by Admiral Rob Bauer, the Chair of the NATO Military Committee, at the Opening of the Photo Exhibition “Latvia NATO – 20” at the Freedom Monument in Riga

  • 28 Mar. 2024 -
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  • Last updated: 28 Mar. 2024 14:02

(As delivered)

Your Excellencies, Admirals, Generals, 
Ladies and Gentlemen, good afternoon.

I am proud to stand here with you, in front of this beautiful monument: a symbol of freedom for almost 90 years.

In the dark decades of Soviet occupation, this monument was a beacon of resilience and courage. 

And later, it became the place to celebrate the restoration of a sovereign, independent Latvia. 

Latvian independence was not just proclaimed. 

It was valiantly fought for. 

This monument portrays that perfectly, as it includes both the symbol of freedom and the warriors that fought for it. 

Freedom can never be taken for granted. 

And peace is never a given.

Latvians know far too well.

Three days ago, on this location, you commemorated the victims of the mass deportations of 25 March 1949. 

Just as your former President Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga told NATO leaders in Prague in 2002: Latvians have been tested in the fires of history and they know the meaning and the value of liberty. 

That is why you have demonstrated unwavering solidarity and support for Ukraine in its existential fight against Russian aggression. 

Latvia has been leading by example in providing support.

Because you remember the sacrifices you yourself made for the right to determine your own destiny. 

20 years ago, Latvia decided that its destiny was to be a part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. 

The success story of your membership is told in this photo exhibition. 

Latvia understands the importance of defending the rules-based international order. 

The importance of being part of an Alliance. 

True solidarity. 

A gigantic band of brothers and sisters, more than one billion people. 

Defended by close to 3.5 million men and women in uniform. 

The strongest, most successful Alliance in the world. 

Not because of any aggressive display of strength.

But because of our ability to unite people and countries. 

Our ability to adapt to changing security circumstances. 

And our ability to protect not just our physical safety, but also the democratic values we all hold dear. 

NATO is a shield against aggression. 

And in this time of unprecedented violence and conflict, the importance of that shield cannot be overestimated. 

NATO has entered a new era of collective defence. 

And it is an era that we are ready for. 

We have been preparing for this, for years. 

After the illegal annexation of Crimea, NATO did a complete overhaul of its military strategies and defence planning. 

We have undergone unprecedented change, at an unprecedented speed. 

NATO and national defence plans are more interconnected than ever before. 

NATO is stronger and readier than it has ever been. 

That doesn’t mean that our work is done. 

There are still many steps to be taken, also to be readier for the future. 

To fulfil our sacred task to expect the unexpected.

That is exactly why NATO is conducting its largest military exercise in decades. 

With 90.000 troops from all 32 Allies, Steadfast Defender demonstrates two things to the world: 
-    NATO is ready and able to rapidly deploy its forces. 
-    and NATO is putting its new defence plans to the test. Learning. Growing stronger. 

NATO’s solidarity does not just exist on paper. 

Nowhere is that better exemplified than here. 

No other country within the Alliance has so many different Allied troops deployed to defend its freedom. 

And with the accession of Finland and now also Sweden, the already strong cooperation between Nordic and Baltic Allies will become even stronger. 

Ladies and Gentlemen, 

For 20 years, Latvia has contributed to NATO’s collective deterrence and defence.

You know that Article 5 of our founding treaty can only be effective if Article 3 (the ability to defend yourself) is firmly in place. 

You have increased your military capabilities and the resilience of Latvian society.

Collective deterrence and defence is truly a task for the collective.

In order to protect what we all hold dear: we need two things: 

courage and focus. 

In Kyiv last week, I saw both elements in abundance. 

Despite all the destruction, despite all the suffering, Ukraine is strong. 

And they deserve nothing less than our strongest support.  

This monument here in Riga shows that no matter how high the stakes… no matter how complicated the situation… 

Democracy will triumph over autocracy. 

Freedom will triumph over oppression. 

Light will triumph over darkness. 

Together, we will uphold NATO’s shield against aggression against any threat that comes our way. 

Thank you.