Bulgaria is the European Union's poorest country. Bulgaria joined the European Union in 2007 but still remains outside the eurozone and the passport-free travel Schengen area. Bulgaria's population of 7.4 million people has the lowest living standards across the 27-member bloc. Membership for Bulgaria and Romania in the visa-free Schengen zone has been postponed under the threat of a German veto. Berlin has expressed concerns about the strength of the rule of law in the two EU member states.
Bulgaria shares a border with Turkey and Greece to the south, Macedonia and Serbia to the west, Romania to the north, and the Black Sea to the east. The capital, Sofia, lies in the western region of the country. Ethnic groups include Bulgarian, Turkish, Roma, and others. The official language is Bulgarian.
The Bulgarian army enjoys higher trust than any other institution ever since the change after 1989. The Bulgarian Army represents the Armed Forces of the Republic of Bulgaria. Operational elements of the Bulgarian Army include: Bulgarian Land Forces (army), Bulgarian Navy (navy), and the Bulgarian Air Forces (air force). The term ‘Armed Forces’, under the Law on Defense and the Armed Forces (Art. 50(1)), includes the “Bulgarian Army” plus the Military Police Service, the Military Information Service, the military education institutions, the Military Medical Academy, the Ceremonial Guard Unit, the Military History Museum and the Reserve. The MoD military personnel is also part of the Armed Forces under the Law. Under the same law (Art. 60a(2)) the term ‘Bulgarian Army’ includes the Joint Operations Command, the three Services as well as training, maintenance and logistics formations.
Bulgaria became a member of NATO on March 29, 2004. Bulgaria's military is currently undergoing an ambitious restructuring program which aims to bring the army up to NATO standards, modernize equipment, and bring about full integration of the civilian and armed components. In 2008, Bulgaria made the transition to an all-volunteer force. Through FY 2010, the US Government had provided approximately $143 million in foreign military financing assistance to support training and procurement of military equipment.
Bulgaria had over 700 troops serving abroad in support of NATO, EU, and UN missions as of 2010. It currently has around 600 troops in Afghanistan and has maintained small contingents in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo. It has several military observers serving in support of United Nations missions in Liberia and Kosovo, as well as the EU's Operation Atalanta to fight piracy off the coast of Somalia. Bulgaria deployed a frigate to help enforce the UN arms embargo against Libya in 2011.
There are three Bulgarian bases identified as “joint-use facilities” (meaning the U.S. has the right to station troops and conduct training in them) in the U.S.-Bulgarian Defense Cooperation Agreement (DCA) signed April 28, 2006 by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice: Novo Selo Training Area (including the Aytos Storage Facility), Bezmer Air Base, and Graf Ignatievo Air Base.
By achieving membership in both the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union (EU), post-communist Bulgaria achieved two major political objectives as well as accomplished long sought - after strategic goals. These memberships placed new demands and requirements upon the development of the Bulgarian Armed Forces. Bulgarian accession into these organizations came as a consequence of the efforts made by both the government and its people. It emblemized everything that Bulgarians stand for.
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