In 2004, Latvia joined NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) and has continuously defined its relationship with the organization and most notably the U.S. as a “strategic partnership.”
During the joltleft.com’s recent interview, Latvian Ambassador to the United States of America and Mexico, His Excellency, Andrejs Pildegovics, referred to the alliance as “useful and indispensable” stating that it was a provider and guaranteer of security.
For much of the last century, Latvia was controlled by foreign powers, therefore ascension to the largest and most effective military alliance in history was critical to the newly independent State.
The Soviet occupation of Latvia is certainly within living memory, the first generation of Latvians born after independence are only just now reaching adulthood, therefore, conflict and issues with its neighbor, Russia, certainly preoccupied the early security dilemma of this small Baltic State and some issues still remain. When asked about Russo-Latvian relations, Ambassador Pildegovics said relations were “relatively stable” but they had “not solved all issues.” NATO has been pivotal in allowing this relationship to emerge.
However, over the past few years, the necessity, importance and fairness of NATO have been called into question. Before leaving office, former U.S. Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates warned of a free-rider problem in NATO that might lead to a two-tiered institution of those States able to meet their committments and those not, causing future U.S. leaders to reconsider the importance and U.S. involvement in the alliance.
Under the NATO Charter, members are required to spend 2% of their gross domestic product (GDP) on security.
When asked about former Secretary Gates comments, the Ambassador cited that current issues and shortcoming in funding “reflect current budgetary concerns.” Ambassador Pildegovics pointed out that there are “ways to invest in common security” and that Estonia, another Baltic State does achieve 2% GDP-spending on security. The Ambassador said: “Latvia and Lithuania are a bit behind as we come out of the recession and will devote more resources to security.”
The Ambassador highlighted NATO air policing of Baltic airspace as a “symbolic but meaningful” example of alliance capabilities to which the Baltics make a significant contribution. No Baltic State owns supersonic fighter aircraft therefore a small number of allied supersonic aircraft are deployed to the region on a rotational basis for aerial policing activities. Ambassador Pildegovics specifically noted that Latvia is “not a free rider” and the State contributes monetarily and helps cover the cost of fuel and pilots. He described that the NATO supersonic presence provides increased security and since the policing activities began, there have been no incursions in Baltic airspace.
Ambassador Pildegovics also highlighted Latvia’s contributions to operations in Iraq and Afghanistan saying all Baltic States have experience pain as their soldiers were called to make the ultimate sacrifice; he especially noted Estonian losses as “sizeable.”
Latvia has had some 200-odd troops in Afghanistan since the start of operation and will “stay until the end.” Latvia forces are involved in NATO operations and capacity and institution building in Moldova, Iraq, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Georgia. The Ambassador said Latvia and NATO have “a focus on niche capabilities” and he highlighted NATO divers and air controlled of Latvian nationality.
Based on comments and questions from joltleft.com readers, the interview shift to Latvia’s position on NATO missile defense to which Ambassador Pildegovics responded: “we have to be ready to face modern threats.”
Latvia is not affected by the deployment of infrastructure and those more directly affected: Portugal, Norway, Turkey and Greece support the developed of the capacity and Latvia supports its NATO partners’ decision.
When asked about an often debated NATO-Russian nuclear or missile defense umbrella, Ambassador Pildegovics said there can be “no third party” security guarantees and that “we have to be protected by NATO in NATO space.” However, he was quick to point out the importance of the NATO-Russian Council stating: “we are ready to work together with Russia” and data sharing was okay.
The Ambassador highlighted the importance of NATO collective security activity and cost-effectiveness saying: “[we] are on the same page with Estonia and Lithuania – Baltic States are a unique example of a region works together in procurement to pool resources.” He highlighted joint naval exercises and squads and air surveillance. He said: “policies are as close as can be” more than the BENELUX (Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg.
Again Ambassador Pildegovics stated that Latvia was “absolutely committed” to NATO as “NATO is useful and indispensable.”
As this is the final installment of this three part series on Latvia, it would be remiss and rude to not to recognize and thank several key people who helped with this series. Ms Baiba Kine, Third Secretary for the Ambassador’s Office and Cultural Affairs who was critical in helping to organize the event, without her guidance this series would not have been possible. A special thanks goes out to the joltleft.com readers who reached out with questions for His Excellency. Finally thanks to Ambassador Pildegovics for his time and passion for sharing his country and culture with the U.S.