RIGA - There are currently no military or international grounds for Latvia to withdraw from the Ottawa Convention, which prohibits the use of unguided anti-personnel mines, according to Defense Minister Andris Spruds (Progressives).
Spruds has come to this conclusion upon receiving and examining the National Armed Forces' (NAF) assessment of the potential consequences and gains from a withdrawal from the Ottawa Convention.
The minister has also discussed the matter with allies, including the defense ministers of Lithuania and Estonia. As a result, the minister believes that at the moment there are neither military nor international reason to pull out of the convention.
"The military assessment carried out by the NAF does not provide a justification for a withdrawal from the Ottawa Convention. The armed forces have and will have other effective anti-mobility means to deter infantry and more heavily armed detachments. These include guided anti-personnel mines and anti-tank mines, which are an important part of Latvia's defense capabilities and are already in the NAF armory," Spruds said in a statement to the press.
The defense minister argues that purchasing the mines banned by the convention would be complicated as 164 countries of the world, including all NATO member states, have joined the Ottawa Convention.
The presence of NATO allies in Latvia is a vital element in strengthening our security, as well as in effectively ensuring the alliance's deterrence and defense capabilities and the implementation of NATO' defense plans in the region. "We are therefore consulting with our allies on this matter and have been reassured that participation in the Ottawa Convention strengthens our relations," the Defense Minister stressed.
Coordination with Lithuania and Estonia is also essential to effectively deter adversaries. Last week, the defense ministers of the three Baltic states signed an agreement on the establishment of the Baltic Defense Line along their eastern borders. It will significantly strengthen the countries' ability to defend the eastern border of the Baltic states and NATO by deterring and blocking the movement of a potential adversary, Spruds said.
The minister also pointed out that the NAF has now developed a detailed plan for the military reinforcement of the eastern border and for anti-mobility, which will be submitted to the Cabinet of Ministers by the end of the month. It envisages ways to ensure Latvia's defense and to deter the enemy by various means.
On Spruds' instruction, the NAF has conducted an assessment of Latvia's possible withdrawal from the Ottawa Convention and has recommended against the withdrawal from the convention.
Latvia's Chief of Defense, Lt. Gen. Leonids Kalnins, indicated that there are several operational aspects why the armed forces do not support Latvia's withdrawal from the Convention.
"Firstly, landmines are only a small reinforcing element of the anti-mobility obstacles. Secondly, landmines are not effective against mechanized infantry and more heavily armored units. Thirdly, constant monitoring of minefields 24 hours a day, seven days a week, even in peacetime, would require large human resources," Kalnins explained.
Kalnins pointed out that for several years now, the National Armed Forces have been focusing on priority areas to effectively strengthen anti-mobility capabilities, such as increasing firepower, introducing anti-personnel sensors on a large scale, while also promoting the wider use of remotely-controlled landmines.
The Commander stressed that the Ottawa Convention does not legally prohibit anti-tank mines and anti-personnel landmines, as well as other anti-mobility measures to stop mechanized attacks while reducing civilian casualties, not only in conflict, but also during peacetime.
"There are far more effective and sophisticated weapon systems than landmines - with direct or indirect fire capability that can achieve the same or even more powerful effect. We have been working in this direction in recent years," Kalnins said.
In an interview with the Latvian public television, Kalnins said that the armed forces see no practical benefits from withdrawing from the Ottawa Convention. He stressed that the public discussion on the withdrawal from the Convention is welcome, but it would be preferable to trust experts in such matters.
As reported, that the public initiative portal Manabalss.lv has started collecting signatures for Latvia's withdrawal from the Ottawa Convention.
The Ottawa Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Destruction of Anti-Personnel Mines stipulates that the signatory states undertake, first of all, "never and under any circumstances to use anti-personnel mines". Latvia acceded to the Convention in 2005.
Atis Stankevics, the initiative's spokesman, wants Latvia to realistically assess its military defense strategy and, especially in these threatening circumstances, to reconsider its membership of the Ottawa Convention. In his view, this would be an effective and justified step for Latvia's national defense.