ASV vēlēšanas: vai ir, par ko satraukties?

18. October, 2012

Foto: c@rljones

6. novembrī izšķirsies, kāda turpmāk būs ASV: liberāla, multikulturālismu veicinoša, bet ar vāju ārpolitiku vai neokonservatīva, tāda, kas vēlas atjaunot dominējošo lomu pasaulē un pieprasa bezierunu pakļaušanos, arī no sabiedrotajiem. Raksts angļu valodā.

Gaidot vēlēšanu rezultātus, Latvijas politiķiem ir jāgatavojas abiem iespējamajiem iznākumiem. Raksta autore iesaka Latvijai skaidri nodefinēt savas intereses sadarbībā ar Savienotajām valstīm un pielikt lielākus pūliņus to īstenošanā.

U.S. Presidential elections are due in less than a month, on November 6. Potential repercussions are widely discussed and various scenarios construed in international expert circles. Depending on analysts’ political views, accents and expectations differ widely as well. Will the U.S. forget about Europe? Should the transatlantic partners work in their “backyards” or reach out to global challenges? What are the common interests? … The Latvian public debate on the U.S., however, continues quite latent. This short blog would like to point out some new questions to consider.

I can’t resist first very briefly commenting on the candidates, and can’t help being somewhat impartial. So: Mitt Romney, the Republican, belongs to the neo-conservative tradition, just like George W. Bush and the previous Republican presidential nominee John McCain. Unlike more moderate realists (e.g. Henry Kissinger or Colin Powell), this camp is intent on strengthening both physical and moral superiority of the U.S. in international affairs, does not hesitate in using arms and wants full obedience even from their allies. It is a black-and-white, with-us-or-against-us thinking. For instance, Latvia was hailed as part of the new Europe by Donald Rumsfeld, but when she did not join the U.S. in exempting American personnel from the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, in 2003, the Bush administration halted bilateral military assistance. (The decision was withdrawn before it took effect and is now forgotten. The war in Iraq is probably not.) Romney’s famous description of Russia as the No. 1 geopolitical foe of the U.S. is just another example of the neoconservative thought.

Barack Obama, the Democrat, belongs, applying the apt classification of Edward Rhodes, to the liberal internationalist tradition.[1] This is a tradition of pluralism, tolerance, multilateral cooperation and active, collaborative solving of global problems – while still standing for liberal democracy and American influence. Admittedly, Obama’s foreign policy has also been criticized, not less so in Latvia. Within months from his election, several East European opinion leaders, including Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga, came up with a vexed open letter warning the U.S. against forgetting the region.[2] In general, after Bush Jr.’s two visits to Latvia and his promises to always stand by our nation, Obama’s reset policy with Russia appeared to some almost a betrayal, and his moderateness – a sign of weakness. The recent decision to shift American forces to the Asia-Pacific region was also viewed as abandoning Europe. It must be noted, though, that it was exactly during Obama’s presidency when NATO contingency plans were elaborated for the Baltic States and major military exercises took place, in addition to a closer cooperation in the economic and other spheres. Obama’s foreign policy indeed has different accents than that of Republicans, but does not compromise security of his allies.

At present, it seems that for many Latvians Romney, tacitly, has become the favourite. These opinions stem from broader attitudes towards the U.S. Most Latvian political forces, which are or have been in government, have traditionally perceived the United States as first and foremost the provider of hard security – as the ultimate guarantee against the expansionist Russia. (European allies are generally seen as indifferent towards Latvia’s concerns or even pro-Russian.) At the same time, many other possibilities, e.g. economic or people-to-people cooperation, were not used to the maximum extent. How could we explain it? External military security has been an obvious concern for Latvia before joining NATO, and it remains a good catchphrase to distract voters’ attention from other issues. Many politicians just continue to think in geopolitical terms and try to ally with the strongest. Also, Latvia’s foreign policy-making in the official circles has generally been shallow and even lazy, often swaying or without any opinion on many important issues, and wary of outside intervention in domestic matters. Focusing on political dialogue and security cooperation is quite unproblematic and uncontroversial also from this point of view. For the broader public, foreign affairs are a lesser concern than economic and social issues at the national level, and even if they involve in debates, their opinion seldom changes the official policy. So, the U.S. remained just a distant strategic partner for many Latvians, without giving much thought to the matter. For them, Romney’s foreign policy must be looking clear, stable and predictable, not requiring much effort to get along with.

However, I’ll argue that time has come to reassess and reinvigorate Latvian-American relations. Latvia is now more secure in the traditional sense of the term, external aggression is unlikely. At the same time so-called new threats – global economic and financial hardships, global competitiveness, global political instability, uncontrolled migration from zones afflicted by conflict and underdevelopment, etc. – are getting more and more important. These are issues the U.S., as well as Latvia’s European partners, already work on. Here it must be noted that Latvia, although member of the European Union for already eight years, has not paid much attention to the broader transatlantic agenda. Yet closer transatlantic cooperation, including between the EU and NATO, is absolutely in Latvia’s interest, and to it we should contribute. Regarding broader Latvian society – it will most probably support expanded Latvian-U.S. cooperation in the fields of finance and trade, education, civic partnerships and other non-military issues. It is joint operations in Iraq and Afghanistan that account for many negative perceptions of America in Latvia.[3]

Admittedly, Latvian policy-makers have already taken some steps in the right direction. In the recent years, Latvia joined the Visa Waiver Program, took certain measures to step up economic contacts (including the transit to/from Afghanistan) and started working on the Open Government Partnership.[4] There has even been semi-formal information from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stating that one of the priorities for Latvian presidency in the EU Council (2015) will be strengthening transatlantic relations[5] – a great initiative if carried out in practice. However, much more can and must be done.

Ultimately, whoever wins in the American presidential elections, Latvian public and policy-makers will have to figure out their exact niche in the rapidly changing transatlantic partnership. If Obama is re-elected, with his complex foreign policy, reassessment might come earlier. If Romney is elected, we might see a certain turn back to the “simple” Bush Jr.’s era and perhaps even stagnation, but the new challenges and possibilities on bilateral and broader transatlantic agenda should be addressed anyway. For Latvia, proudly carrying the name of a strategic partner is not enough for complacency. The partnership must be fleshed out with real content, it must be deserved and supported by the public. U.S. will not abandon Latvia to evil external forces, but our decision-makers should clarify Latvia’s interests and invest greater effort in achieving them, if Latvia wants to get further.


[1]See Edward Rhodes, „The American Vision of Baltic Security Architecture: Understanding the Northern Europe Initiative,” Baltic Defense Review 4 (2000), EBSCO,

[2]See Valdas Adamkus et al., “An Open Letter To The Obama Administration From Central And Eastern Europe”, Gazeta Wyborcza, July 16, 2009, republished by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty,

[3]See e.g. Nils Muižnieks and Pēteris Viņķelis, „Anti-Americanism in Latvia: An Exploratory Essay” in Latvia and the USA: From Captive Nation to Strategic Partner, ed. Daunis Auers (Rīga: LU Akadēmiskais apgāds, c2008), 119-20, 125-6.

[4] A global initiative, originally introduced by the U.S. and Brazil, which aims to increase transparency of governance. See

[5] “Edgars Rinkēvičs tiekas ar ANO ģenerālsekretāra vietnieku un Kanādas Ārlietu ministrijas parlamentāro sekretāru”, 30.09.2012., Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Latvia, raksts

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