President Donald Trump welcomed Prime Minister Boyko Borissov of the Republic of Bulgaria to the White House on Nov. 25, 2019, to celebrate the strong and enduring relationship that exists between the two nations. The talks between the two leaders focused on security and defense issues and energy diversification.
Borissov led an official delegation that included members of his cabinet. Both countries decided to expand and enhance their strategic partnerships.
Security and Defense Cooperation
Bulgaria needs to modernize its military forces. To achieve that goal, Bulgaria, as a NATO member, must fulfill the defense spending pledge that requires each NATO ally to spend 2 percent of its GDP on defense, according to the agreement made by all NATO allies in 2014.
A study (pdf) conducted by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) in December 2018 shows that Bulgaria’s military spending was the highest in 2007 since the end of the Cold War, reaching 2.3 percent of its GDP. However, that expenditure was subsequently reduced, and in the years 2011-2017, it varied between 1.3 and 1.6 percent.
Military spending was reduced as a result of Borissov’s policy. In 2011 Borissov was prime minister. He prioritized the country’s economic growth and other expenditure over military spending “butter before guns.”
In 2014, Bulgaria was not able to pay its NATO fee or a bill for aircraft repair. The country planned then to gradually increase its defense spending to reach 2 percent of the GDP in 2020. However, this plan was not realistic and the target date to achieve the goal of spending 2 percent of GDP on defense was adjusted to 2024, as stated in the Joint Statement issued during the Bulgarian visit to the United States on Nov. 25.
During the visit, both countries laid out a 10-year roadmap to facilitate efforts leading to modernizing Bulgaria’s military with access to “advanced U.S. defense technology,” as well as expanding military exercises, training, and interoperability, according to the Joint Statement.
Bulgaria also offered to coordinate maritime operations on the Black Sea to support NATO’s Forward Presence Initiative and enhance the security of the region. The offer was welcomed by the United States.
Bulgaria has been transforming from a gas transitioning country into a gas distribution center. Its goal is to “become a true gas hub and a key source of regional energy security, free of monopolists, foreign or domestic, and operating on market principles. U.S. experience can help Bulgaria create a truly dynamic energy market,” the Joint Statement read.
Bulgaria’s gas supplies are currently dominated by Russian state-owned Gazprom and can be diversified by taking advantage of “of secure and affordable gas offered by U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) producers.” However, LNG requires proper infrastructure, and this will be provided by building “the Interconnector Greece-Bulgaria and the Alexandroupolis Floating Storage and Regasification Unit in Greece,” according to the Joint Statement.
The country also has a surplus of electricity and exports it to other countries which allows it to establish itself also as an energy hub. It uses coal as well as clean energy sources to produce electricity, and 16 percent of it comes from nuclear power, according to Export.gov.
The partnership with the United States can also help Bulgaria to move towards cleaner energy sources and diversify the nuclear energy sector, as stated in the Joint Statement.
“We recognize the importance of civil nuclear power as a reliable and clean energy source and look forward to working together to find solutions to Bulgaria’s energy needs. … Our goal is to help foster connections between our two countries’ entrepreneurs and to further improve Bulgaria’s investment climate, helping attract additional U.S. investment and know-how.”
Upholding the Rule of Law
The Joint Statement also stresses the importance of fair treatment of investors and the need to further improve “Bulgaria’s Intellectual Property Rights enforcement regime.”
Bulgaria also makes efforts “to prevent and prosecute high-level corruption, transnational organized crime, and financial crimes in Bulgaria” by upholding the rule of law. Both countries will also join their efforts to protect media freedoms.