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8 December, 2019 00:00 00 AM

Latvia: Armed to the teeth

Viktors Domburs
Latvia: Armed to the teeth

Latvia has fallen into a trap. It all started with a sincere desire to increase the military capabilities of the state. Thus, according to the Ministry of Defence, five years ago Latvia and the UK agreed on supply of 123 used Combat Vehicle Reconnaissance Tracked or CVR(T) for €48.1 million euros to Latvia. In November 2018, it signed a deal for four UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters. In addition, Latvia has purchased 47 M109 self-propelled artillery pieces from Austria and Stinger man-portable air-defense missile systems (MANPADs) from Denmark.

Latvia has also expressed interest in procuring a medium-range ground-based air-defense system (GBADS) and is investing $56 million annually through 2022 on military infrastructure, with two-thirds of this amount being spent to upgrade Ādaži military base, headquarters of the Canadian-led EFP battle group.
It could be seen that Latvia allocates great amount of money to increase its defence capabilities by buying used military vehicles, ammunition and equipment from its NATO and EU partners. All this sounds impressive, but in practice all the equipment needs major repairs and modernization.
Latvia's new State Defense Concept  is an ambitious declaration for a stronger defense buildup. At the same time, it represents a kind of "wish list" just ahead of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's (NATO) approaching July summit in Warsaw, during which Alliance members are expected to discard their policy of "trust," in favor of a policy of "deterrence" (, May 24). The document, replaced the previous version of the Concept, from 2012. In particular, the updated version now explicitly names Russia a potential aggressor and a potential threat to Latvian national security. And most importantly for NATO, Latvia now openly declares a significant long-term presence of Allied militaries in Latvia to be in its national interest. Specifically, the 2016 State Defense Concept promotes regular rotations of NATO forces on land, at sea and in the air; centralized coordination of military training and exercise cycle and the deployment of combat and combat-support capabilities; as well as the development of necessary military infrastructure for Allied training and the deployment of battle equipment.
Seriously concerned by Russia's aggression in Ukraine, the three Baltic States of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania are calling for international battalions-up to a thousand soldiers each-to be located on the territory of every Baltic country (, May 25). Estonian Prime Minister Taavi Rõivas has also requested a permanent NATO presence in the Baltic States: "In Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, we need a permanent presence of one battalion in each of the countries," (Die Welt, May 26). The 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act specified that the Alliance would not place large, permanent troop contingents on the territories of the eastern (former Eastern Bloc) member states. However, the Baltics believe that during the Warsaw summit, NATO will nonetheless agree to permanently station Alliance troops on Baltic soil.
Meanwhile, on May 15, four Central European NATO members-Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary-confirmed that they will draw up rules of procedure for the deployment of 600 soldiers to the Baltic States on a quarterly rotational basis, starting on January 1, 2017. This step is intended to help "Baltic allies and friends who are concerned about their safety," Czech Defense Minister Martin Stropnický explained (, May 25). In addition to calling for a physical Alliance presence on the ground, the new Latvian National Defense Concept marks a stronger position regarding nuclear weapons. The document clearly states that Latvia expects NATO to keep a nuclear arsenal in Europe-so as to prevent Russia from living under the impression that it is the only nuclear power on the continent.
The Concept further stresses the need for a greater involvement of Latvian civil society in protecting the country. In particular, the new document encourages domestic firms to show greater flexibility in allowing their employees to undertake National Guard training. The duty of every citizen, as stated in the document, is to defend Latvia, whether actively or passively. With this in mind, the Concept underscores the role of the National Guard and the Young Guards in strengthening civil society: "National defense is unconditional. Every citizen's duty is to defend the country and […] resist the aggressor" (, May 24). Such strong wording is an important expression of the government's political will. But if the government truly intends to make the mission to protect the country an "unconditional duty" of every citizen, such a change would have to be written into the Constitution of Latvia, or at least secured by law. This kind of possibility has yet to be discussed by Latvian politicians.

The writer is an engineer, born in Latvia, and now lives in the
United Kingdom

At the same time, the document is missing any discussion of the renewal of compulsory military service. The reinstatement of the draft would draw a much larger proportion of the population to national defense, argues Riga Stradiņš University assistant professor Māris Andžāns. In Estonia, compulsory military service exists and was never abandoned; while, Lithuania decided to restore it recently. Whereas, Latvia has so far avoided any serious discussion on this issue, according to Andžāns.
During the March 2016 session of the Baltic Assembly-an inter-parliamentary meeting of the legislatures of all three Baltic States-the speaker of the Latvian parliament, Ināra Mūrniece, spoke in favor of a return of the draft in Latvia (BNN, April 1). As such, she became her country's first high-ranking politician to suggest that Latvian society must begin a discussion on compulsory military service. However, Latvian Defense Minister Raimonds Bergmanis (a member of the Green Party) recently said that his country currently cannot afford the restoration of the draft. "Compulsory military service requires significant financial resources, infrastructure and people who are trained. We do not have enough of these people, and we lack training space and facilities," he stated.

Such pessimistic statements on resources and public finances notwithstanding, Latvia's defense budget will be increased to 2 percent of GDP by 2018, according to the newly approved State Defense Concept. This document further states that the Latvian Armed Forces in peacetime will number 17,500 men-including 6,500 soldiers in the professional military service, 8,000 National Guard troops and 3,000 reserve soldiers. Moreover, 20 percent of the defense budget will be earmarked for the purchase of new equipment.

Latvian authorities should admit that huge part of such military equipment is worn-out.
Experts underline that even if equipment is bought only for training purposes not for the battle, it should serve even longer. But worn-out vehicles or helicopters will be “killed” by military in the training process faster than by the enemy in real battle.
Latvian authorities recognized that supplied British Combat Vehicle Reconnaissance Tracked were far from being new: they were produced in the mid-sixties of the last century. When Latvia launched this large-scale army mechanization project, the goal was set to engage the local industry as much as possible.
Still, even today, most serious repairs of the armored vehicles are not conducted in Latvia. Latvia does not have spare parts as well. Repairs of the CVR(T) are still conducted in the UK instead of Latvia.
Nevertheless, then Latvian Defence Minister Raimonds Bergmanis insisted that this was an important step towards strengthening Latvia’s self-defense capacity.” New Defence Minister has just the same point of view on the issue.
But this means that Latvia, seeking to pursue a self-fulfilling policy in military sphere, becomes more and more dependent on foreign industrial capacity and simply on the political will of its partners.
“Armed to the teeth”, as they say.



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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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