“United States-Bulgaria Cooperation: The Way Ahead”

Speech by Ambassador Rubin

As prepared for delivery

Atlantic Club of Bulgaria
Central Military Club, Grand Concert Ballroom
July 7, 2017

Honorable guests, Ambassadors, members of the diplomatic corps, members of the Bulgarian government.

Thank you all for coming.  Let me add a special note of thanks to Solomon and Gergana Passy, as well as Ambassador Elena Poptodorova and the staff of the Atlantic Club of Bulgaria for organizing and hosting today’s event.

I am honored to follow Prime Minister Borissov this morning and address the critical importance of the bilateral partnership between Bulgaria and the United States.  Prime Minister Borissov’s strong commitment to our bilateral partnership and friendship over the years has been key to enhancing the security, prosperity, and close ties enjoyed by the Bulgarian and American people.  Together, we have been able to achieve much progress on our countries’ shared goals.

My address today is entitled “the Way Ahead” for one important reason:  the strong partnership between our two countries is poised for further progress and growth.  Our hard work and cooperation over the past 27 years have yielded a historic transformation of our bilateral relationship:

Today, as Allies, we proudly stand shoulder-to-shoulder defending the security of our countries and people.

As economic partners, we are supporting trade, investment, innovation, and jobs – driving forward the prosperity of our countries.

And as friends, we are bringing our people together, cementing the personal and family ties that bind our countries together.

Indeed, our relationship and our commitment to protecting the security, freedom, and prosperity of our people rest on the strongest of foundations:  our shared democratic values.  At a time of numerous challenges facing this region, this foundation remains rock-solid and allows us to jointly chart an ambitious future for U.S.-Bulgarian cooperation.  As President Trump stated in Warsaw yesterday:  “…above all, we value the dignity of every human life, protect the rights of every person, and share the hope of every soul to live in freedom.  That is who we are.  Those are the priceless ties that bind us together as nations, as allies, and as a civilization.  This great community of nations has something else in common:  In every one of them, it is the people, not the powerful, who have always formed the foundation of freedom and the cornerstone of our defense.”

Last month’s passing of former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, one of Europe’s great statesmen of the last century, led many of us on both sides of the Atlantic to pause and remember that it was these shared democratic values that ushered in a peaceful end to the Cold War, a reunited Germany, and a trans-Atlantic community revitalized by new members, new ideas, and new energy.  As Prime Minister Borissov noted, Helmut Kohl did much to assure for Bulgaria and this region the perspective of joining NATO and the European Union.  He was a visionary who believed in the transformative power of our values, of our democratic institutions, of our freedom and human rights, and of our NATO Alliance.  We believe in that transformative power more strongly than ever.  As President Trump said in a recent statement, Chancellor Kohl was “an advocate for Europe and the transatlantic relationship.  The world has benefited from his vision and efforts.  His legacy will live on.”

Let us review briefly what exactly those values are, and what it was that motivated the United States and our allies to stand firm during the Cold War and to come together to embrace new allies and partners at the end of the Cold War.

Our late, great President Franklin Roosevelt laid the groundwork for our system of values in his 1941 “Four Freedoms” speech before our Congress.  He cited these four essential freedoms:

Freedom of speech, Freedom of worship, Freedom from want and Freedom from fear as the goals of a new postwar world based on liberty, prosperity and peaceful coexistence.  Sadly, it took many decades for that dream to be realized.  But it was realized in much of the world.  Hundreds of millions of people achieved the opportunity to live their lives in peace, pursue a better future for their children, and decide for themselves how they wanted to be governed, and by whom.

At the heart of this vision was the idea of government by the consent of the governed.  That in a democracy, citizens will decide who holds power and how that power is exercised.  That the rule of law will apply to all equally, including those in positions of power.  That nations would also follow these principles, working out their differences through the United Nations system that President Roosevelt was so instrumental in advocating, but sadly never lived to see.

The Cold War years were not easy.  Bulgarians know better than most just how hard, bloody and painful they were.  But the end of the Cold War saw a new chance to reshape the global system.  The Transatlatic vision was reborn, not as a concept of confrontation but of peace and prosperity and freedom.  The idea of one Transatlantic space, from Vancouver to Vladivostok, remains as important and valid today as it was in 1989.  We are a long way from achieving its full promise, to be sure.  There is much work to be done, and there are many painful disagreements to resolve.   But that must be our goal: no new wall, no new dividing lines, no new spheres of influence or confrontation.

And having mentioned the late Chancellor Kohl, let me underline that the European project remains as central to American foreign policy as it was from the earliest days of the post-war period.  From the very beginning, we put our weight behind the vision and dreams of Monnet, de Gasperi, Schuman, Adenauer, Spaak, and yes, Churchill.  And so many others who believed that the horrors of war could only be prevented in the future by ensuring that Europe came together.  And that that vision of Europe was open and welcoming and closely tied to allies and partners across the globe who shared the values that underpinned it.  We are not and will not be members of the European Union, but its success is critical to our security, prosperity and freedom.  We believe with all our hearts in the fundamental idea of One Europe, Whole, Free and at Peace.

These values our forefathers fought for are at the heart of our shared civilization.  In the face of the considerable challenges we face across the globe today, they are more important, more valid and more needed than ever.  As President Trump stated yesterday in Warsaw:  “We must work together to counter forces, whether they come from inside or out, from the South or the East, that threaten over time to undermine these values and to erase the bonds of culture, faith and tradition that make us who we are.”  We must therefore stand up for our values, we must speak out in their defense, and we must speak clearly and forcefully against those who would undermine them, question them or offer alternatives that are fundamentally at odds with the kind of world we want our children to inherit.

We applaud the plans of Bulgaria for its upcoming EU Presidency.  As Prime Minister Borissov outlined this morning, these plans include a strong focus on the trans-Atlantic partnership, economic growth and prosperity, and regional stability in Western Balkans.  We support Bulgaria’s leadership on all these priorities and look forward to working with Prime Minister Borissov’s government on advancing these goals.

Our bilateral relationship with Bulgaria is one of shared values, but also one of shared benefits.  I’m sure many of you know someone who has been to the United States.  Every year, approximately six thousand bright and eager Bulgarian students participate in our popular Summer Work and Travel exchange program.  In fact, we issued our 100,000th summer work and travel visa last year.  Three thousand more are in the U.S. studying on student visas.  Countless students have told me their U.S. experience has changed their lives.  At the same time, my fellow citizens back home benefit from the diversity in peoples and cultures that foreign students represent, as well as the ideas and perspectives that they bring.

We are also proud of our country’s role in advancing educational excellence in Bulgaria.  The American College of Sofia, the American University of Bulgaria, and the Anglo-American School of Sofia are flagships of American commitment to Bulgaria’s future and its next generation.  That same commitment unpins the mission of the America for Bulgaria Foundation, or ABF.  ABF has invested 200 million dollars promoting Bulgaria’s success and excellence in a variety of fields.

Another valued partner has been the American Chamber of Commerce, which has for the past 22 years worked with U.S. companies and the U.S. Embassy to grow our bilateral commercial ties, level the playing field for our investors, and bring prosperity to Bulgarians and Americans alike.  U.S. companies are among the top investors in Bulgaria and have created thousands of jobs.  Beyond jobs and investment, our companies have brought their technologies, experience in innovation, and commitment to the communities in which they operate through corporate social responsibility programs.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the latest high-profile example of our bilateral commercial partnership – the June 23 launch of Bulgaria’s first satellite on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral in Florida.  This joint effort brought together a Bulgarian vision and U.S. funding from the Export-Import Bank.  Congratulations on the successful launch and the beginning of our cooperation to, as they say, “conquer the final frontier.”  Technology is the future, and the high-tech investments and satellite launch are proof that a great future for technology is developing right here in Bulgaria.

I would like to focus now on our security and defense cooperation because it is at the core of our bilateral partnership with Bulgaria.  In these challenging times, we are reminded daily of the instability around the world and how it impacts the security of both our countries.  Europe has been buffeted by complex challenges and threats – from the conflicts in the Middle East and the resulting terror threats and migrant flows to pressure from Russia as it seeks to reassert its influence in the region.

It is clear that a solid security policy, backed up by a sufficiently resourced, well-equipped, and capable military, is of utmost importance to the United States, to Bulgaria, and the rest of the NATO Alliance, both now and in the future.  It is also equally clear that no one nation can go it alone.  The challenges I just mentioned, as well as numerous others, are easier to meet if nations come together to meet them.  President Trump yesterday renewed his call on NATO:  “To meet new forms of aggression, including propaganda, financial crimes, and cyberwarfare, we must adapt our alliance to compete effectively in new ways and on all new battlefields.”

Earlier this year, we celebrated the 20th anniversary of Bulgaria’s decision to apply for NATO membership.  That step, along with Bulgaria’s EU accession a few years later, charted Bulgaria’s course toward a new future, one based on shared goals, shared support, shared security and shared prosperity.  The very essence of the NATO Alliance is to safeguard the freedom and security of all its members – all for one and one for all.  Yesterday, President Trump reaffirmed the United States’ unwavering support for NATO and Article 5 when he said:  “the United States has demonstrated not merely with words, but with its actions that we stand firmly behind Article 5, the mutual defense commitment.”

Bulgaria has been a proud member of the Alliance since 2004.  It has undergone a Strategic Defense Review of the structure and capabilities its Armed Forces would need to fulfill NATO commitments.  Bulgaria is a valued member of the coalition to defeat ISIS, and it has deployed personnel to critical missions, including Afghanistan, Iraq, and Kosovo.  Several of Bulgaria’s brave soldiers have paid the ultimate price in these conflicts, and America will always honor their sacrifice. And American soldiers will always proudly stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Bulgarian soldiers – because standing together, we are stronger and better at protecting our nations and our people.

President Trump said yesterday in Warsaw:  “Americans know that a strong alliance of free, sovereign and independent nations is the best defense for our freedoms and for our interests.”

Our bilateral security cooperation has also never been stronger.

Ever since Bulgaria signed a Defense Cooperation Agreement in 2006 with the United States, we have worked together on joint training to ensure that the Bulgarian military is ready and capable to address the security challenges of the 21st century.  Our partnership continues to grow: in the past three years alone, bilateral military activity has increased 400 percent.  Over the past 10 months, Bulgaria has hosted an F-16 squadron for an enhanced Joint Air Policing Mission, and more recently an F-15s squadron and an F-35 training mission.  Next week Bulgaria will host “Saber Guardian,” the largest multinational military exercise in Europe this year.  All these efforts are focused on enhancing our forces’ interoperability and capabilities.  They demonstrate our resolve to deter current and emerging security threats and defend our nations from those threats.

Of course, the training, collaboration, and sharing of expertise must be coupled with continued efforts to modernize our military equipment and systems.  At the NATO Summit, President Trump noted the need to focus on terrorism, immigration, external threats, and on NATO’s eastern and southern flanks.  These objectives are very much in line with Bulgaria’s own security priorities.  President Trump also called for NATO members to contribute their fair share for modernization and readiness of the armed forces.  In that regard, we welcome Prime Minister Borissov’s leadership in identifying and committing the needed funds to increase Bulgaria’s defense spending to two percent of GDP.  Bulgaria’s plans to strengthen and modernize its defense capabilities are critical to our work together in meeting the pressing challenges facing our Alliance, including terrorism and migration.

The United States recognizes that spending more on defense and spending more on modernizing military hardware require tough political decisions and financial trade-offs.  Bulgaria is making those difficult decisions, and the investment it plans to make will make Bulgaria – and our Alliance – stronger and safer.  We stand with Bulgaria as it wrestles with finding the best solutions to move its armed forces forward, to ensure that they have equipment that is compatible and interoperable with its NATO allies, and to find ways to help modernize Bulgaria’s defense industries while also modernizing its armed forces.  We applaud the clear national consensus in favor of proceeding with modernization now.

Much has been said and written recently about one aspect of Bulgaria’s military modernization effort:  the acquisition of fighter aircraft to replace Bulgaria’s MIGs.  Ultimately, it will be Bulgaria’s sovereign decision on how it will proceed with this and other military modernization projects.  There are critical questions that must be considered in making this decision.  Cost is obviously critical, but in looking at costs it is important to look at the total ultimate cost, not just the amount that must be paid up-front.  Also important are the proven capabilities of the aircraft being considered, its real-time combat experience, the number of sorties flown, and its inter-operability and compatibility with the aircraft flown by the United States and other NATO allies, including neighboring allies in the region.  As Bulgaria’s Ally and partner, the United States stands ready to help and support Bulgarian efforts to strengthen its armed forces and enhance its security.

We also stand shoulder to shoulder with Bulgaria in combatting the threat of global terrorism, a threat that affects us all.  We are deeply appreciative of the superb cooperation between our law enforcement agencies and those of Bulgaria in sharing information, working on joint strategies and establishing new approaches to ensure that we can keep all of our citizens safe.  We are dealing with new, asymmetrical threats.  They have already touched us all, painfully.  We can only meet them by working closely together.

When it comes to security, I did want to mention one additional important fact – and that is, security is not just about the armed forces.  In this global economy, it’s becoming clear that economic, and by extension, energy security is also critical.  Anyone with investment experience knows that investors diversify in order to reduce their risk and exposure.  This means that the climate for investors is a form of national security: the more positive, welcoming, transparent and predictable it is, the greater will be Bulgaria’s economic progress.

The same lesson also applies to energy.  Diversification reduces the risk that an energy disruption from any one source or route will threaten Bulgaria’s economy.  Bulgaria remains close to one hundred percent dependent on just one supplier for its natural gas, one supplier for its oil products and one hundred percent dependent on one supplier of nuclear fuel.  Again, under the leadership of Prime Minister Borissov, Bulgaria has pursued the Interconnector Greece-Bulgaria pipeline and has completed the Bulgaria-Romania interconnector.  In his remarks yesterday to the Three Seas Summit leaders, President Trump stated:  “I congratulate your nations for already beginning the critical projects that open us up to greater access” to alternative energy sources, noting specifically the Greece-Bulgaria Interconnector.  President Trump went on to say:  “These projects and many others are crucial to ensuring that your nations continue to diversify your energy sources, suppliers, and routes.”

Bulgaria is also moving quickly to tap its own domestic sources of natural gas. The United States welcomes this progress toward gas supply and route diversification.  We firmly hope that the IGB will be ready to start receiving and distributing gas from the TAP and TANAP pipelines as soon as they are completed.  And again, we stand ready to assist in any way we can to help advance the goals of energy diversification and energy independence.

Looking ahead, I am confident that Bulgaria’s efforts to enhance its defense capabilities will bring our countries even closer and will strengthen the Alliance in the process.  As I said at the outset, our shared enduring values have underpinned the historic transition of this region over the past 27 years and they will help marshal both the unity and capabilities to secure the future our nations and people deserve.  The United States government – together with all our partners in Bulgaria and this region – remains committed to enhancing the security, prosperity, and close ties enjoyed by the American and Bulgarian people.

Let us forge the way ahead, together.

Thank you all for your attention.