It is a pleasure for me to join you today at The Heritage Foundation--a prominent think-tank of well-known stature both in the United States and worldwide. I appreciate your invitation and thank you for giving me the opportunity to address such a distinguished audience at such an important time.
My main message to you today is this: A robust NATO enlargement in Prague, including Bulgaria and other qualified aspirants, will contribute to the victory in the war against terrorism. In other words, Bulgaria's Euro-Atlantic interest coincides with America's strategic interest to acquire new, reliable allies in its war on terrorism and complete the project of a Europe whole, free, and secure.
We in Bulgaria and in Southeastern Europe welcome and share the vision expressed by President Bush to create a united Europe "from the Baltic to Black Sea," a Europe encompassing the new democracies of Central and Eastern Europe.
Let me stress that Bulgaria sees this convergence of interests as a two-way street. We stand ready to make substantive contributions to the future security of Europe. The United States can count on Bulgaria, as Bulgaria can count on the United States. When NATO invoked Article V of the Washington Treaty, Bulgaria, at all levels of government, committed to act as a de facto ally with America in its war against global terrorism. In Operation Enduring Freedom, we opened our airspace to Allied aircraft and hosted a U.S. Air Force refueling facility on Bulgarian soil. This action followed an agreement between Bulgaria and NATO which enhanced host-nation support procedures for NATO missions. However, Bulgaria's actions as a de facto NATO ally predate Operation Enduring Freedom. Bulgaria has contributed military units to KFOR in Kosovo and SFOR in Bosnia. Recently, we tripled our SFOR and KFOR contributions, thus backfilling Allied positions and helping NATO to free assets for the purposes of the anti-terrorist campaign.
Simply put, we come to NATO willing and able to deliver a significant military contribution. We come to NATO determined to help fill in and not widen the capability gap between the U.S. and Europe. Enlargement that includes the qualified aspirants of Southeast Europe will strengthen NATO's role in the Black Sea region, the Eastern Mediterranean and, by extension, NATO's influence in the Caucasus and Central Asia. Having been front-line states during NATO's operations in Kosovo, Bulgaria and Romania provide the necessary links with Central European countries in the anti-terrorist campaign. Our membership in the Alliance will complete the existing democratic shield against terrorism and consolidate NATO's southern flank. Bulgaria and Romania would be the bridge between Greece, Turkey, and the remainder of Central Europe. This is the essence of the recently launched quadrilateral NATO-targeted "2+2" dialogue between Bulgaria and Romania, Greece, and Turkey.
Further NATO enlargement to the south will undoubtedly make European borders more secure. In Southeast Europe, a war on terrorism is not limited to action against terrorists. It means war against other threats to stability: the illicit traffic of people, drugs, and arms as well as the fight against corruption and other weaknesses of state institutions. In this area, Bulgaria is also making a contribution. Bulgaria has intercepted large quantities of illegal drugs, limiting the flow of heroin from Afghanistan to Europe. Bulgaria's membership in NATO will certainly boost our efficiency in countering all kinds of illicit trafficking through our territory. To me, it is a matter of common sense and strategic wisdom to build a robust bulwark in Southeast Europe, relying on Bulgaria and Romania as new NATO members, in order to deter proliferation of trans-border criminality and other non-military risks.
NATO's role has been instrumental in coping with crises and conflicts emerging from the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia. Southeast Europe is a test case for NATO's post-Cold-War relevance and credibility. The stability of our region is inseparably linked to the stability of the whole continent. Fortunately, now all countries in the region have a democratic system of government, the international community is strongly involved, the engagement of the European Union is a growing one and, in general, instability is better controlled than in the past. Yet, certain areas still contain latent hotbeds of tension and conflict. The international military and civil presence in the Western Balkans, being paramount to preserve peace, is not at the same time sufficient to ensure conflict prevention, stability, and prosperity in the long term.
We believe the best option to this end is the integration of the countries of Southeast Europe in the European and Euro-Atlantic structures. The inclusion of Bulgaria and Romania in NATO's next round of enlargement would contribute to the overall stabilization of Southeast Europe and significantly help to defuse the existing potential for tension and instability. In short, to paraphrase your Foundation's mission statement, NATO enlargement in Southeast Europe is tantamount to building a South European region where freedom, opportunity, prosperity, and civil society flourish.
Another key aspect of NATO's enlargement is that besides being an instrument for crisis and threat response, the Atlantic Alliance has a major political role in consolidating freedom and democracy throughout Europe, as well as in fostering vibrant market economies and bringing economic prosperity to the people. Inviting Bulgaria and Romania to join NATO in Prague 2002 will provide a major incentive for the development of our new democratic societies and will also send an important message to other nations in the region that are performing their transition to democracy and a market economy.
Let me conclude by quoting the ancient Navajo saying: "Tell me and I'll forget. Show me, and I may not remember. Involve me, and I'll understand." Bringing Bulgaria into NATO is the best way to make Bulgarians see the value of the necessary and sometimes painful reforms our country has been making. Should U.S. policymakers choose to support the "Southern cause" for an enlarged NATO, I am confident that all of us will benefit from a consistent policy of inclusiveness and integration. Le Grand Projet of a united Europe, cherished by many prominent thinkers, will come closer to reality. A stronger Europe means a stronger NATO and vice versa.
His Excellency Simeon Saxe-Coburg is Prime Minister of the Republic of Bulgaria.