UK offers co-operation in the security and defence sphere in Bulgaria
This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
British Ambassador delivers a speech at the East West Defence Co-operation and Security Conference in Bulgaria.
On 19 February 2014 British Ambassador to Bulgaria Jonathan Allen addressed the audience at the East West Defence Co-operation and Security Conference. Please find full text of the speech below.
On 18 July 2012, Bulgaria’s understanding of the security threat that it faced changed in a profound way. That was the day that a Hizbullah bomber killed himself, five Israeli tourists and a Bulgarian bus driver. It was the first act of terrorism on Bulgarian soil in the post-Cold War period; it was the first act of terrorism by Hizbullah on EU soil, and it was rightly punished by proscription of Hizbullah’s military wing.
For the most part, Bulgaria’s citizens have forgotten the attack. But the security and judicial authorities most certainly have not. Those who are responsible for Bulgaria’s safety know that this attack was not carried out because of any burning anti-Bulgarian sentiment. Bulgaria was not the target; Israel was. It was rather carried out here because Bulgaria was perceived to be an easy operating environment; somewhere that had no experience of terrorism and therefore was understandably not geared-up to tackle it.
That perception was proved wrong by the excellent domestic investigation by Bulgaria’s police, security services and prosecution, supported internationally by the UK amongst others. It will have helped to make anyone thinking of a repeat to think again. I applaud the hours of work by Bulgaria’s security and judicial systems, over three governments, to secure justice for the dead.
But for all that it was an excellent investigation, so those responsible for preventing a repeat know that there is work to be done. Surveillance camera coverage needs to be upgraded, as does border security (a pressing topic in the light of the influx of Syrian refugees). Critical national infrastructure needs to be protected, including Kozloduy nuclear power plant, refineries, chemical and power plants. Human investment in knowledge, skills and techniques is also vital. And there are any number of technological advances available to help protect against attack and pursue those who attempt it.
Just as my country has been and remains a key partner of Bulgaria as you tackle the Bourgas bombing, so we are and will remain a key partner as you look to strengthen your defences in future. The UK, sadly, has long experience of dealing with terrorist attack. In doing so, we have developed techniques and technologies, and we are willing to work with Bulgaria to do the same for you. We are happy to share our experience with the Bulgarian authorities and help prevent potential terrorist violence in future.
Of course, the UK and Bulgaria are also strong partners and allies in the military context. The UK knows that Bulgaria is a reliable and constant ally in the region. Being NATO and European Union members, both countries are participating in military and peace keeping operations around the world: in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo and Mali, and counter piracy tasks in the Indian Ocean. Both countries also support United Nations operations and declare force elements at readiness to the NATO Reaction Force and the EU.
Bulgaria, as the EU’s gateway to the Black Sea, is a pivotal geo-strategic nation. The potential security issues in this region are numerous and range across ethnic, religious and ideological tensions, territorial and natural resource claims, proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction, threats to critical national infrastructure and the impact of refugee displacement. The nature of the threats also evolve, they are more unpredictable, more diverse: fragile and unstable states, weak international borders, criminal networks, and warlords and terrorists operating without respect for national borders. In this increasingly interdependent world, threats beyond our borders matter to us: they have an impact on our nation and our allies. The threat to NATO and EU members is increasingly asymmetric, whether from cyber or the use of improvised explosive devices. A joined-up approach and real cooperation initiatives are now needed more than in any time in history.
Looking at security more generally, Bulgaria is a front-line state in the UK’s fight against organised crime. It is in our shared vital national interest. Bulgaria faces a serious threat to its democratic structures from organised crime gangs. And the UK is directly affected by Bulgaria‘s success or failure in combating them. The British Treasury loses millions in lost revenue per year thanks to cigarette smuggling from or through the Balkans and Bulgaria. Bulgarian criminal gangs facilitate the smuggling of drugs and people to the UK, and are active in skimming credit cards, forging identity documents and other serious fiscal frauds in the UK and elsewhere.
You will not be surprised therefore to learn how much we value our operational law enforcement relationships, and how vital it is that they remain strong, close and effective. We will continue to work together with our Bulgarian partners to strengthen our ability to detect, disrupt and detain organised criminal gangs.
Cyber crime is causing serious damage to both public and private sectors and the issue of information security and data storage has become a priority for most governments in Europe and around the globe. Cyber crime costs up to Eur 500 B to the world economy a year. Recent EU data indicates that around 150,000 viruses and malware circulate online at any given time, infecting electronic devices of over 1 million consumers. Both our governments are taking the issue very seriously and I am confident UK firms are well placed to provide customised technique and solutions for combating cyber crime.
It is evident that security is a complex and diverse subject, as well as a constantly challenging objective. It is a contributory factor towards political stability and business success and as such needs to be valued and actively championed from the top of any government and defence/ security related organisations. Let us not look back in anger or forward in fear, but around in awareness (to quote James Thurber). Let us be well prepared to avoid (or confront) uneasy situations. This may surely happen through better co-ordination across relevant agencies, sharing of intelligence and implementing strong and coherent strategies in practice. And it comes through friendship and alliances, which is what my country offers today.