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Reflecting in Riga

Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga looks forward to the NATO Summit in Riga.

Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga (© Chancery of the President of Latvia)

As President of Latvia, I express my appreciation to the member states of the NATO Alliance for the trust and confidence that they have placed in my country, which will be hosting the upcoming NATO Summit in Riga in November. This will be the first such meeting since NATO’s Heads of State and Government gathered in Istanbul in June 2004. Latvia looks forward to hosting the Riga Summit, which will seek to solidify the transformation of the organisation into a structure that can meet today’s security challenges.

When Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania regained their independence in 1991, they faced an uncertain future and had to undertake difficult social, political and economic reforms, as did their Central and Eastern European neighbours. Two years ago, the three Baltic States and four other European countries attained one of their principal foreign policy objectives, namely, full membership in the world’s most successful defence alliance. Given the immense challenges that needed to be overcome, it is most gratifying to see the great progress that these countries have made in such a relatively short time. NATO membership is now providing an unprecedented level of security that Latvia and her neighbours have never achieved in the past.

This positive turn of events, however, was far from becoming a certainty in the early 1990s. As the Euro-Atlantic community contemplated the implications of the collapse of the Soviet Union, it was unclear which of the emerging democracies of Central and Eastern Europe would be integrated into the European Union and NATO. The perception that the Cold War division of Europe should be perpetuated in a changed form, with a ‘red line’ drawn to create a buffer or ‘grey zone’ in the east, was not how the Baltic countries viewed the future of the continent. Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania firmly believed that the legacy of Yalta could not stand as the basis for a new Europe. These three countries played an important role in helping the Alliance’s leaders to overcome any surviving attachment to this outdated conception of world affairs. The upcoming Summit in Riga symbolises the emergence of a new Europe, free of artificial and unfounded dividing lines.

NATO’s member states agreed in the mid-1990s that if the peace and stability that Western Europe had enjoyed since the end of the Second World War was to be preserved and extended to the whole of the continent, then one of the pillars of this stability, the Transatlantic Alliance, would have to be enlarged toward the east. NATO initiated the Partnership for Peace in 1994 as a means of bringing Europe’s newly emerging democracies closer to the Alliance. Needless to say, Latvia seized the opportunity to join this initiative. At the time, Latvia was in the early stages of rebuilding its armed forces. Unlike the Central European countries, which had to restructure their existing militaries by downsizing them, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania had to start from the bottom up. Despite the challenges this presented, Latvia has participated in peacekeeping operations in the Balkans since 1996.

Latvia understood from the start that membership in NATO could not possibly mean becoming merely a passive consumer of security, but that it meant assuming responsibility for actively contributing to the Alliance’s collective security. Latvia has taken this responsibility very seriously. It continues to participate in NATO’s operations in Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina, and plans to increase its participation in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. Latvia is also taking part in NATO’s training initiative for Iraq and is a coalition member of Operation Iraqi Freedom. When the time came to discuss the enlargement of the Alliance in Prague in 2002, Latvia wanted to have earned the right to be invited to join and was aptly rewarded with an accession invitation.

Now, as a full NATO member state, Latvia strongly believes that the Alliance must continue to abide by its founding principles of collective security and collective defence, namely Article 5 of the Washington Treaty. This deeply ingrained sense of collective solidarity among NATO’s member states forms the very foundations upon which the Alliance is based. In this context, Latvia deeply appreciates the NATO air patrols that are now being conducted over the territory of the three Baltic countries, territory that now forms an integral part of NATO’s airspace.

The Alliance must keep its doors open to those nations that have embarked on the path to democracy and that prove themselves capable of meeting NATO’s accession requirements

In all the decades of its existence, NATO has provided Europeans with the security to create and to expand a common economic and political community. The promise of living in such a prosperous and secure environment also beckons other countries to the east and south of the Alliance’s borders. Latvia firmly believes that the Alliance must keep its doors open to those nations that have embarked on the path to democracy and that prove themselves capable of meeting NATO’s accession requirements. The goal of a Europe whole, free and at peace has not yet been achieved in full. In Riga, the Alliance’s leaders should provide appropriate signals to the aspirant countries of Albania, Croatia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia*. The Alliance should also continue to foster closer relations with other potential members, such as Montenegro, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, for positive developments in these countries will most certainly facilitate the projection of stability beyond the Alliance’s current borders. Significant encouragement should be given to Georgia and Ukraine in their commitment to pursue deep-seated reforms by offering them enhanced forms of partnership tailored to the specific needs and readiness of each country. In addition, the Alliance should maintain a constructive working relationship with Russia, which continues to play a crucial role in international affairs.

While NATO’s relations with Russia – the Alliance’s former adversary – have improved dramatically during the past two decades, the security environment that confronts the world today has become far more complex than it was during the Cold War. We now face new eruptions of violence in the form of regional and intra-state conflicts, as well as the continuing threat of international terrorism. These new issues require new methods to be dealt with effectively.

For one, international mediating efforts will have to continue in earnest to resolve the intractable conflicts that have plagued the Middle Eastern region for decades. This promises to be no easy task, with the added difficulty presented by a resurgent Iran that is determined to acquire advanced nuclear capabilities. Poverty and disease must also be addressed on a global scale, for despite the rapid economic growth that has occurred in many countries, the pace of development has been unevenly spread across the continents, with potentially dire consequences for human security worldwide. The deep sense of injustice felt by millions of people who are directly affected by one or more of these pressing issues is fuelling the radicalism that drives terrorists to kill innocent civilians on an indiscriminate basis.

There have also been other changes in the international system since the end of the Cold War, in that concerns about national sovereignty or territorial integrity are sometimes outweighed by concerns for human security. Such concerns have been occasioned by the international community’s increasing focus on the observance of human rights and pose a variety of dilemmas for the international state system. How must the international community respond when genocide and crimes against humanity are committed? There is a broad consensus that action should be taken, but it is not always clear under what authority, by what means, and to what extent. This uncertainty too often leads to paralysis and inaction in the face of ongoing bloodshed. Under such circumstances, NATO is faced with a stark choice: to strictly observe its original mandate or to venture further afield, recognising that its assets and capabilities are unique and realising that their use could make a difference in the resolution of armed conflicts.

The Alliance has established that it can make a contribution to peace-making, peacekeeping and post-conflict reconstruction. It has done so in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia*, Kosovo, Afghanistan and to a lesser extent, in Iraq. But in order to be maximally effective in its operations, NATO requires military forces that are mobile and capable of containing armed hostilities. The Alliance’s members have therefore pledged to create a NATO Response Force capable of being sent to any destination on short notice. We expect that this force, composed of some 25 000 military personnel, will be declared operational at the Riga Summit.

NATO has established cooperative relationships of various intensity with countries as diverse as Sweden, Finland, Australia and Japan – as well as countries in North Africa and Asia. These non-NATO members have displayed a genuine interest in making a meaningful contribution to world stability and peace. The enhancement of NATO’s partnerships with these countries will also be on the agenda at the Riga Summit.

In Afghanistan, NATO has undertaken to provide the requisite security forces while the government rebuilds its capacity to provide security for the population. The Alliance will expand its operations to the whole of the country and assist other international organisations in the reconstruction of the Afghan countryside. The Alliance will undoubtedly reaffirm its commitment to Afghanistan’s renewal at the Riga Summit.

Clearly, NATO cannot and should not operate in every place where armed conflicts arise. But NATO should continue to provide its input in those cases where it can be of real value, as with the provision of humanitarian relief to thousands of earthquake victims in Pakistan in 2005. There is no doubt that NATO’s contribution to global stability and peace stands as an essential element in the international order. In Riga, NATO’s Heads of State and Government will discuss how to further improve NATO’s cooperation with other influential international organisations, including the European Union, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the United Nations.

Latvia is looking forward to welcoming its guests at the Riga Summit. As the host nation of this important event, Latvia will continue to do everything it can to strengthen NATO, the pillar of the transatlantic community.

Read more: history of NATO, Riga
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