Center for Strategic Decision Research


A Latvian Perspective on NATO Enlargement and European Security

His Excellency Dr. Valdis Birkavs
Foreign Minister of Latvia

At this time I would like to take up the NATO enlargement debate where the Washington Summit left off. In particular I would like to address the Latvian perspective by looking at three broad, central issues:

  • The impact of Kosovo on an out of area NATO candidate country
  • The significance of the Washington Summit for continuing enlargement
  • Specific policy considerations for enlarging NATO to include the Baltic States.


First and foremost, let me join the other voices that have congratulated the Alliance—in particular General Wesley Clark and those working with him—in concluding the Kosovo military action. The removal of uniformed Serbian military forces from the territory of Kosovo, allowing Kosovar Albanians to return to their homeland, is a just outcome which halts the genocide perpetrated by Mr. Milosevic.

Recent television pictures from Kosovo have evoked painful memories for Latvians, since we have also experienced ethnic cleansing first hand. We endured deportations and murders during the 1940s, as well as the flight of refugees, who did not return until nearly half a century later. With such memories, the Baltic States have been unified in their support of NATO’s firm action against Slobodan Milosevic. Each of our countries has offered assistance. And as a candidate country and a responsible member of the international community, Latvia continues to contribute to a solution to the Kosovo crisis.

Latvia has been part of the OSCE’s Kosovo Verification Mission. Humanitarian aid to refugees reached its destination at an early stage of the crisis. Our medical team is participating in the NATO-led humanitarian operation, AFOR. We have also indicated our readiness to accept refugees. In addition, Latvia will send troops to participate in the KFOR mission. Our contribution is matched by our resources: keeping in mind the size of our population—some two and a half million people—Latvia’s contribution in Bosnia has been proportionally on par with those of Germany and France.

Though Latvia has had success in turning our region into a stable and prosperous part of Europe, this does not take the edge off our concern about the destruction and violence in Southeastern Europe. Appeasement in Kosovo would spell big trouble. Sovereign immunity should not be a cloak for mass murder.

Throughout our mission, NATO has stayed clear about its objectives in Kosovo. Ethnic cleansing, deportations, and killings cannot be tolerated. The Alliance’s commitment and its persistent bombardment were the best ways to send the message to Slobodan Milosevic. Without NATO, the greatest humanitarian tragedy of post-war Europe would have extended even beyond Kosovo’s borders. But it is not enough to succeed—others must fail.

As the events of the last few months unfolded, it became clear that NATO, among the numerous organizations involved in the crisis, was the one that followed words with action. Words tend to exist somewhere between ideas and deeds, but NATO was able to turn words into deeds. Was it a wise move? The answer is a resounding “yes.”

Latvia is encouraged when it sees that NATO is ready to defend human life and that the Alliance is taking its proper place, which is center-stage, in European security. Events in Kosovo have underlined the need for the Alliance to remain strong as well as united in spirit and action. They have also underlined the need for enlarging NATO. Only by working together can the Euro-Atlantic community make sure that the tragic events of Europe’s past not be repeated. Another lesson learned from the events in Kosovo has been that the defense capabilities and crisis-management capabilities of our countries need to be strengthened.

We endorse the emerging initiatives that will integrate this war-torn region with the rest of democratic Europe. However, Latvia and its Baltic neighbors continue to have security concerns regarding our own endeavors to join the Euro-Atlantic community.


Speaking briefly of the April 1999 NATO Summit, I could say that it showed clarity, commitment, and continuity, the political “3 Cs,” with respect to the enlargement process. Clarity was achieved by finally mentioning Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia by name. Commitment was shown with the Membership Action Plan, which states we can proceed toward interoperability at our own pace and whose individual approach Latvia supports in both NATO and EU affairs. And finally, continuity was displayed when the date for the next Summit was set for not later than 2002.

I want to address those who believe that the decisionmaking process will become too cumbersome with additional members. The Kosovo campaign highlighted how new members give added value to the Alliance. And for those applicants that meet all other conditions for being invited, bureaucratic counter-arguments should surely not outweigh the prospect of enhanced stability. At the end of the day, perhaps NATO should consider reforming its decisionmaking process to cope with further enlargement. Even while the air campaign for Kosovo was in full swing and debate continued about the precedent being set, the Summit successfully reinforced the Alliance’s unity.

Decisions made at the Washington Summit encourage Latvia to move ahead with its membership preparations. We see the Membership Action Plan proposed by NATO as a response to our NATO Integration Plan, prepared last fall. The MAP will be the instrument that allows NATO countries to be involved in our preparations. Latvia is determined to fully utilize the opportunities and with MAP will have possibilities that Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic had only after receiving invitations.

There can be no “forbidden zones” for MAP. The Plan is clearly aimed at membership. The new Strategic Concept foresees that NATO will be required to tackle “new missions”  and, as a candidate country, Latvia will work for new missions too, as our participation in Kosovo has shown. But MAP for us will be a possibility to get ready for the Alliance’s “core missions.”


Latvia has unmet security needs, both regarding its territory and in the minds of its people. Unfortunately, because of this, protraction of the enlargement process has prompted a campaign to derail it, including an anti-NATO demonstration in March 1999 in front of the Consulate of Latvia in Pskov, Russia. On the bright side, this means that the Russian people are already treating us as a NATO country. NATO should do the same!

To strengthen our region, Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania have been pioneering a model of regional post-Cold War cooperation that has prevented bloodshed and violence in our area. We have also worked with other states of the Baltic Sea area—the Nordic countries, Poland, and Germany—as well as the United States, showing leadership, building consensus, and acknowledging common values.

In addition, only five years ago with the advice of Partnership for Peace, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia drafted the first plan for a multinational military formation in Eastern Europe: the Baltic Battalion. Since then, the project has become a reality, and the Baltic Battalion has participated in the peacekeeping mission in Bosnia. The Baltic Naval Squadron has also participated in mine-clearing operations in the Baltic Sea, and the Baltic Airspace Surveillance Network and the Baltic Defense College have been developed. All of these projects, together with other initiatives for cooperation (for example, BALTSEA and the Council of Baltic Sea States), have enhanced security and could be applied outside the Baltic region, serving as models with which the international community could bring peace and stability to other parts of Europe and the world. Cooperation promotes stability as well as political and military readiness to further that stability.

Latvia believes that the successful experiences of the Baltic States will enrich the Alliance and contribute to its strength as well as its solidarity. We also believe that our country’s performance deserves recognition. Indeed, our successful cooperation model, which has come to be known as “Baltification”—a peaceful, inclusive, and results-oriented regional cooperation process—has lessons to offer other Partners wishing to join the Euro-Atlantic community.

Another positive addition to Latvia’s endeavors to join the Alliance is the election of our new female President, Vaira Vike-Freiberga. Born in Latvia, she grew up in the NATO country of Canada, where she pursued a very successful academic career, including a professorship at the University of Montreal. She has also sat on the NATO Scientific Committee. As President of Latvia, she will have overall supervision of the armed forces.


I would like to conclude with a few further points:

  • The formation of a stable and secure Europe should go forward without pause. NATO and candidate countries must continue European and transatlantic integration while working on the solution to Kosovo.
  • The European consciousness must evolve and keep pace with the rapid changes in the global community.
  • We in Latvia will continue to work so that children born today will have the chance to enjoy what their parents missed: safety in a free and open society that is united with Europe and the Euro-Atlantic community.
  • NATO deserves to be at the center of European security. To achieve this, the Alliance must enlarge to include all willing and eligible countries.


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