March 25, 2019
I wish to thank The Atlantic Council of Bulgaria for hosting this important event and for the invitation to be with you today. It is a pleasure to see Prime Minister Kostov, President Plevneliev, Ambassador Yordanov, Ambassador Hopkins, and so many of my friends and colleagues here today who care deeply about Bulgaria, the NATO Alliance, and the Euro-Atlantic community.
This year marks both NATO’s 70th anniversary and the 15th anniversary of Bulgaria’s accession to the Alliance. These are challenging times, but ones of great promise and opportunity as well. We should celebrate these historic milestones, recommit ourselves to our shared values of peace and prosperity, and look proudly and boldly to the future.
I recently celebrated my own anniversary –three years as the United States Ambassador to Bulgaria. While my time serving my country here has been a pleasure for me and my family on a personal level, it has been rewarding and inspiring on a professional one.
Three years ago Bulgaria was in the early stages of restarting its modernization program for the Air Force, Land Forces, and Navy. In the ensuing months, several setbacks and complications frustrated those efforts. Nonetheless, Bulgaria persevered in these endeavors.
Bulgaria faces many challenges from external efforts at destabilization, budgetary restraints, and complex domestic politics that could derail any or all of these modernization projects. Nevertheless, the determination to fulfill the country’s NATO commitments and continue to mature as a NATO Ally demonstrates that the Bulgarian people and their elected leaders understand that the future of Bulgaria lies with NATO and the West. Bulgaria’s history and its achievements also enable the country to serve as a regional leader to aspiring Euro-Atlantic nations in the Western Balkans hoping to follow Bulgaria’s path. Moreover, it demonstrates that Bulgaria understands it has a proactive and important role to play in securing this future for all of us in NATO.
It is often said that NATO is the greatest Alliance in history. And this is true because of our shared commitments and our shared sacrifices. Bulgaria is one of a small number of NATO Allies with a credible plan to fulfill its Wales Summit commitments by 2024. The selection of the F-16 to modernize the Bulgarian Air Force is a major part of this plan and is most welcome by the United States. The F-16 will bring full NATO-interoperability to Bulgaria’s air defenses and finally wean the country off of Russian, Soviet-legacy equipment. This is no small accomplishment. This is a revolutionary advance for Bulgaria and for NATO.
Bulgaria still has much to do, however, and the challenges to the country and to NATO along the Eastern Flank and in the Black Sea region are real, but the United States stands with Bulgaria every step of the way. In fact, America’s commitment to Bulgaria predates Bulgaria’s NATO membership. For over 25 years, Bulgaria and the United States have been bonded through the State Partnership Program with the Tennessee National Guard. The United States has invested over $300 million dollars in Bulgarian security and defense over this period to train and equip the Bulgarian Armed Forces. Since 1992, over 5,000 military officers, enlisted members, as well as civilian officials from the Ministry of Defense, Interior and Foreign Affairs have benefited from U.S. training programs. This year, approximately 60 Officers and Non Commissioned Officers will also attend training courses in the United States. From junior military service-members to the most senior, these education and training programs have promoted intellectual and operational interoperability, developing many professional ties that have been the cornerstone of our bilateral alliance. These are investments not only in the physical security of Bulgaria but in its greatest asset, its people.
At the end of the day, NATO and the Euro-Atlantic Alliance are about people. The security and prosperity of all our peoples and their relationships with one another across countries and cultures is our strength. So let me conclude by saying that the Bulgarian people have achieved great things these past 25 years working shoulder to shoulder with the United States, and these past 15 years as NATO Allies. I expect great things over the next 15 and 25 years and beyond, and I know I will not be disappointed.
Thank you all for your time and for your commitment to our future together.