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Bulgaria - Military Personnel - Cold War

In 1991 the military had 107,000 personnel, a reduction of more than 45,000 since 1988. More than 80 percent were conscripts. Bulgaria traditionally had more troops in uniform per capita than the other Warsaw Pact countries. At one time, it had almost as many soldiers as Romania, a country with a population three times larger than Bulgaria's. Total personnel in the BPA was drastically reduced from 152,000 to 107,000 between 1988 and 1991, however. The Ministry of National Defense cut the officer corps by over 1,700 and general officers by 78.

The military strongly opposed additional reductions on the grounds that they would seriously jeopardize national security. Military spokesmen pointed to the 300,000- to 350,000-soldier Turkish force in eastern Thrace and western Anatolia as the key factor in determining the appropriate personnel level for the BPA. The unilateral reduction between 1988 and 1991 occurred against a backdrop of sharp domestic political debate over reducing the basic two-year military conscription term to eighteen months.

The standard two-year term of military service for most conscripts was reduced to eighteen months by the National Assembly in 1990. At the same time, the three-year term for sailors and other specialists was changed to two years. Bulgarian males entered the armed forces at the age of nineteen. Although the BPA was smaller than before, the new eighteen-month service term caused a turnover of one-third of all conscripts every six months, making universal conscription of nineteen-year-old males a necessity to maintain force levels. A population growth rate barely above zero exacerbated the manpower problem.

In 1991 the minister of national defense noted an increased incidence of potential conscripts avoiding military service. He stated that 6,000 young men over seventeen years of age were known to have departed the country illegally for this reason, and another 3,500 failed to appear before the conscription commission and were presumed to be living abroad. The existing law on the armed forces prohibited men in this age category from leaving Bulgaria before performing their compulsory service. Although young men enrolled in a higher school or university could defer fulfillment of their military obligation until they had completed their education, draft deferments for other reasons were granted infrequently and reluctantly.

In 1991 political parties debated additional adjustments in the conscription system. The UDF and BANU argued for a further reduction to a one-year term for most conscripts and six months for university graduates. They also called for extending contracts to some soldiers and noncommissioned officers (NCOs) to shift the BPA to a more professional force. Other aspects of military service discussed by the Commission on National Security of the National Assembly in 1990 were possible voluntary service by women and service in the national police force as an alternative to military conscription.

Supported by the BSP, the military argued that one year of military service was insufficient to provide required training for conscripts. It maintained that at any given time only 50 percent of the army would have completed basic training and be in a state of minimum combat readiness. Furthermore, shorter service would make the training of Bulgarian troops inferior to that of other armies in the region. Military spokesmen argued that the country could not afford the wages or the benefits required in a professional army, nor could it attract enough volunteers under the austere conditions of military service throughout the country. The army viewed the draft and mobilization as essential to ensure an adequate force in wartime. Some military leaders charged that the UDF and BANU sought to reduce service terms in order to gain votes from servicemen who would gain early release. The military opposed alternative service on the grounds that the Construction Troops were the existing alternative to combat service.

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