Young Atlanticist Network member Iveta Cherneva interviews James Warlick, US Ambassador to Bulgaria, on questions of partnership in security between the two countries and NATO.

Iveta Cherneva: Ambassador Warlick, in your view what are the current top security priorities in the US-Bulgarian partnership?

Ambassador James Warlick: As is consistent with the many facets of the US-Bulgarian partnership, we share an excellent relationship on security issues. Bulgaria has proven itself to be a solid ally to the United States and to NATO. Our number one priority is helping the Bulgarian military develop and retain the capabilities it needs to address the 21st century challenges facing Bulgaria and NATO. For example, the US government is spending almost $10 million in military assistance annually to help the Ministry of Defense develop its first expeditionary Battalion Battle Group, as envisioned in the government’s strategy for military modernization. 

Security, of course, is more than just a military relationship. It also encompasses the issues of rule of law, terrorism, energy security, and more. These are all areas where we work closely with our Bulgarian counterparts. 

IC: How do these priorities fit within the NATO partnership context?

AJW: I believe they are one and the same. For example, we are supporting the development and retention of Bulgaria’s military capabilities so it can continue to provide valuable contributions to NATO missions around the world, as it has done in Afghanistan, Libya, Kosovo, and elsewhere.  Bulgaria’s national security is inextricably linked to the collective security of the Alliance. Its willingness to develop modern capabilities mean that it will be an increasingly valuable ally and help ensure its own security at the same time.

IC: William Brownfield, Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement, just visited Bulgaria and praised US-Bulgaria cooperation in the area of combating organized crime not as simply good but as excellent. At the same time, we keep hearing not so flattering comments by the EU with regard to Bulgarian efforts in the area of fighting organized crime and bringing those accountable to justice. Why that difference in opinion?

AJW: We have very good cooperation from the Bulgarian government when we work together on cases that affect both our countries, such as international narcotics trafficking. Assistant Secretary Brownfield said that Bulgaria has made significant progress in the fight against organized crime, but that much more remains to be done. I don’t think that is so different from the EU position. The establishment of the specialized criminal court and the introduction of comprehensive asset forfeiture legislation in the parliament are both significant achievements designed to address concerns presented in the European Commission’s CVM report. At the same time, both the specialized court and the asset forfeiture legislation need committed support if they are going to succeed.  

The close collaboration between the US and Bulgaria in the field of law enforcement has netted many successes. The US Secret Service partnership with the General Directorate for Combating Organized Crime (GDBOP) has led to the seizure of significant amounts of counterfeit US Federal Reserve Notes, which has resulted in the disruption of criminal groups. Joint investigations between the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and GDBOP have led to the seizure of drug related proceeds and assets worth in excess of $3.1 million dollars since 2008.

IC: Last question, Ambassador Warlick. If you had to choose one thing about Bulgaria as an indication of a good business climate and investment opportunities, what would that be?

AJW: Bulgaria has much to offer when we look at its ability to attract foreign investment.  The cost of doing business as well as the cost of labor are relatively low; living conditions are good. In terms of skilled labor, there are quite a few Bulgarians with very strong technical, foreign language, and customer service skills. 

But, as we can see from the low growth rate and falling investment, low taxes and cheap labor are not enough. Investors need a predictable regulatory environment. They need to know that when they start building something, the rules of the game will not change midstream. Investors need a strong legal system, so they can be sure that their intellectual property and other rights will be protected and that if there is a dispute they can count on the local courts to act quickly and fairly. 

And, as is the practice in many European countries and American states, it often helps to attract investors with specific financial incentives or other support, to encourage investors to create good jobs in Bulgaria and to bring revenue to Bulgarian communities.