The NATO-sponsored naval exercise Cooperative Ocean 2002 was held on May 13-16 off Lithuania’s port Klaipeda. Ten ships–from Britain, France, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Sweden and Finland–took part in the exercise. It was the first naval exercise held in accordance with NATO’s operational capabilities concept and the interoperability assessment program. The exercise tested the preparedness of NATO partner countries’ to perform minesweeping missions and conduct joint operations with NATO naval forces.
Following up from May 16 through May 30 is the Mine Clearing Operation Lithuania (MCOPLIT)-2002. Eighteen vessels–from Britain, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Sweden–are involved in this operation. Lithuania’s nascent fleet contributes a frigate, three cutters and a supply ship. Similar exercises had been held there from 1997 to 1999 on a much smaller scale. The main purpose of MCOPLIT-2002 is to clear Lithuanian territorial waters and economic zone of mines and other explosives left there since the war and the Soviet period. Further exercises, scheduled to be conducted in the next few months include Amber Sea, Route Survey, Salvex, Joint Force Training and Open Spirit.
On May 9, Latvia’s parliament adopted amendments to the Law on Defense Financing, which stipulate that the defense budget will be maintained at the NATO benchmark level of 2 percent of the gross domestic product each year from 2003 through 2006. This defense spending level is based on prudent GDP growth projections through 2006 in an otherwise fast-growing economy. The amended law envisages defense spending growth from EUR 197 million to EUR 282 million in that time span. This commitment provides a strong basis for medium-term defense planning and for implementation of force development programs agreed upon with NATO. The programs focus on development of assets to be used in joint NATO operations. The timeframe shows that Latvia is committed to maintaining a solid defense spending in the post-accession period. Lithuania had been the first, Estonia the second to reach the 2-percent level.
In Lithuania, Parliament Chairman Arturas Paulauskas has called for holding a meeting of parliamentary chairmen of the Vilnius Ten countries in the Lithuanian capital, on the heels of NATO’s Prague summit in November. All the countries have endorsed the proposal. The Vilnius meeting would take stock of the Prague summit’s results, map out continued cooperation among the countries in the period between invitation and accession, and encourage the countries not invited to the second enlargement round to prepare for the next round of NATO’s enlargement (BNS, LETA, May 10-20; see the Monitor, January 25, February 14, March 21, 27, April 26, May 2; Fortnight in Review, February 15, March 21, April 2).
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