During the crisis years, Latvia implemented a number of reforms to the defense sector to make it maximally effective, and currently Latvia is ahead of several European countries in terms of reforms, Defense Minister Artis Pabriks said during a discussion hosted by the Heritage Foundation in Washington on Oct. 28, reports LETA.
“Compared to many other European countries, Latvia’s army has no fat, just lean muscle. The money we spend on defense is being spent very efficiently,” said Pabriks.
Latvia is resolved to increase its defense budget to 2 percent of gross domestic product by 2020 and to implement several new initiatives already next year, for instance, NATO’s Strategic Communications Center of Excellence will be established in Latvia and mechanization of land forces will commence next year.
Commenting on security challenges in the Baltic region, the minister said they were closely associated with the overall situation in Europe and the world. Economic crisis still continues in Europe, affecting European countries’ defense budgets, which leads to general disarmament, much to the Baltic countries’ concern.
Although there are no immediate threats to Latvia, the balance of power has been changing the past few years because, contrary to Western countries, Russia has been raising its defense budget for several years now, said Pabriks. “We do not believe that we may be targeted by any kind of aggression, but this gives room to speculation and the feeling of being threatened, and neither does it contribute to deepening trust between neighbor countries. We are, and will be, neighbors of Russia and Belarus, and there is no better way to coexist peacefully than through building mutual trust,” stressed Pabriks.
A challenge for the Baltic countries is the United States’ deeper involvement in the Pacific region, which may weaken the transatlantic ties and, therefore, security in the Baltic Sea region, especially in the Baltic countries, said Pabriks. The United States is an ally of Latvia, said Pabriks, thanking in particular the Michigan National Guard for its contribution to the development of the Latvian Armed Forces.
Pabriks is paying a working visit to the United States from Oct. 26 to Nov. 1, during which he is to meet with U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and other high-ranking officials to discuss security challenges in the Baltic region, as well as bilateral cooperation.