Latvian president Guntis Ulmanis yesterday issued a letter to the cabinet of ministers urging measures to develop the country’s defense system and to promote public comprehension of that need. Ulmanis called, inter alia, for: urgent approval of an overdue plan for the development of national armed forces; a concept for assigning specific tasks to state institutions in implementing defense programs; a state defense plan for 1998; and holding seminars to inform state officials, parliamentary deputies, businessmen, and journalists about national defense issues.
Ulmanis complained that public ignorance of these issues jeopardizes efforts to develop national defense and is also partly responsible for the parliament’s inaction. He stressed the need for a change of attitudes in order to support Latvia’s aspiration to join NATO. The preceding day, Ulmanis had conducted an apparently inconclusive discussion on the subject with cabinet ministers and parliamentary majority leaders. (BNS, January 8)
This is the latest in a series of recent steps by Ulmanis to energize the governing coalition with regard to national defense. Latvia has one of Europe’s lowest defense budgets (second-lowest, according to some estimates), and it is less than half the level of Estonia and Lithuania. In addition, politically-inspired exemptions from military service have lowered troop staffing levels. The parliament and government have thus far been unable to schedule remedial measures for 1998, despite the president’s reminders that NATO expects a better performance from countries that seek membership.
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