Defense Minister Girts Kristovskis confirmed yesterday that Latvia’s new coalition government under Vilis Kristopans has scaled back the defense budget for 1999, which had been submitted by the predecessor government under Guntars Krasts. The revised defense budget amounts to 0.9 percent of GNP, instead of the planned 1 percent. Kristovskis observed that the change forces the military to shelve long-overdue modernization programs, and that it will disappoint Latvia’s partners in NATO (BNS, December 9, 10). Kristovskis earlier switched from Kristopans’ Latvian Way to Krasts’ Fatherland and Freedom, now reduced to a role of minority partner in the new government.
While still improving on the 1998 dismal level of 0.7 percent–a record-low in Europe–the scaled-down growth in 1999 signals political irresolution and deals a setback to Latvia’s declared goal of raising defense spending to 2 percent of GDP by 2003. The budget issue threatens to become a self-inflicted handicap to Latvia’s quest for admission to NATO.
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