Publication: Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 86

As part of their efforts to meet NATO’s admission criteria, the Baltic states are on the verge of making strategic decisions with regard to military specialization. This concept calls for countries to concentrate on achieving top proficiency in certain types of military activity, and to set their priorities accordingly in terms of resource allocation and training. It recognizes that NATO aspirant countries–and indeed more than a few member countries–cannot be expected to perform with maximum effectiveness across the spectrum of military activities and missions.

Existing resources and the growing costs of modernization require–not only for the small or the economically hard-pressed countries–rational choices to be made in terms of military specialization. Selecting the specialization areas is ultimately a matter of national decision for the countries concerned. The decisions are, however, coordinated with the alliance and have to fit within overall allied strategic planning. The choice of national military specialties can variously reflect a country’s specific strengths or requirements, its assets, distinctive skills, military tradition, geography, and national and allied planning assumptions.

The Baltic states are now successfully completing their three-year Membership Action Plans–which focus on military modernization–and are committed to maintaining the defense spending level of at least 2 percent of the gross national product. At present, they are making some long-term decisions on military specialization, with encouragement and technical assistance from NATO countries. Specialization requires intensive, Western-supported training of the units involved. The supreme allied commander in Europe, U.S. General Joseph Ralston, discussed these choices with the defense ministers and armed forces commanders in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia last week.

Latvia, in a first step, has decided to develop units of military engineers, specializing in ordnance removal and disposal and mine warfare. Such units would meet a growing need in NATO and enable Latvia to cope with the chronic problem of unexploded shells and mines, left over in the country from both world wars. Latvia is also considering establishing chemical and biological defense units. Estonia is well placed to specialize in airspace surveillance for the three Baltic states, using its Amari surveillance center, according to Ralston while visiting the site. Lithuania is currently still considering its choices for specialization. The country will, however, field an operational Lithuanian rapid-deployment mechanized battalion, capable of participating in distant combat operations under NATO Treaty’s Article Five on common defense in 2002 or 2003–ahead of Estonia and Latvia.

The three Baltic states are specializing in naval mining/de-mining operations, both through the joint naval squadron Baltron and at the national level. Baltron conducted the Baltic Games exercise on April 15-17 in the Gulf of Riga, practicing resistance against a hypothetical enemy’s direct attack or mine activity. On April 22, Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian vessels joined those of Denmark and Poland to start the Sarex 2002 exercise, opening the intensive annual training season. Making decisions on military specialization with reference to NATO strategy and requirements is one of the ways in which the Baltic states behave already as de facto members of the alliance (BNS, ETA, LETA, April 23-30; Defense News, April 29).