The USA’s relations with Bulgaria were cool prior to 1989 due to Bulgaria’s participation in the Soviet bloc and the close cooperation between its regime and Moscow on international issues (Katsikas. 2012). Since the end of the Cold War, almost all Bulgarian governments have sought to establish good relations with the USA in an attempt to benefit from political, economic, and military advantages formerly reaped via the Warsaw Pact and the USSR. Furthermore, forging close relations with the USA would align Bulgaria’s foreign policy with that of the EU and most of its member states (Katsikas. 2012).
Since the end of the Cold War, Bulgaria’s cooperation with the USA can be seen in the military. USA has undertaken the restructuring of most of the Bulgarian army through offering training projects for Bulgarian military officers in its military academies, supplying armaments, and military equipment, and allowing the army to participate in military exercises with NATO (Katsikas. 2012).The main purpose of this restructuring was to improve the Bulgarian army’s operational capabilities so that Bulgaria could participate in peacekeeping and humanitarian military missions conducted by the organization (Katsikas. 2012).
Since 1997, Bulgaria’s political relations with the USA have been further strengthened as a result of Bulgaria’s application for admission to NATO, which presupposed strong cooperation with the USA in the political and the military fields. These military operations fall under the name ‘Operation (for) Enduring Freedom’ and Bulgaria has offered its unconditional support (Katsikas. 2012).
In November 2001, Bulgaria and the USA signed an agreement allowing the over flight, transit, and stay in Bulgaria of US troops and military equipment and the troops and military equipment of any other country supporting the USA in military activities related to the ‘Operation (for) Enduring Freedom'(Katsikas. 2012). It was in line with this agreement that on 22 November 2001 the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs gave permission for US cargo aircraft to land at the International Airport in the eastern Bulgarian city of Burgas, and for US military personnel to use the nearby Sarafovo military base in order to support the US military operations being conducted against the Taliban in Afghanistan (Katsikas. 2012). Bulgaria also dispatched a military unit to Afghanistan to support US military troops in their fight against Al-Qaeda and the remnants of the Taliban regime and, in February 2003, the government decided to support the British–US operation in Iraq by sending 462 soldiers (Katsikas. 2012). Since the end of the Cold War bilateral trade with the USA has increased considerably. The total influx of US investments into Bulgaria from 1993 to 2006 amounted to $822.6 million (Katsikas. 2012). A large part of the US investments involve economic assistance given by the US government to consolidate Bulgaria’s democratic institutions. For instance in the 1990s, the USA contributed about $7 million to Bulgaria to combat corruption in the country’s judicial system (Katsikas. 2012). That in many ways has been seen as a form of soft power in Bulgaria.
Since the beginning of Bulgaria’s formal accession process to the EU at the end of the 1990s, the country’s relations with the USA were mainly determined by the EU’s democratic conditionality (Katsikas. 2012). Similar to many other non-EU states, the corpus of agreements signed by and decisions taken by the EU on the USA set the limits of Bulgaria’s relations with the USA.
For example, a significant part of the US military aid to Bulgaria, which had been blocked in July 2003, was aimed at upgrading the international airport in Burgas and the Sarafovo military base in eastern Bulgaria, which the USA had used for conducting military operations as part of the ‘Operation (for) Enduring Freedom’ (Katsikas. 2012). However, the EU’s democratic conditionality has not always defined Bulgaria’s relations with the USA because part of the country’s political elite, known as Atlantists, maintained that the USA was not just a Western state but was the leading state of the Western world. This faction of the Bulgarian elite supported Bulgaria’s seeking to establish strong relations with the USA, and was indifferent to any limits imposed on these relations by EU democratic conditionality.