Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 155

The Baltic Hope-2000 exercise is underway from August 7 through 13 at the Adazi military range in Latvia. Using English as the sole language of command among Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian units, some 350 military engineers from the three countries are operating as a single unit. They will practice building and dismantling pontoon bridges, installing forward-positioned observation posts, and constructing and dismantling antipersonnel and antitank fortified obstacles.

The linguistic aspect of this exercise has implications which transcend the military sphere. It suggests that the military moves faster than most of civilian society in terms of replacing Russian with English as the lingua franca on an institutional basis. The joint Defense College (BaltDefCol) in Tartu, Estonia has helped pioneer that trend in the Baltic militaries.

Beginning in late July and continuing into August, the Baltic joint naval squadron Baltron is conducting minesweeping practice mainly in the Gulf of Riga. Six ships–two from each Baltic state–are involved in the current exercises. Formed with the direct support of NATO and Nordic countries, Baltron aims at this stage to reach a level of readiness which would qualify it for joining NATO-led peacekeeping operations.

From July 28 through August 5, a total of twenty-six military squads from the Baltic states and nine other countries took part in the Erna-2000 military contest in Estonia. The event commemorated the legendary Erna Raid, an operation launched in August 1941 from Finland by a battalion-size unit of Estonian volunteers against the Red Army. Constantly moving in and out of Estonia’s forest and swamp areas, the Erna unit inflicted disproportionately heavy losses on the Soviet troops, before being itself decimated by the end of the operation. The Erna Raid made military history in terms of operational mobility and the effective use of local terrain against superior forces of occupation. The Erna-2000 contest followed the original Erna unit’s itinerary and engagement rules, enacting mock battles, with Finnish officers in the role of umpires. The Estonian Border Troops’ squad won the contest, with the Norwegian squad as runner-up.

In Vilnius on August 7, the Office for Defense Cooperation (ODC) was inaugurated at the United States Embassy. The ODC takes over the former Security Assistance Office, substantially expanding its mission. The transition from security assistance to defense cooperation reflects the growing maturity of Lithuania’s defense forces and their ability to absorb larger volumes and more sophisticated types of American support. ODC’s program in Lithuania for 2000-2001 includes the upgrade of military airports, assistance in the purchase of anti-tank and air defense weapons, modernization of the Defense Ministry’s communications system, development of antichemical and antinuclear protection capabilities, handover of surplus American military equipment, provision of spare parts for American equipment already in the Lithuanian inventory and development of English-language communications skills in the Lithuanian forces.

In Latvia, a political battle is underway between the Finance Ministry and the Defense Ministry–and their respective political supporters–over the size of the military budget. The country–in common with Estonia and Lithuania–is officially committed to raising defense spending to the NATO benchmark level of 2 percent of the gross domestic product. But the Finance Ministry wants to include the allocations for the Constitutional Protection Office and other internal security agencies into the military budget. The Defense Ministry and other elements in the coalition government deem that method detrimental to Latvia’s own goal of joining NATO, as well as “an attempt at deceiving the alliance.” They argue that the defense budget increment should be a real one, not one achieved on paper through the inclusion of nondefense expenditures in the defense budget (BNS, July 24, 31, August 4-5, 7-8; see the Monitor, June 15, July 17; Fortnight in Review, May 26).