by G.V. Kristovskis
Minister of Defense of Latvia
Secretary General, Colleagues !
I am honored to be able to address you today for the first time as Latvia's Minister of Defense. Although the Government has changed, I can assure you that the policies remain the same. In particular, the efforts that Latvia is making in the field of defense to face today's security challenges will continue unabated.
I will therefore focus on Latvia's own contributions and aspirations in meeting these challenges, and how these can be given added value through our cooperation with NATO.
The first point I would like to make is that Latvia is aware of the primacy of developing our own defense capabilities as a starting point for meeting the challenges ahead. In developing these capabilities we are able to also contest the ill-conceived notion that Latvia is a country that is indefensible.
We have been developing the concept of total territorial defense, which is in turn places considerations of interoperability of our armed forces in the forefront. Latvia is committed to creating structures within the Armed Forces which comply with NATO standards and requirements. (This determination is reflected in our NATO integration plan)
In attaining interoperability, Latvia will continue to lay great emphasis on the education and training of our personnel. We cannot underestimate the value of our human resources. At the same time we will also continue to focus on foreign language training - primarily English. This is a key element of interoperability.
Secondly, the regional aspect is of importance to Latvia. We are pleased with the success of so many Baltic multilateral defense cooperation projects, that have attracted support from both Alliance members and partners. These projects help to bring the level of our armed forces up to Western standards and in turn enhance our ability to contribute to stability in Europe. One such project of particular relevance is the Baltic air space initiative, where once again the interoperability factor will be crucial.
Ongoing challenges to security illustrate the significance of cooperation between partners and the Alliance. The events in Bosnia and Kosovo are prime examples. NATO's role as a credible deterrent is being rightly preserved. Latvia as a partner has taken the opportunity to contribute. Our troops have been with IFOR and SFOR. We will participate in the verification mission in Kosovo, where NATO's role in liaison with other international institutions was so vital.
Cooperation with the Alliance
Other opportunities to cooperate have helped motivate those engaged in defense issues. The expanded PSE initiative with a focus on NATO HQ will strengthen interoperability still further and is a crucial link in the chain of contact building. The future involvement of Partner officers at the third level of the command structure would be welcome.
Latvia has benefited from the activities of PfP and received valuable motivation from the Planning and Review Process (PARP). These are elements of interoperability which are welcome. The Initial Partnership Goals to be set for next year will hopefully take these processes further forward.
There is no doubt that partner countries that are aspiring members of the Alliance need extra opportunities to prepare for eventual membership. In this regard, a comprehensive package of measures that operationalise the commitment to the open door policy would be welcomed by Latvia. There seems little need to artificially maintain cohesion amongst partner countries. The Alliance should at the very least provide adequate opportunities for potential members to maximize their own involvement pending the ultimate decision about membership.
Secretary General, Colleagues.
Roadmaps, support for preparations to join, naming the names of aspiring candidates - these are all positive ways in which to deal with the task of enlargement. They will help Latvia to meet future challenges in the knowledge that our efforts will be rewarded. For our part, we are committed to continue with the tasks I have outlined as well as other essential steps.
Future challenges will best be tackled by our joint efforts - by the guidance of experienced Alliance members and the willingness of partner nations.