Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and nine supporting countries signed on June 12 a plan to establish the Baltic Defense College (Baltdefcol), and another plan to create the Baltic Naval Squadron (Baltron). The signing took place at NATO headquarters in Brussels during the meeting of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC) at the level of Defense Ministers. The two agreements–like the earlier one involving the joint Baltic Battalion (Baltbat)–aim to develop the Baltic states’ national defense forces, promote common Baltic security, and raise military interoperability between the Baltic states and NATO’s member and partner countries.
The defense ministers further agreed on a plan to clear the Baltic Sea of mines and chemical munitions. Most of the mines had been planted by the Russian and Soviet navies during the two world wars. Most of the chemical munitions were dumped in the sea during the Soviet occupation of the Baltic states. Post-Soviet Russia has ignored its obligation to clean up.
Latvia promised during the meeting both to increase its defense budget to 1 percent of GDP in 1999, and to reach “NATO’s [current] average level”–that is, at least 2 percent of GDP–within five years. (NATO communiques, June 12; BNS, June 12 and 13). The situation with Latvia’s defense budget prompted the country’s foreign minister, Valdis Birkavs, to warn last week that Latvia is becoming the weak link in Baltic defense, delaying all three Baltic states in their efforts to gain admission to NATO. (Latvian radio, June 8)
PRIMAKOV IN LITHUANIA.