Latvian Defense Minister Girts Kristovskis said yesterday that if Latvia had made timely decisions to increase defense spending, its readiness to join NATO could have been rated today on a par with Lithuania’s. Kristovskis was commenting on a Congressional Research Service study just released in Washington, which assesses Latvia as unprepared for NATO membership while placing Lithuania at the head of the Baltic waiting line. Kristovskis stressed the fact that Lithuania’s defense budget is both far larger and growing more quickly than Latvia’s (BNS, February 10).
The budget issue also overshadowed the seminar just held in Riga on national defense planning. Keynote speaker Major-General Dietrich Genschel–of the Pentagon-sponsored, German-based George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies–criticized the inadequate level of Latvia’s defense spending. The allocations equaled only 0.67 percent of the gross domestic product in 1998 and are officially slated to increase to 0.89 percent of GDP in 1999, compared with Estonia’s 1.15 percent and Lithuania’s 1.49 percent. Genschel pointed to NATO’s benchmark level of 2 percent, and cited Lithuania’s recently passed law which stipulates reaching that level by 2001. Kristovskis, like president Guntis Ulmanis and others, advocates higher defense spending. Latvian Social-Democrats, the government’s leftist-populist allies, resist this. While Latvia seeks a 40 percent increase in monetary terms in 1999 over 1998, Lithuania has approved one of 54 percent. Latvia currently proposes raising its defense spending to 2 percent of GDP by 2005, four years after Lithuania plans to do so, and without the legal commitment which Lithuania’s governing party has enacted over the opposition of its Democratic-Labor Party, that is, its social democrats (BNS, February 2, 5, 6).
LUKASHENKA EYEING SUPERPOWER ROLE.