Bulgaria’s Consultative Council on National Security met for more than four hours on April 19, ending with President Roumen Radev saying that participants had agreed that urgent measures were needed to ensure military modernisation.
Radev, head of state since early 2017 on a ticket backed by the socialist opposition, called a meeting soon after taking office on a similar theme back then, and that meeting produced much the same in the way of stated intentions.
Military modernisation in Bulgaria has been the subject of stated intentions for several years and through a succession of governments. Nothing much of substance has happened.
Documentation on the acquisition of new fighter aircraft and armoured personnel carriers continues its languid meandering through the corridors of power, periodically lingering on a desk somewhere. A project to acquire naval patrol vessels has been dry-docked.
Little more is going on than the award of contracts to keep the Bulgarian Air Force’s ageing Soviet-made fighters flying. Getting modern fighter jets to meet the standards of Nato, an alliance of which Bulgaria has been a member since March 2004, is a process that has not quite ever got off the runway. Or when it almost did, in 2017, matters were dragged back to the hangar, or some such similar dark place.
Defence Minister Krassimir Karakachanov recently said that he would sign documents on the process to acquire fighter jets and APCs, and pass it on to the inter-departmental committee of “experts”. Some time before then, Karakachanov said that he would present his proposals to the Cabinet in which he serves by late March or early April. As of mid-April, the latter has not happened.
Radev, a former commander of the Bulgarian Air Force, said after the April 19 meeting that the state of the Bulgarian military and its ability to carry out its tasks had been analysed.
It had been found, Radev said, that the Bulgarian military performed part of its tasks only to a limited extent, mainly because of personnel shortages and obsolete military equipment.
This astonishing revelation (hitherto perhaps known only to casual observers and readers of the specialist press such as Jane’s Defence Weekly) besides – the fighter aircraft acquisition process has gone on for more than a decade amid political shilly-shallying, while the military as a whole hardly can recruit given the uncompetitive pay – Radev said that the process of people leaving the armed forces had not been “fully mastered”.
Radev went on further at some length, with one of the few points of substance – omitting those well-known to anyone who takes the slightest interest in the state of Bulgaria’s military, and which are too trite to record here – being that there was a discrepancy in the official mid-term forecast for spending to 2021, and the plan for defence spending to reach two per cent of GDP by the year 2024.
The second point to emerge from the meeting was that by September 2018, the Ministry of Defence should take steps to attract people to join the Bulgarian military. The 2017 election platform of Karakachanov’s nationalist party had spoken of a return to conscription, though that has been abandoned in favour of recruiting volunteers on a short-term basis, scant of which has approached the legislative stage.
By July, acceleration of the process to modernise the Bulgarian military was expected, Radev said.
Much like in the English language, “expected”, as a verb in Bulgarian, may have more than one meaning. An example sentence may be, “I had expected them to come to my lawn tennis garden party, but they did not”.
Earlier on April 19, one Bulgarian-language media had posted a headline that in translation and in effect and in precis, said: “Consultative Council on National Security meets on national security”. The first person to leave the meeting, some time around the four-hour mark, minority party leader Vesselin Mareshki, told reporters that the meeting had concluded (apparently in reference to events in the Middle East, notably in Syria) that there wasn’t a threat to national security.
When Radev emerged, he said the same thing. There was no direct threat to Bulgaria’s national security.
In terms of Bulgarian law, the Consultative Council on National Security is convened at the prerogative of the President, as head of state. It brings together the head of government, key members of the Cabinet, representatives of groups officially represented in the National Assembly, and heads of security and intelligence services.
The fact that the council met and that the conclusions of its proceedings, such as they were, were announced around sunset, earned excitable live coverage on television, given that they coincided with the flagship news bulletins of major channels. Headline-seeking politicians of all ideological stripes or none, who produce little other than rhetoric and generalisations tend, as a matter of universal principle, to be rather fond of that sort of thing.