Defense Minister Girts Kristovskis and other officials of that ministry announced yesterday a plan to achieve compatibility of Latvia’s armed forces with those of NATO countries. The plan includes specific goals to be attained in stages from 1999 to 2003. Latvia will: (1) prepare staff officers for joining multinational headquarters of NATO task forces, (2) contribute–in cooperation with Estonia and Lithuania–a company-size unit to peacekeeping operations under Partnership for Peace aegis, (3) expand that unit into a full-fledged national unit for participation in NATO-led operations, (4) create a helicopter squadron, (5) set up a unit for protection against chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, and (6) contribute to developing a rapid-reaction naval unit of the three Baltic states.
The 2003 target date for the program’s completion coincides with the timeframe set by president-elect Vaira Vike-Freiberga for the national goal of accession to NATO. Success of the technical program and of the political goal is, however, contingent on overdue increases in Latvia’s defense budget.
Meanwhile, a small technical assistance group from the Pentagon began working in Latvia’s Defense Ministry last week, and a larger group is scheduled to arrive shortly in response to Kristovskis’ invitation. United States officials expect this group to operate in Latvia for up to a year, but the Latvian Defense Ministry considers that the technical assistance program necessitates a far longer stay of the Pentagon group (BNS, June 21).
FRESH NUANCES IN VIKE-FREIBERGA’S POLICY DISCOURSE.