Latest developments in the formation of the national budgets indicate that the three Baltic states are serious about steeply raising defense appropriations to the NATO benchmark of 2 percent of the gross national product. This Baltic area-wide commitment stems mainly from two recent developments: first, the advent to power of conservative governments in Estonia and Latvia, following a similar change of power earlier in Lithuania; and, second, the spending decisions made by the Baltic national leaderships, in consultation with the United States and other NATO countries, during NATO’s summit in April and the U.S.-Baltic Partnership Commission’s meeting earlier this month.
The new Estonian government’s budget raises defense spending by 25 percent, bringing it to 1.6 percent of the annual GDP in 2000, on the way to the 2 percent target set for 2002. The new Latvian government plans an equally steep increase, to make up for past neglect and achieve the 2 percent target in 2003. The new president, Vaira Vike-Freiberga, unlike her predecessor, is using the moral authority of her office to place defense spending at the top of budgetary priorities. She and the new government, moreover, seek an expansion of Latvia’s participation in NATO-led peacekeeping operations in the Balkans as an indicator of the country’s political will to commit its resources to the goal of joining the alliance. The Lithuanian government marches one step ahead, having obligated itself by law to attain the 2 percent target in 2001. These decisions are all the more significant as they necessitate belt-tightening in the social chapters of the national budgets, exposing the current governments to attack from the center-left.
Lithuania is hosting the Baltic Hope-99 military exercise from July 26 to August 5 in the areas of Kaunas and Klaipeda. Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian troops are practicing joint operations which include mining, de-mining and coordination in “repelling enemy attacks.” The exercise is planned as a test of mutual defense cooperation, which constitutes one of the qualifications the Baltic states are expected to meet in their quest for accession to NATO (Eesti Paevaleht, July 20; BNS, July 23, 26).