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Jonathan Allen

Former Ambassador to Bulgaria

Part of UK in Bulgaria

11th November 2014

Increasing Our Security in an Increasingly Insecure World

Europe is surrounded by an “arc of instability”, in the words of Philip Hammond, the British Foreign Secretary. Bulgaria, responsible for one of the EU’s key external borders, and on the land route to Syria, is in a key position. It is vital that we, Bulgaria’s allies, step up our support. It is just as important that Bulgaria retains and enhances its ability to act.

Although there are many issues of concern, from Russia’s illegal actions in Ukraine, through to migration pressures across the Mediterranean, the top item on every country’s foreign policy agenda is the rise of ISIL and the situation in Syria and Iraq.

However, this is not just a foreign policy issue, dangerous though it is for peace and stability throughout the entire Middle East. The character of ISIL, and in particular its attraction for foreign fighters from EU countries (including Bulgaria) represents a big and pressing threat to our national security; to all of us. Tackling it requires action at three levels.

Internationally, we need to co-operate ever more closely. We need to share information about ISIL and about those that fight for them, as well as about risks to each other’s countries. We need to help each other to fix gaps in our capabilities and to share best practice, not just on dealing with terrorism but on preventing radicalisation. In particular, we need to share information about people travelling between EU countries.

At national level, we need to do everything possible to make our countries hostile environments for terrorists and foreign fighters. That means correctly interpreting the EU’s rules on Free Movement, which make it clear that it is legitimate to question EU nationals and deny access if they may be entering a country in order to move on to Syria or elsewhere to take part in terrorist activity. It means having laws in place that define as illegal terrorism and its contributory acts, including such travel and radicalisation of people, and give the authorities the tools they need to stop it.

And at community level, we need to be vigilant and ensure that suspicious activity is reported. We all have a responsibility to act against radicalisation and prevent those who would exploit divisions in our societies from doing so.

The UK works closely with Bulgaria on a range of law enforcement issues, in particular against organised crime and in counter terrorism (read here about the Prosecutor General’s visit to the UK). We value highly our co-operation with the Bulgarian security agencies (for example DANS and its officials) and have enjoyed significant successes with them in the past.

However there have also been major challenges: in 2013, a major re-organisation was carried out of the security sector, without any consultation or preparation. That re-organisation meant that for a long period law enforcement energies were concentrated internally on structural changes, rather than externally on fighting crime.

Every country of course has the right to decide how it organises its security establishment. However at a time when Bulgaria faces great challenges on organised crime and corruption, it would diminish the effectiveness of our partnership if there was another period of upheaval. We hope any changes will be fully consulted, planned carefully and implemented gradually and patiently.

The UK stands ready to help Bulgaria at a time when it is on the front line of the EU’s response to the terrorism threat from Syria and ISIL. We depend on the law enforcement and judicial authorities having the tools they need to respond for our partnership to produce results.

The only response to an “arc of instability” is stability and solidarity; standing together.

About Jonathan Allen

Jonathan Allen was British Ambassador to Bulgaria from from 2012 to 2015. He then returned to the UK to take up the position of Director for National Security at the…

Jonathan Allen was British Ambassador to Bulgaria from from 2012 to 2015. He then returned to the UK to take up the position of Director for National Security at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office.

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