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National Security


One of the important debates after independence stemmed from the issue of whether Latvia requires its own armed forces. According to one argument against a national armed forces, the most likely aggressor is Russia, and if this state wants to violate Latvia's sovereignty by force, even the best equipped and most dedicated Latvian army could slow down such an assault only for a brief period of time. Those supporting a national armed forces pointed to their possible contribution in establishing law and order within the republic, in coping with emergencies, in controlling borders, and in providing a symbol of statehood and a source of pride. Those with a knowledge of Latvian history explained that in June 1940 when the Soviet Union presented Latvia with an ultimatum, the lack of any military resistance helped to dupe many in the world into accepting the myth of Latvia's voluntarily joining the Soviet Union. Any new ultimatum from Russia would very likely include a serious consideration of armed resistance by the Latvian forces, even if only to prove a point to the rest of the world. Former Minister of Defense Talavs Jundzis provided exactly such a rationale: "Sometimes I am asked: 'How can you with your 9,000-man defense forces stand up against a 300,000 or up to 3 million-man aggressor force?' The answer is simple. Our resistance by itself will generate an international reaction. It will be clear to everyone as to what is happening and even if we are again occupied, international public opinion will not accept such a regime and it would not last long." Jundzis provided another reason for Latvia's armed forces, which is based on Latvian historical experience: "Aggressive announcements from the Organization of Russian Army Officers about their disobedience to their commanders and their readiness to use weapons to defend themselves remind us of our struggle for independence in 1919, when after the end of World War I, the abandoned soldiers from Russian and German armies united under the leadership of the adventurer Bermont to attack and occupy the newly born state of Latvia."

Latvia was able to create a Ministry of Defense only after September 1991, when Latvia was formally recognized as an independent state by the Soviet Union. Before independence, the Soviet armed forces were in charge of defense and with increasing difficulty attempted to force the young men of Latvia to register for the draft. In November 1991, after the creation of the new Latvian ministry, Jundzis, a Popular Front of Latvia deputy and chairman of the Latvian Supreme Council's Committee on Defense and Internal Affairs, became the first minister of defense in Latvia since June 1940.

The Latvian Ministry of Defense, unlike that of Ukraine and other former Soviet republics, did not receive or appropriate any of the armaments existing on its territory. All armaments were for sale, but only at world market prices. The Latvian armed forces, however, were successful in obtaining their headquarters and several other abandoned buildings.

Latvia's defense concept is based on the Swedish-Finnish rapid response force model. In 1994 the armed forces totaled 6,600, including 1,650 in the army, 630 in the navy, 180 in the air force, and 4,140 in the border guard. Plans call for 9,000 active members in the armed forces. Latvia also has the security service of the Ministry of Interior and the reserve Home Guard (Zemessardze). In addition to serving as a national guard, the Home Guard, with an estimated 17,000 members, assists the border guard and the police. When they reach the age of nineteen, men serve a mandatory one-year period of active military duty, but men and women at least eighteen years of age may volunteer for military service. Alternative service for conscientious objectors is available.

The armed forces are poorly equipped. In the early 1990s, donations of jeeps and field kitchens came from Germany, patrol boats from Germany and Sweden, and uniforms from Norway. The army's equipment includes two BRDM-2 reconnaissance vehicles and thirteen M-43 armored personnel carriers. The navy has about six coast guard vessels, three patrol craft, two minesweepers, one special-purpose vessel, and one tugboat. The air force's equipment includes two Soviet An-2 and two Czechoslovak L-410 aircraft and several Soviet Mi-2 and Mi-8 helicopters.

Many officers are ethnic Latvians from the former Soviet armed forces, who, according to critics, are set in their ways and are difficult to retrain. Such reformers as former Minister of Defense Valdis Pavlovskis, a retired United States Marine Corps officer and instructor, attempted to remedy this situation through the establishment of local military institutes, including the Latvian Military Academy, and through enrollment in programs at Western military institutes. Ongoing correspondence and part-time training programs also were intro-duced.

The Ministry of Defense provides extremely low remuneration because it is short of funds. The 1993 state budget allotted only 2.9 percent of its expenditures for national security, which includes the Ministry of Defense, the security service of the Ministy of Interior, and the Home Guard. This sum is claimed to be only one-tenth of what would be required for normal functioning of the forces. In the second half of 1992, only 40.5 million Latvian rubles were allotted for food, 42 million rubles for clothing, and 79.8 million rubles for equipment purchases, but 59.3 million rubles were allotted for capital construction. In 1993 about US$48 million was allocated to defense.

Data as of January 1995

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