Why does Latvia need NATO? 1

Isn’t it enough just to look at a map to realize that we live alongside an unpredictable country? Well done Havel, who never hid the fact that the Czech Republic wanted to join NATO so as to find security against Russia. The “old” member states respected him for this frank approach.

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The Latvian government really has done a lot to bring our country closer to the declared goal of being invited to join NATO in November of this year. The defense budget has gradually been increased, NATO experts have unanimously said that our armed forces development planning is exemplary, and the Foreign Ministry has used diplomatic resources successfully in promoting Latvia’s accession to NATO. Latvia has also won favorable reviews of its democracy and its economic reforms. If we continue energetically down this path, it is fairly safe to say that Latvia will satisfy NATO’s membership criteria by November of this year. The only piece of criticism which NATO’s secretary general, Lord Robertson, pointed out once again when he recently visited Rīga is the need to repeal language requirements for political candidates. In this article, however, I wish to focus more on another obvious deficit - public debate over Latvia’s membership in NATO has been weakly developed, and a significant percentage of the public has no specific view on the issue. I would like, therefore, to review arguments in favor of Latvia’s joining NATO. My primary arguments are the following:

  • NATO does not represent militarism or the power of strength, it represents a set of values;

  • Latvia’s security is still threatened;

  • Latvia cannot remain “neutral”;

  • Latvia’s membership in NATO will be of benefit to Russia, too.

  • Let me begin with the fact that NATO is not an organization with purely military interests. That is clear if we look at the history of the way in which the alliance was founded. In 1949, twelve European and North American countries came together to establish NATO, the aim being to defend the security and freedom of Western Europe against the possibility of Soviet aggression. Citizens in those countries which fell under the Soviet “sphere of influence” were denied freedom which includes a democratic system of government, the freedom of expression, respect for human life, the inviolability of one’s family and personal property and many other basic values. NATO was founded on behalf of these civic values, not military goals. During more than 50 years of existence, NATO proved itself to be the most effective guarantee of Western European security. The only problem is that Latvia in 1949 could not enjoy the benefits of NATO protection. Now we have such an opportunity, and we must take advantage of it.

    I must say that I am astounded when some Latvian politicians and other people who are well known in society tell us that Latvia does not need to join NATO because nobody is threatening us. Are we really that naive, or are we just pretending? Has Russia signed a border treaty with Latvia? Has it ever removed the statement in its defense doctrine that it reserves the right to use political pressure and even military force to protect its interests in the “near abroad” - a territory in which it includes Latvia, too? Have the Russian Foreign Ministry and the Russian security services ever stopped their campaign of propaganda against Latvia, the goal of which is to create ethnic disharmony here and to present Latvia to the rest of the world as a country where “apartheid” is the norm? Even if we do not think that all of these are sufficient reasons for Latvia to seek security guarantees in the West, is it not enough just to look at a map to understand that we are neighbors to a country with one of the world’s greatest military-industrial complexes, a country which is politically and economically unpredictable, a country which has weak democratic roots but very powerful traditions of totalitarianism and imperialism? Honestly, I cannot understand how anyone can conclude that we are not potentially threatened by Russia, given that all of this is true! Well done Czech President Vaclav Havel, who never tried to hide the fact that his country wanted to join NATO so as to seek security against Russia, not Mozambique or New Zealand. I might add that the “old” member states respected Havel for being so frank. It is no accident that the Czech Republic has been a member state of NATO since 1999.

    What would happen if Latvia chose not to join NATO? Would we be able to continue our pace of development as a neutral country with a standard of living which improves slowly but in a stable way? Certainly not! Estonia and Lithuania will soon join NATO. If Latvia remains the only one of the Baltic States to remain out of the alliance, investors will quickly abandon this country, interest rates at banks will rise, we will face a recession, social problems will become exacerbated, and Latvia will soon enough be back in Russia’s primary sphere of interest and influence. There is good reason to believe that these processes would develop very quickly, and Latvia would quite possibly not survive until the next round of NATO enlargement.

    Finally, I would like to point out that Latvia’s membership in NATO is in the interests not just of Latvia, but also of a properly understood Russia. I think that anyone in the Kremlin or the Duma who can think rationally must understand that Russia does not have to worry about Latvia in NATO as much as it must fear chaos in its own country, as well as the threat of instability on its southern border. Latvia in NATO would be a secure and stable neighbor with which Russia can shape honest and mutually advantageous relations. After all, Russia would only benefit from pressure which forces it to focus on its own problem instead of yearning for the preservation of as large a share of the former empire as possible.

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