Country Listing

Latvia Table of Contents


National Security

Armed Forces: Based on Swedish-Finnish rapid response force model. In 1994 armed forces totaled 6,600, including 1,650 in army, 630 in navy, 180 in air force, and 4,140 in border guard. Plans call for 9,000 active members in armed forces. Additional forces include security service of Ministry of Interior and reserve Home Guard (Zemessardze), latter organization having an estimated 17,000 members. Mandatory one-year period of active duty for men at age nineteen. Alternative service available for conscientious objectors.

Military Budget: About US$48 million allocated to defense in 1993.

Country Study Text

AMONG THE BALTIC STATES, Latvia lies "in the middle," not merely geographically but also in a cultural sense. It has been suggested that average Estonians are cool, rational, and somewhat aloof, whereas Lithuanians are warm, emotional, and gregarious. Latvians incorporate a mixture of these traits. Although they have much in common with Estonians and Lithuanians, on most questions--whether in economics, politics, or social policies--the Latvian people have chosen a slightly different path of development.

There is a widespread perception that Latvia is a "tiny" country. Its actual size, however, surprises most first-time travelers. It is only slightly smaller than Ireland and is larger than many other European countries, such as the Netherlands, Switzerland, Belgium, and Denmark. Its significant contribution to history, especially in the dissolution of the tsarist and Soviet empires, belies its comparatively limited geographical dimensions beside its giant and unpredictable neighbor to the east.

Latvia was occupied by the Soviet Union for half a century. This occupation has left serious demographic, economic, and psychological legacies, whose burdens will be borne by the inhabitants of Latvia for the foreseeable future. In spite of these burdens, however, Latvia and the other two Baltic republics have made greater progress toward Westernization than any of the other former Soviet republics.

Data as of January 1995