European NATO Countries Expand Military Training for Civilians as Bulgaria Prepares Its Own Strategy

Politics » DEFENSE | May 21, 2024, Tuesday // 17:00
Bulgaria: European NATO Countries Expand Military Training for Civilians as Bulgaria Prepares Its Own Strategy @Ministry of Defense

In about a month, Bulgaria will finalize its approach to organizing military training for civilians, as the deadline for creating the Strategic Defense Review ends in late June. Meanwhile, several European countries are already offering such training.

A summary of media reports since the start of the year shows a trend: many NATO countries are initiating dialogues on civilian military training. For instance, the Polish Army has launched a summer program called "Vacation with the Army," where Polish men and women aged 18-35 can enroll in a 27-day basic military training at one of 70 bases, earning around 1,520 USD. Norway is increasing its number of conscript soldiers, while Denmark plans to introduce conscription for women by 2026 and extend service from four to eleven months. Latvia and Sweden have resumed military service, and in Romania, there is a push for faster adoption of defense laws, including voluntary military service for people aged 18-35. Romanian officials are considering long-term military training strategies to avoid a future shortage of reservists. Military expert Yordan Bozhilov attributes these moves to Russia's war in Ukraine but clarifies they are not preparations for war.

For the national radio, Bozhilov explains that countries like Romania, Poland, and the Baltic states have a higher risk assessment for large-scale war compared to Bulgaria, prompting them to seek solutions. Bulgaria's political leaders must assess the situation before making decisions. Introducing mandatory military service could be seen as coercion by the public, Bozhilov warns.

NATO countries handle their peacetime deployment of deterrence forces nationally, although NATO has set peacetime manning requirements based on risk assessments. Each country commits certain capabilities for NATO operations. If a country is attacked, it must begin to defend itself before NATO can intervene. This is why Poland is building up its army. Bozhilov notes that some countries have conscription, but not fully, like Finland, where voluntary enlistment is prestigious. Unfortunately, Bulgaria lacks this prestige, and many fear that military training implies imminent war, leading people to avoid it.

A recent Gallup survey revealed that only 30% of Bulgarians would fight for their country in case of war, with 42% unwilling and the rest undecided. The Ministry of Defense has until the end of June to determine how to provide adequate military training for civilians. Acting Minister of Defense Atanas Zapryanov emphasized last month that this is not about reinstating conscription but about mandatory training for certain civil servants involved in national security.

Zapryanov mentioned that mandatory military training might be necessary if voluntary service and training at military centers are ineffective. Additionally, one of the last decisions of the previous parliament aimed to make the military profession more attractive through modernization, improved social packages, better pay, and raising the prestige of the officer profession.

The latest defense report recommended urgent legislative measures for peacetime stockpile conditions, noting a 43% decrease between 2010-2020, with a continued annual decline of 5-7%. If this trend continues, the reserve could be completely depleted in 15 years. Bozhilov, a former deputy minister of defense, suggests partially addressing this by training people from the administration system. However, he warns that relying solely on this would deplete the trained administration staff. Instead, Bulgaria needs to fill its professional army, currently one-fifth unfilled, and create motivation for joining the voluntary reserve, crucial for upgrading armed forces during a war.

Bozhilov also stresses the importance of health and mental preparation for young people, starting in secondary school. He acknowledges that discussing this issue creates tension, leading many young people to seek ways to avoid military service. He suggests focusing on the large unused reserve of young people who are neither working nor studying, particularly those from lower social strata.

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Tags: NATO, Bulgaria, military, defense

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