Remarks by Ambassador Rubin – Rakovski Military Academy

Rakovski Military Academy
June 13, 2018

Greetings, all, and thank you for welcoming me to the Rakovski Military Academy today.

I would like to thank Major General Angelov for hosting me at this institution and for allowing me to speak with all of you today.

I greatly appreciate this important opportunity for Allies to speak with Allies, friends to friends, about the importance of our shared commitment to the NATO Alliance.  This shared commitment is not only a shared commitment to an organization, but it is a shared commitment to a set of ideals and values, and, ultimately, a commitment between each and every individual within our societies.  This commitment ranges from the obvious pursuit of peace and security, but also to the benefits peace and security bring by fostering the room for each and every one of us as people and societies to forge a prosperous and inclusive, democratic future.

I would be remiss if I did not mention, and call attention to, the fact that our recently confirmed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made his first official trip to NATO.  Secretary Pompeo flew to meet with his counterparts in Brussels mere moments after being sworn in as our new Secretary of State.  This is significant.

Secretary Pompeo, by making NATO his very first overseas stop sent a powerful signal to our Allies and adversaries alike.  The symbolism inherent in this decision indicates undeniably that NATO is important, and our friends and Allies are important to the United States.  In Secretary Pompeo’s own words, “the United States commitment to the collective defense under Article 5 of the Washington Treaty remains ironclad.”

Again, this commitment to collective defense is not made simply for the sake of peace and security, but for much, much more.  Here in Bulgaria, the positive impact of NATO membership is evident to me, my colleagues here in Sofia and back in Washington, and to Bulgaria’s civilian and military leadership.  It is sometimes difficult to explain and show these benefits to the average person.  This is true in the United States, just as it is often true in other NATO Ally countries.  So, again, it is important that we take these moments to discuss and celebrate how far we have come.  But it is equally important to focus on where we are going and the work still left to do.

Next month, leaders from every NATO Ally nation will meet in Brussels.  During this NATO Summit, these leaders will underscore NATO’s unity and determination in addressing today’s security challenges.

The United States has three key priorities for the Brussels NATO Summit:  One, strengthening NATO’s deterrence and defense.  Two, increasing defense spending and burden sharing to help fulfill this first priority.  And, three, positioning NATO to contribute more to the fight against terrorism.

Bulgaria has an important role to play in pursuing these priorities.

Bulgaria’s location is strategically important, which makes it not only vital to NATO’s collective security, as well as deterrence and defense capabilities, but also to NATO’s efforts to bring peace, stability, and security to regional nations that are outside the Alliance.  To this end, Bulgaria successfully hosted the Saber Guardian 17 exercises last summer, which brought together nearly 25,000 armed forces personnel from 22 Ally and partner nations.  Bulgaria will have the opportunity to build on this success and continue this important leadership role during Saber Guardian 19 next year.

Exercises such as Saber Guardian are essential to NATO’s deterrence and defense against all threats by increasing readiness levels, accelerating decision-making, and improving military mobility.  NATO’s deterrence and defense must also focus on the cyber and hybrid threats as well, and we are working to do just that.

Beyond geography, however, Bulgaria plays an important leadership role helping regional nations move in the direction their citizens desire.  People throughout the region aspire to the progress Bulgaria has achieved over the past 28 years.  The people of the Balkans and the Black Sea region seek to participate in, benefit from, and contribute to the global, democratic world and see this as an attainable goal when they look to Bulgaria.

Before, during, and after Saber Guardian 17, participants and observers from many neighboring countries – including those with which Bulgaria shares the Black Sea such as Ukraine and Georgia – participated in important exercises that build not only security and defense capacity for Bulgaria and other Allies and partners, but build CONFIDENCE in their security and their future.

Another example of this is the important leadership role Bulgaria is playing during its EU Presidency.  Bulgaria has engaged with its Western Balkan neighbors, even those that maintain difficult relations with one another, to discuss important reforms and a future within the Euro-Atlantic world.  Bulgaria is an example to these countries, and just as Bulgaria sought membership in Euro-Atlantic institutions such as the EU and NATO, these countries look to how far Bulgaria has come and aspire to do the same.  As Assistant Secretary of State Mitchell remarked just a few weeks ago, “NATO’s door remains open to all European democracies that uphold the values of the Alliance and contribute to our common security.”

Growing Bulgarian-Macedonia cooperation, including in defense, is a concrete example of Bulgarian regional leadership.  Last August, with the signing of the Friendship Agreement between the two countries, an historic moment was reached.  The Friendship Agreement between Bulgaria and Macedonia now provides both an example of Bulgarian leadership in the Western Balkans and a concrete roadmap for repairing frayed bilateral relationships and putting aside age-old disputes.  Bulgaria and Macedonia now cooperate in many different domains, including through training together as regional security partners.

By providing an example to its neighbors, Bulgaria is providing a path for them to follow.  This path, however, does not lead simply to membership in NATO and the EU, the pillars of Euro-Atlantic stability, security, and prosperity.  This path leads to new opportunities for these countries for years and generations to come.

As part of the Brussels NATO Summit next month, many NATO partner nations will be present.  Their participation will highlight the Alliance’s strong support for Ukraine and for Georgia, and NATO’s deepening cooperation with the European Union and Enhanced Opportunities Partners such as Finland and Sweden.  Again, Bulgaria’s leadership in the region helps in this effort, and the United States is invested in this effort as well.

As part of our Alliance, the United States has spent tens of millions of dollars in Bulgaria to assist, develop, and upgrade its military facilities and capabilities to ensure that Bulgaria can play a more prominent role within NATO.  While these investments serve the security and defense interests of Bulgaria and NATO, they also mean investments and jobs within the Bulgaria economy.  These investments have also made Bulgaria an attractive destination for the United States and numerous other Allies for training exercises.

I mentioned Saber Guardian 17 and the upcoming Saber Guardian 19, but the United States and other NATO Allies deploy to Bulgaria with a steady frequency to train with their Bulgarian counterparts.  The United States just now began a third year of “heel-to-toe” deployment in the country.  Even as we speak, a squadron of U.S. F-15s are deployed to Graf Ignatievo Air Base for the Thracian Eagle Exercise, flying alongside Bulgarian pilots and building new and stronger links between our air forces.

Deployments such as Thracian Eagle bring with them an opportunity for members of our armed forces not only to train with members of the Bulgarian armed forces, but to speak with them, learn from them, and to reinforce our bonds at the individual level and recommit ourselves, as individuals, to our collective security.

The American commitment to Bulgaria is not recent, it does not even begin with Bulgaria’s membership in the NATO Alliance.  This year, Bulgaria and the United States celebrate 25 years of the State Partnership Program with the Tennessee National Guard.

Throughout the years of our partnership and our cooperation as Allies, we have also sent nearly ONE THOUSAND THREE HUNDRED International Military Education and Training or IMET participants to training and academic programs.  This number includes over 20 students taking part in this invaluable program in 2018 alone.  Our host, General Angelov, is himself a 2007 U.S. Army War College graduate.  (TO ANGELOV):  Thank you, General Angelov, for participating in IMET and for putting your knowledge and experience to such good use – training Bulgaria’s future military leaders.

IMET education and training benefits the whole Alliance by developing Bulgaria’s military capabilities and leadership at all ranks.  And the results are clear: Bulgaria has stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as in Kosovo.  Some of your soldiers made the ultimate sacrifice in executing their noble missions.  We honor your fallen heroes, and we thank their families and Bulgaria for their sacrifice.

It is often said that NATO is the greatest Alliance in history.  And this is true because of our ironclad shared commitments and our shared sacrifices.  Collective security requires not only shared commitments, but also investments in our capabilities.  As Secretary Pompeo said in Brussels, “Our collective defense demands greater burden sharing.”  He referenced the 2014 NATO Wales Summit, during which all NATO Allies agreed to increase defense spending to 2 percent of GDP by 2024 with 20 percent of that share devoted to funding major equipment.  As I highlighted earlier, increased defense spending and burden sharing will be a key priority of the United States at the Brussels NATO Summit.  Bulgaria is one of a small number of NATO Allies to have created a credible plan to reach 2 percent by 2024.  Now the plan must be put into action and real progress realized or Bulgaria risks falling further behind.

Over the last several years, Bulgaria has allocated funds to modernize its armed forces, but setbacks have stood in the way of carrying out these plans.  While Bulgaria has seen year-on-year increases in its defense spending as a share of GDP, the country remains reliant on Soviet-era equipment.  Investing in military modernization not only fulfills Bulgaria’s NATO commitments, but it also strengthens the country’s armed forces in myriad ways.

Acquiring new armored land vehicles will not only provide Bulgaria with essential equipment that helps to fulfill Bulgaria’s NATO defense spending commitments, it also helps enhance Bulgaria’s role within the alliance and secures Bulgaria’s borders and territory.  Moreover, the vision for these land vehicles includes local final assembly, and export potential, which will bring jobs and investment to Bulgaria.

Modernizing your navy will allow Bulgaria to guard its coastline and make greater use of its highly trained naval forces.  Moreover, new ships will provide Bulgaria with new, expanded training opportunities with NATO Allies and partners.

New NATO-interoperable fighter aircraft will allow Bulgaria’s talented air force to train with an ever expanding number of NATO Ally and partner nations, including most of your neighbors.  Currently, Greece, Turkey, and Romania fly U.S. F-16s.

Naturally Bulgaria is free to make the choice that is best for Bulgaria.  But within a very short period of time, Bulgaria must modernize its air force for the safety and security of its pilots, and to reduce its dependency on Russia for its defense needs.  It is only natural for me, as the U.S. Ambassador, to mention American aircraft, but modernization and NATO-interoperability are essential for Bulgaria, for NATO, and for fulfilling Bulgaria’s NATO commitments.

Now, in speaking here today, I do not intend to single out Bulgaria.  As I said, Bulgaria has presented a plan for modernization, which will allow it to fulfill its NATO defense spending commitments.  To be sure, there are several countries that have already achieved the 2 percent threshold.  There are many more that have not, and have yet to present a plan to do so.

The investments made to increase defense spending and burden sharing are also vital to the future of NATO as it faces new threats such as hybrid and cyber warfare, as well as terrorism.  We will look to our NATO Allies to establish Counter-Hybrid Support Teams and to fully implement the NATO Counter-Terrorism Action Plan to meet these threats.

Bulgaria has shown itself to be a willing and able member of the Alliance.  Carrying out the country’s modernization plan and helping the Alliance meet the needs and threats of the future is simply the next step in this process, which will bring more and greater opportunities to play an important leadership role within the Alliance.

So, let me conclude with the following:  Ahead of the NATO Summit next month, Bulgaria is in a position to stand out among the Allies.  With Saber Guardian 17 last year, a successful EU presidency, and the start of planning for Saber Guardian 19, Bulgaria possesses a unique resume among the Allies.  To take action now on implementing the country’s defense spending and modernization plans ahead of the Summit will place Bulgaria in a distinctive and envious position when the Allies gather in Brussels in July.

The United States stands with Bulgaria as it pursues these measures, but only Bulgaria and Bulgarians can take the necessary decisions and actions. As it has shown over the past 25 years, Bulgaria is capable of great things when focused on a goal such as EU or NATO membership.  Bulgaria also demonstrates the ability to motivate and inspire its neighbors who seek to follow its path.  I look forward to seeing what next steps Bulgaria takes as an Ally and a regional leader, and have great optimism in the future of the country, in our bilateral relationship, in NATO, and in Bulgaria’s role in the Alliance.

With that, I wish to thank you all for being here with me today, and I am happy to take questions from the audience and begin what I believe will be a very fruitful discussion.

Thank you.