Latvia’s Policy Toward NATO
State Secretary Edgars Rinkevics
Ministry of Defense of Latvia
A VISION FOR JOINING THE EU AND NATO
I would like to share some thoughts on the subject of countries that are in the process of moving toward open and democratic statehood. There are two groups of countries that are aspiring to NATO and EU membership. One group is working toward membership: the Membership Action Plan countries, Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia, are progressing well and expect to be invited to join NATO at the next NATO Summit, while Serbia and Montenegro wish to become Partnership for Peace members. The other group consists of countries that wish to become NATO and EU members as soon as possible, particularly Ukraine and Georgia. I am going to concentrate more on this second group of countries.
As we think about extending NATO membership, we might ask whether there is a clear vision and strategy for how NATO and the EU will build relations with the Caucasus, Moldova, and Ukraine. Do the countries that form the Alliance and the European Union have an end-state vision for these regions or were events such as the Rose Revolution in Georgia and the Orange Revolution in Ukraine so unexpected that we are still trying to find an appropriate response to the new realities?
The vision that Ukrainian Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk presented for his country at this workshop is a future closely tied with the wish to be anchored in Europe. The Georgian people have also expressed their wish to see their country become a member of NATO and the EU at the earliest possible date.
SUPPORTING THE TRANSITION PROCESS
Latvia, like other countries that recently joined the Alliance, has gained considerable experience in the areas of political, economic, and defense reform that we are eagerly sharing with Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine. While there are many things still to be done, we have been providing our advice in fields such as drafting national security and defense strategies, establishing and strengthening civil and democratic control over armed forces, defense planning, budgeting, procurement, and on-the-job training. In addition, Latvia and Lithuania have been providing opportunities for officers from Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine to study in the Baltic Defense College in Tartu. The lessons we have learned from our transition process, particularly regarding security, will be helpful as these countries undergo their own transitions. These lessons include the points that:
- A strong national will is needed to sustain the population during the difficult and sometimes painful period of reform. Nothing happens quickly.
- Support and advice, and sometimes pressure, are needed from the outside.
- Resources are needed to bring about the desired change.
- Regional cooperation in many areas, particularly defense, makes effective use of resources.
There are several things to keep in mind when building relations with countries that are hoping to join the club:
First, we should not create wrong illusions. The greatest value and core mission of NATO has been and will remain collective defense, even if the threat we face collectively has changed dramatically. Therefore, the countries that aspire to join the Alliance must not only change the leadership but also the habits. We know from our own experience that defense reform can be successful only when it is supported by a functioning market economy. And there is no difference between membership in NATO and membership in the EU. The same standards must be applied to all countries that intend to become members of these organizations no matter their geostrategic position.
Second, the West should be proactive in shaping future relations with the regions we are interested in. Many of the countries that wish to develop closer relations with NATO or the EU and follow the course of democracy are facing issues of internal instability that have been created by outside factors or history, and I believe we have been slow to understand their security concerns. For example, some countries still have foreign troops present against their will despite international obligations to withdraw them. Remembering Latvia’s own situation before 1994, I assure you that this is a significant destabilizing factor for those countries’ internal and even foreign policy.
Third, incentives should be offered. If a country makes an effort but is not recognized, the window of opportunity may be lost.
NATO/EU RELATIONSHIP-BUILDING EFFORTS
NATO and the EU have taken several positive steps to build relations with interested countries:
The Alliance has developed special relations with Ukraine, approved intensified dialogue, and established an effective liaison office in Kiev to assist the reform process.
During the Istanbul Summit, the Alliance stepped forward to develop closer relations with the countries of the South Caucasus by creating the position of Special Representative and a permanent liaison office in the region, thereby fostering political, economic, and military reforms.
The EU has developed its “New Neighbors” policy, fostering political, economic, and judicial reform. But the question remains: Is the EU ready to deal with politically sensitive and challenging issues in its New Neighbors regions?
I would like to stress as I conclude that even as we struggle with all the problems that NATO and the EU face internally, we should not forget countries that want to become members of the democratic club. We need to develop a comprehensive strategy for supporting and advising them and providing sensible incentives for their reform.