The Balkans, the World and the National Security of Bulgaria
(Volume 3, Number 1-2, Spring-Summer 2002.)
03 svi 2002 05:42:00

Valentin Stankov
Academy of the Ministry of Interior, Bulgaria

Global problems and trends

By the beginning of the 21st century, globalization has spread to all spheres of public life; trade and economic relations, the communication and information systems, and the advances in technology have dramatically affected security. In Europe and the Balkans, risks and menaces to international security are omnipresent.

Radical changes in the international situation re-ignited previous conflicts. Ethnic and religious issues, suppressed during the bi-polar era, created an immediate threat for national and international security.

The structure of the global information society increased the current risks to the security of information. Progress in state-of-the-art technologies created new opportunities for penetration, manipulation, and destruction of data, in addition to disrupting and compromising the records and activities of institutions, organizations, and companies. The threats are related to criminal activities and also to criminal organizations, fundamentalists, even anarchists.

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The greatest menace to global stability is the dissemination of technologies and especially of mass destruction weapons; for it permits rogue countries and terrorist organizations to trade in nuclear materials, biological and chemical weapons, and state-of-the-art technologies. This results in a change in the military balance in some regions in the world and threatens peace and stability.

The spread of terrorism threatens international security as it expands worldwide and connects with the regional networks of organized crime. The trend is for decentralization of international terrorist structures and large-scale use of current technologies by terrorist groups, seriously impeding counter-actions. Easy access to biological components has spawned so-called bio-terrorism.

Recent years have seen the rise of rise of religiously-motivated radical groups; they have largely replaced the extremist organizations of the cold war period. The most serious menace to international security and to regional stability is posed by radical Islam and Islamic fundamentalism. Radical Islamists have penetrated the government administrations, armed forces, the security systems of some countries, the mass media, and economic and financial groups. Potential crisis areas continue to be the Near East, the Caucasus, Central and South Asia, the Western Balkans, the Mediterranean, and Cyprus.

Southeast Europe and the Balkans

Southeast Europe and the Balkans continue to develop positively. There is also progress in the democratic process in Bulgaria and Romania. Both countries are negotiating for full EU membership and an invitation to NATO. There has been positive movement in the Greek - Turkish relationship, and Yugoslavia has commenced democratic changes. A positive reply to the International War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague was the arrest of former President of Yugoslavia, Slobodan Milosevic. The country also received financial aid and credits for damage caused by NATO air raids.

Nevertheless, the region still has serious crisis potential, negatively impacting Bulgaria's national security and interests.

Matters of concern for Bulgaria's national security are as follows: areas of tension in the territory of former Yugoslavia; ethnic and religious contradictions and problems of the state systems in some regions in the western Balkans; political and economic instability arising from the transition to democracy and a market economy; the violation of human rights; the activities of military groups; and the rising impact of the risks and challenges to security.

The central destabilizing factor on the continent was eradicated with the victory of the democratic forces in Yugoslavia. Nevertheless, critical sources of tension remain in the Yugoslav Federation - in Kosovo, Southeastern Serbia, and between Serbia and Montenegro. There are still open questions about the future of the Federation, the transition to a democratic civil society and market economy, and normalization of relations with the former Yugoslav republics and neighboring countries.

Kosovo remains a perpetual source of tension and instability, caused by the demand for independence by the Kosovo Albanians; the acts of extremist groups; the impact on and export of these problems to Macedonia and Southeastern Serbia; serious economic and social problems; and the still unresolved problem of the area's status.

The problem in Southeastern Serbia escalated after international intervention in the Kosovo issue; it maintains its crisis potential because of attempts by radical elements in the Albanian population and the Kosovo Albanians to annex the region to Kosovo. Important are the international efforts to block the so-called Army for the Liberation of Preshevo, Medvedzha, and Buyanovats, and other groups of extremists from destabilizing the region.

The disagreements between Serbia and Montenegro result from Montenegro's intention to separate from the Federation, an act that threatens the use of military power. If successful, such an event would destabilize the situation in Serbia, increase the activities of the separatists in Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Macedonia, and would greatly increase tensions in the region. The situation in Vojvodina and Sandzak is relatively calm; however, ethnic tensions could easily accelerate if Yugoslavia continues to disintegrate.

Bosnia and Herzegovina is an ongoing source of risk to regional security. The current success of the Dayton Treaty does not preclude the resumption of ethnic conflict. The nationalism issues are the prime obstacle to establishing a unified multi-ethnic state.

The pretensions of the nationalist circles in Albania and in the neighboring regions constitute a serious crisis potential. There is only a slight possibility for these pretensions in the short run, but they could provoke a change in the current status-quo. Their acts depend on developments in Kosovo, Southeastern Serbia, Montenegro, and Macedonia. Actions of the Albanian communities challenge regional and European security, for they actively participate in the criminal international traffic of people, drugs, and weapons.

For over a quarter century, the Cyprus problem has eluded solution. The lack of concrete perspectives for its resolution makes it a continuous source of tension.

Various aspects of the Greek-Turkish conflict and the attitude of Greece to the issue of EU integration of Turkey continue to be potential risk factors as well.

The issue of the Hungarian minority in Romania (1.6 million people) and in the Serbian region of Vojvodina (350,000 people) is currently not on the agenda. The issue could go forward if the centrifugal trends in Yugoslavia continue and Hungarian minorities are mistreated in the respective countries. The recently adopted Hungarian law advocating preferences for Hungarians abroad was treated curtly in Romania. Extreme nationalism continues to fuel separatism and motivate the aggressive acts in many ethnic communities.

Bulgaria in the context of global, Balkan, and Bulgarian problems

The foregoing analyses of global changes, the situation in Europe and the Balkans, and the risks of confrontation let one conclude that the menace of a direct military aggression against Bulgaria has decreased considerably and there is currently no concrete military threat to the country.

At this time of decreased threat of a classical armed conflict in the region, there still exist new, specific risks and challenges for security: international terrorism and organized crime; drug, weapons and people traffic; goods smuggling; refugees and migration problems; threats to information systems; religious extremism; ecological cross-border problems; and large industrial damages and natural catastrophes. Some of them, (i.e. the Chernobyl catastrophe) have a long-term impact, and are not neutralized without large-scale international cooperation.

Organized international crime is a serious menace to economic development for countries in transition and the entire continent. The delay in the pace of democratic change and the unstable political conditions have fostered the growth of criminal activity throughout Europe.

Deep economic and social differences that pervade the continent have only intensified the refugee and migration problem. The countries are used as transit points to western Europe with the consequent illegal traffic in people, drugs, and weapons. Criminal interests in Bulgaria are mainly a result of the removal of visa limitations and also the prospect of Bulgaria becoming an outer border of the EU. International terrorism continues to affect Bulgaria's national security, It can be traced easily to organized crime, conflict among ethnic and religious communities in the western part of the Balkan peninsula, and the extreme behavior of religious fundamentalists. Potential ecological risks for the Republic of Bulgaria have their source in the existing national and cross-border projects, the closeness of which could lead to cross border contamination of air, water, and coastal areas. Although the menace to the security of information systems and technologies is growing, Bulgaria must guarantee its reliability in view of its accession to EU and NATO.

Additional risks to national security are tied to illegal migration, international terrorism, and cross-border criminality, primarily due to Bulgaria's closeness to regions of conflicts and such sources of tension as the Near East and Caucasus.

The foregoing discussion of global and regional problems in Europe and the Balkans must conclude that the risks and threats to the security and national interests of Bulgaria will persist, requiring constant vigilance and preparedness.

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