By Alex Wagner
In an effort to clear Bulgaria’s path to join NATO, the United States and Bulgaria signed an agreement on May 31 to destroy jointly Sofia’s short-range SS-23 and Scud-B ballistic missiles as well as its FROG rockets.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher commended Bulgaria on May 31 for taking “a significant step forward in its strategic goal of joining Western security and economic structures.” Boucher added that Bulgaria’s SS-23s are “the last missiles of this type known to exist anywhere in the world.”
Under the agreement, Washington committed to fund the missiles’ destruction, which it aims to complete by the end of October.
The Bulgarian parliament ratified the agreement on June 12. It had already voted in December to decommission the SS-23s. At that time, Bulgarian Defense Minister Nikolay Svinarov said the parliament’s decision was “directly related” to Bulgaria’s bid to join NATO the following fall.
While the missiles’ destruction is not required for Bulgaria’s entry into NATO, scrapping them would likely please NATO members and facilitate Sofia’s entrance into the alliance. In an interview, a Bulgarian official said that the SS-23s are one of his country’s only modern weapons systems but that the security provided by NATO would make up for the loss of the missiles.
Assistant Secretary of State John Wolf visited Bulgaria in February to discuss the final arrangements of the deal and also succeeded in convincing Sofia to destroy its remaining Scuds and FROGs. Washington reportedly offered Bulgaria $7 million to help implement the project.
Although they are nuclear-capable, Bulgaria’s remaining 500-kilometer SS-23s are fitted with conventional warheads. It is thought that Sofia has eight of these missiles. How many Scud-Bs, which have a range of 300 kilometers, or FROG rockets, which can travel up to 70 kilometers, Bulgaria possesses remains unclear.
Bulgaria, along with East Germany and Czechoslovakia, received its SS-23s from the Soviet Union in 1985, two years before Moscow signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty with the United States. Under that treaty, Washington and Moscow pledged to destroy all their missile systems with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers within three years of the treaty’s entry into force. The Soviet Union “negotiated in bad faith” by failing to notify the United States of these transfers, according to Steven Steiner, Washington’s representative to a commission set up to facilitate the treaty’s implementation.