Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 2

Latvia’s ministers of defense and finance, Girts Kristovskis and Ivars Godmanis, were scheduled to have discussed yesterday the possibility of marginally increasing the country’s 1999 defense allocations, which have been limited to a mere 0.9 percent of the projected GDP. Prime Minister Vilis Kristopans, who was instrumental in imposing that limit, preempted the two ministers’ discussion. Kristopans met himself with Kristovskis and announced afterward that an increase in the defense budget was not on the agenda. Instead, Kristopans proclaimed it as his goal “to make the public understand why we have to spend money for defense just this way…. The public has to understand the precise whys and wherefores of every single lat [the national currency] spent on defense” (BNS, January 4).

The emphasis on accountability, while unexceptional in itself, obscures the substantive and pressing issues of defense, finance, foreign policy and coalition government politics. President Guntis Ulmanis and the junior coalition partner, Fatherland and Freedom, want to increase Latvia’s defense spending. Kristopans and elements in the senior coalition party, Latvia’s Way, insist on capping the defense budget at a level incompatible with their own stated goal of joining NATO. That meager level–meager relative to Estonia and Lithuania–also jeopardizes Latvia’s security cooperation with the other two Baltic states, which are more serious about reaching the defense spending target of 2 percent of GDP. This target has come to represent an informal benchmark for NATO member countries, and is expected of candidate countries. While NATO and U.S. military officials are undoubtedly pleased with the Estonian/Lithuanian target, and would probably be equally pleased were Latvia to adopt it as well, they cannot officially set or publicly encourage budget targets for prospective member countries.