media sources and distorts people’s attitudes or keeps them entrenched in the past, which ended 30 years ago.
It is difficult for our politicians to make decisions – they are deterred by the fear that the voters subjected to such treatment may deprive them of positions of power.
It is no coincidence that such an active campaign was launched on the occasion of the expected purchase of American F-16 fighters.
The word diversification in the energy sector has also become dangerous – whoever pleads for it, as well as for the rearmament of our army, is destined to be shot. This is an unhealthy environment. Diversification does not mean cutting the pipes to Russia – everyone in Europe is aware that we need Russian gas, which will continue to flow to us. However, it is mandatory that this is done according to established market norms and rules, with different suppliers – something quite normal for the open market. However, this is also seen as an obstacle to Russian interests, and self-interest is ignored.
My hope is to gather national courage to uphold strategic decisions, for a healthy emancipation from addictions that should have ended 30 years ago. 15 years of membership may not be enough to make us feel pro-Atlantic. This duality hinders our own development.
We are victims of the illusion that if we give what we want in the field of energy to Russia, we will be able to somehow be “forgiven” for the purchase of American aircraft. Nope. It will not happen! The Kremlin will never accept our Atlantic choice.
Does the Alliance have an effective strategy against new threats?
New asymmetric threats have replaced the classic conflict. Terrorism, hybrid wars, regional conflicts, radical nationalism come to the fore. There is a great fear, both in Europe and in the United States, that the local population is declining at the expense of the newcomers and, in fact, national societies are being swallowed up by them. This delicate moment cannot be overcome by force alone.
In this regard, the Pact has a very strong scientific sector working in the fields of research, cyber threats and hybrid wars. This is the strength of NATO today: decades after the creation of the pact, the type of war, the methods of defense have changed completely, new means and new technologies are needed to neutralize these problems.
What is the trump card of Bulgaria?
Our trump card is geography. The only way to neutralize our difficult geography and benefit from our crossroads is through EU and NATO membership. We are very important now. If 30 years ago the dividing line was in Berlin, in the heart of Europe, now this line of opposition, of the distinction between Eurasia, East and West, runs along the Black Sea, with us. We must actively use this advantage, emphasizing our clear and irreversible choice. If Bulgaria realizes its key role for the EU and for NATO, it will realize geopolitical benefits on this flank of Europe.
Without political courage and a clear view of the strategic perspective, however, we risk becoming a draw – a gray area in the complex Balkan mosaic.
The drama “Brexit” – what do you think will be the finale?
Even Shakespeare would find it difficult to describe. My forecast is unoptimistic – a long, painful process of leaving Britain, which will suffer serious economic damage before finding its own balance.
The most unpleasant thing is that an important component is coming out of the EU – the very valuable Anglo-Saxon tradition and thought, which to some extent cripples the Union. Britain’s painful exit will inevitably affect the EU as well.
In return, however, a difficult divorce is likely to deny any desire for self-serving autonomy. This is already happening in Hungary. It will certainly be the same with Poland. there will also be the benefit of harm – the difficult process of adjustment, even of reformulating the EU itself in new conditions.
But there will be no change in NATO – Britain would never move away from NATO. It would have been best if Britain had reached the Norwegian version – Norway is a good example: it is not a member of the EU, and relations with the Union are guaranteed by bilateral agreements in certain areas.
How does a connoisseur of the United States like you see the future of the most unusual world leader Donald Trump – a second term or impeachment?
The slogan “America above all else” is the motto with which Trump has revised a number of international agreements. Trump has very good results at home – employment, GDP growth, which gives him a good platform to win the next election. Attorney General Mueller’s just-released report took away the hypothetical grounds for impeachment. At first, this is a very difficult procedure in the United States, and it is unlikely that Trump’s opponents will risk entering it. And it is more useful for the Democrats to keep the fire against him for another 2 years until the next elections, hoping to accumulate enough negatives to give them an easier victory. The trouble with Democrats is that at the moment, their candidates have little chance of defeating Trump. For now, the signs point to a second term for Trump, but surprises are always possible – as was Donald Trump himself.