In this essay will be investigated the US soft power from the perspective of a case study. The case study will be the one of US Soft power in Bulgaria.
Concerning the structure of the topic it should be said that certain history elements will be regarded in order to clarify the situation in Bulgaria and the unraveling relations with USA. In text we will try to combine different political or diplomacy affairs in the light of Soft power. In connection to the last, we will expose as well the major actors involved in the US soft power in the country, including the reasons behind the attempts.
Another part also would be the outcomes of this policy and political and social well-being in Bulgaria. Before saying anything we should give attention to the fact that in Bulgaria, when it comes to the term “Soft power”, to some parts of the society, the meaning brings a slight negative hue. To others the term is regarded as controversial as well and the actual deeds that are coming with it. However, there are multiple groups of people that would connect Soft power with the desire to gain political influence trough financial support for good intended ideas. This, and some other peculiarities will be concerned in the text in order to reach full understanding of the case study.
2. Background on the major element of the case study
Bulgaria is a country in South Eastern Europe and it is situated on the Balkan Peninsula. The population is roughly 7.3 million people. The essential importance of the country is its geographical location – wright on the borders with Asia Minor and the Black See.
When it comes to the outside great forces Bulgarian society is rather polarized and most of the times this polarization is being used in different political discourses.
USA is contradictory power in the Balkan region – majorly because of the war in Bosnia and because of the comparison of the same war to the ones in the Middle East. For many, the case is the same in Bulgaria as well, although the situation is not that tangible as in the west Balkans (former Yugoslavia).
The country went through a long process of democratization during the 90-ties and early 2000’s. Today the international face of Bulgaria is changing and with it many prospects are arriving at the country’s very doorsteps.
Becoming an EU member in 2007 and NATO member 3 years before that – the state that is located in the heart of the Balkan Peninsula was already part of the free world.
The United States’ interest in the region is from long ago. However with the negotiations after the World War II – it is hard not to pinpoint the withdrawal of American diplomacy in the area and practically the hand-giving of the Bulgarian matter to Prime Minister Churchill – who on his end decided to hand over the country to the Soviets.
Today’s American interests in Bulgaria are wider most probably because of the geographical location of the state and its usefulness proven in the war in Afghanistan.
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 restructurion 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 overflight, 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’s 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 (Katsikas. 2012).
3. Basic features of US Soft Power in Bulgaria
As it is pointed out in the previous part – as a sign for soft power in Bulgaria could be seen the military support and presence on ground. This brings with it economic revival for the local economies and turns the opinions of the people residing there. On the other hand, another ongoing process of soft power has been related to the countries potential development. Initially there are many ways to approach a matter of international meaning by using the soft power approach. Since the end of the Cold War the ongoing process of using soft power in many of the post-soviet countries is vital for US diplomacy.
The same happened in Bulgaria and after the year of 1989 the US interest in the country grew. One of the first deeds of soft power in Bulgaria after 1989 happened two years later with the establishment of The Bulgarian-American Enterprise Fund the Bulgarian-American Enterprise Fund (BAEF) was established, with capital of $55 million (America for Bulgaria Foundation. 2018). The Fund began investing in Bulgaria’s emerging free-market economy by helping entrepreneurial Bulgarians create small and medium-sized businesses (America for Bulgaria Foundation. 2018). From 1992 till 1995 BAEF benefits through micro-lending and Hotel lending programs. In fact, the fund was able to make over 500 investments in various enterprises just for three years. In order that to happen there were established many programs so the process of long term development could be sustained (America for Bulgaria Foundation. 2018). That was happening in more than 130 cities all around Bulgaria for that time. Alongside all the events unraveling in that period the main need for the US diplomacy was to keep the Bulgarian population favorable towards them and in the same time try to navigate countries politics out of the Russian sphere of influence (Katsikas. 2012).
4. Major actors of US soft power in Bulgaria and the outcomes
As we already mentioned earlier – the Bulgarian – American Enterprise Fund was established in 1991. It is considered to be the first use of mass soft power approach in the Balkan country after the Cold War. However there are several other actors playing a part in that discourse.
In 1996 the Bulgarian American Credit Bank was established. That is important to be pointed out because of the political and especially economic situation in the country. As in many Eastern European countries, in Bulgaria in that time there was a huge inflation and the stock market as well most of the trading and financial organizations that were relatively stable started to decline with very fast rate (Amanpour. 1997). And in this moment of vast economic problems, the creating of the Bulgarian American Credit Bank came to be from extreme benefit to the social and political environment (Amanpour. 1997).
Another major actor is the US embassy in Sofia. The embassy Is organizing a divers number of programs and events in order to promote the United States in the country.
In general it is categorized that the U.S Department of State is sponsoring and backing up a variety of educational and tutoring programs, scholarships and possibilities for Bulgarian scientists, students and specialists (U.S. Embassy in Bulgaria. 2018). These programs are covering a wide spectrum of interests including law, human rights, journalism, education, teaching English and other disciplines. Their goal is also to introduce to the participants the United States in the sense of culture, nation and understandings. This creates a fruitful possibility for the scholars and scientists to exchange ideas with their American colleagues (U.S. Embassy in Bulgaria. 2018). This also implies one of the strongest ideals of American diplomacy worldwide – the building bridges for cooperation and understanding between the nations (U.S. Embassy in Bulgaria. 2018). This motive actually, alongside with the idea for keeping the peace worldwide is the general idea promoted in the different events organized by many U.S organizations, not only the embassy and it is seen as major tool for soft power diplomacy.
Among the many projects sustained by the embassy is the one for education in USA. It is leading many young people to the halls of Harvard, MIT and many others (U.S. Embassy in Bulgaria. 2018). Speaking about the possibilities in front the young scholars we should definitely mention the Fulbright Program that is strongly promulgated by the US embassy. It gives a lot of specific possibilities to students and scholars worldwide and makes the US soft power approach much more representable in the intellectual structures of the society. The program is the flagship for international education exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and is designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of the other countries (U.S. Embassy in Bulgaria. 2018). In the same frame are positioned the exchange programs which became very popular in the last years. The exchange programs engage youth, students, educators, artists athletesand many more. Furthermore, these exchange programs provide a variety of initiatives that support cultural understanding by protecting cultural heritage and providing educational resources for people interested in the learning about American culture (U.S. Embassy in Bulgaria. 2018). In many regards the cultural aspect of the projects are seen as one of the major strategies of soft power towards young people.
Additional model created by the U.S. Department of State, that is carried out by the embassy in Bulgaria is the American Corners initiative. It has started 10 years ago and till now there have been established more than 400 locations in around 60 countries (U.S. Embassy in Bulgaria. 2018). These resource centrums are giving information regarding programs representing the culture, state affairs, history and the contemporary situation in the United States. The centers are also hosting discussions, seminars, exhibitions and meetings with American and local specialists in wide range of expertise (U.S. Embassy in Bulgaria. 2018).
As we already pointed out – the cultural and educational aspects are from vital importance for the U.S. soft power in the Bulgaria. Giving the fact that the education in the country is listed as failing in some regions of the country the American initiative seems to be coming in handy (Molhov, Milenkova. 2007). In the country is represented a substantial Roma and Sinti diaspora. Consisted mostly in rural areas and living under bad conditions – there is no efficient way to fight the problems and in many parts of the country the education, initial subject of development is not substantial and sometimes even not existing due to the unwillingness of teachers to teach in the local schools (Molhov, Milenkova. 2007).
Giving the circumstances and the state in which the education system is found in some remote areas in Bulgaria it was started an NGO called “Teach for Bulgaria” majorly funded by American state structures or organizations (Teach for Bulgaria. 2018). The aim is to provide sustainable education to all children deprived of that possibility due to many, majorly economic facts (Teach for Bulgaria. 2018).
Major goals established at the beginning are focused on results and long-term impact, effective collaboration, entrepreneurial spirit, respect and humility (Teach for Bulgaria. 2018). And in order to keep these goals running the organization is trying to find young teachers to stay with her and help her develop (Teach for Bulgaria. 2018). The need for new teachers in Bulgaria is probably the same as the need for better education in the same rural areas. That’s why the U.S. soft power diplomacy approach is targeting to fight such a problematic part of the social misbalance in the country – it would bring only positive reactions from both government and society.
In order to strengthen our point so the program Teach for Bulgaria should be seen as soft power we should also give a specific numbers. The foundation America for Bulgaria spends 22 million BGN (13 million USD) on recruiting, training and supporting young specialists in their role as effective motivating teachers of students in some of the neediest communities in Bulgaria (America For Bulgaria Foundation 2. 2018). The foundation gives the funds directly to the program Teach for Bulgaria in order to help sustain its job (America for Bulgaria Foundation 2. 2018).
As the process is still ongoing it should be concidered also one additional fast. As we already pointed out previously – Bulgarian-American Credit Bank was created with major share belonging to the Bulgarian-American Enterprise Fund (America for Bulgaria Foundation. 2018). In the 2008 the Fund decided to sell its shares in the BACB to Allied Irish Bank allocating the proceeds of the sale together with other asset sales to form the America for Bulgaria Foundation’s $400 million corpus (America for Bulgaria Foundation. 2018).
From next year (2009) the America for Bulgaria Foundation (ABF) being established stared to be operational. And till today that Is the biggest U.S. organization working in Bulgaria (America for Bulgaria Foundation. 2018). From this moment onwards the foundation started to accumulate workforce unknown to the country in regard to improving business environment and quality of education (America for Bulgaria Foundation. 2018). In more broad sense we could see as soft power the very well-intended prosperity of society in all its dimensions – culture, knowledge and everyday life.
As a perpetual foundation the ABF invests as a perpetual foundation in six key areas of interest: Civil Society and Democratic Institutions, Education, Arts and Culture, Cultural Heritage and Tourism, Private Sector Development, Economically Disadvantaged (America for Bulgaria Foundation. 2018).
In order to expose the outcomes of the above mentioned areas of interest we need to give examples of the work ABF has been doing in Bulgaria since the beginning.
• In 1991 the ABF helps reopening the American College in Sofia (The American College of Sofia. 2010).
• Helps creating the first American University in Eastern Europe – 1991 (American University in Bulgaria. 2018).
Late example for US Soft Power in Bulgaria is the renovation of the aula maxima in Sofia University (Iconomedia. 2018). The oldest university in Bulgaria and its main building is quite large and the biggest auditorium which is part of law department can handle around 600 people. In 2015 the auditorium was renovated with state of the art technologies and all because of the ABF, which secured 1, 2 million for this purpose (Out of 1, 5 million) (Iconomedia. 2018). This and many other acts of help could be seen as a soft power in Bulgaria and many times they are regarded as such by politicians carrying different than pro-European understandings.
In order to explain why there is need for American diplomacy to use soft power on different smaller agent countries we need to give attention to an article by Daniel F. Runde. He is stating that today the world is facing a complex mixture of issues that are growing and evolving in the same time (Runde. 2016). In the article as a fundamental value for the United States and their allies are shown the rules-based global order (Runde. 2016).
He points out that after the creation of the Asian infrastructure investment bank (AIIB), the current status quo is facing a geostrategic competition in the soft-power arena (Runde. 2016).
No doubt that the U.S diplomacy is defining their understandings in the same manner towards the other big competitor, although a competitor in slightly different area than development assistance – Russia (Runde. 2016). We should derive our deductions about the soft power of United States in Bulgaria mostly from the perspective that whatever the U.S loses the Russian Federation gains and vice versa. So in that sense the diplomatic efforts alongside with aid by U.S organizations are to be considered both a helping hand and an international political guiding.
In general all that has been done in Bulgaria by outside US organizations is considered to be soft power in many regards, and despite the slight negative hue that many Bulgarian politicians attach to the meaning of soft power and what it represents, soft power has been largely beneficial in the country in a variety of sectors.