The Latvian Foreign Ministry’s spokesman stated yesterday that NATO officials and representatives of member nations have expressed concern over Latvia’s meager defense budget. During a session of the NATO-Latvia individual dialogue, held last week at the Brussels headquarters, alliance officials praised Latvia’s military reform plan. However, they pointed out that implementation necessitates funding, spokesman Andrejs Pildegovics reported. (BNS, February 4) The same day as the Brussels session, the Swedish Defense Minister Bjorn von Sydow — whose country, while not a NATO member, provides military assistance to the Baltic states — bluntly stated while visiting Latvia that "it is not clear that Latvians themselves want to build their country’s defense, yet they still want to join NATO. This evidences a lack of understanding among state officials of what defense is and what NATO is." (BNS, January 29)
Some Latvian officials, including President Guntis Ulmanis, do express concern that the minuscule defense budget jeopardizes the country’s chances to join NATO. The budget also undermines the case for admitting the Baltic states as a group. It may thus delay the progress of Lithuanian and Estonia toward admission to the alliance. A casualty of fiscal conservatism imposed by elements of the coalition government, Latvia’s defense budget stands for the second consecutive year at only 0.67 of GDP. This is considered a record-low level in Europe and is barely half the current level in Estonia and Lithuania.
Crimean Parliament Ups the Ante.