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Foreign policy at the crossroads?

  • 2004-07-28
  • By Andris Berzins, Eduards Ikvilds
In January the basic directives for the foreign policy of Latvia, adopted by the former government of Einars Repse, were submitted to Saeima (Latvia's parliament). The document is still somewhere in Saeima and has not become an object of public discussion. It seems, in fact, the only time it was mentioned was during an interview by former Minister of Foreign Affairs Rihards Piks on radio Latvijas Radio on May 7. Without analyzing the contents of the basic directives, the minister did, however, mention some arguments that suggested the necessity for a review. But Saeima has not reviewed the document, and it seems that even the officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have lost their interest in it.

In 1995, the strengthening and irreversibility of national independence were established as the main task for Latvia's foreign policy. For this to be accomplished, the following subordinate activities were to be taken: to develop a parliamentary democracy, market economy and personal data security. To ensure a lasting stability, the appropriate environment was to be created - meaning finding allies among Western countries.
This has been achieved by integration into European security, political and economic organizations. Taking into account our resources, territory and the number of inhabitants, this is a great achievement - one due to exercising a consistent foreign policy with clear priorities.
Unfortunately, there is no hint in the draft of the basic directives on what Latvia's relationship with the international organizations in which it's a member - other than the EU and NATO - will be like. Such international organizations as the U.N., the OSCE, the European Council and the International Parliament Union have been forgotten. An impression emerges that government officials plan to be engaged only in activities of the EU, NATO and the the Baltic Sea region organizations. Is such an assumption accurate?
Also, the legal form of the basic directives is not clear: to whom is it addressed and what are the reasons? Is it aimed to be made formally, or is it aimed to be a political document under which all the state authorities would perform?
The basic directives also neglects to mention what form cooperation among the Baltic states would take and to clarify strategies and tactics of bilateral relations, specifically, for relations with the U.S.A. and Russia. Simplified reliance only on a common policy of the EU may prove to be short-sighted.
Some countries of the Baltic Sea region will remain beyond the NATO security system, whereas the three Baltic states are full-fledged members of both the EU and NATO. Does this provide new opportunities for cooperation between the Baltic states and the Nordic countries? Being engaged in the EU and NATO, we have to realize that, along with new opportunities, Latvia is bound to undertake new obligations as well. How and by what actions will we eliminate the possible contradictions between our national interests and the ambition of other states?
Did we, by joing the EU and NATO, enter into a community of nations that has no long-term strategy by itself? Should our basic directives not be coherent with these long-term development plans by highlighting the areas that Latvia might have problems implementing? For example, to what extent will we approve the originators' aspiration of federalism in the draft European constitution? Which of the taxes and legal instruments should Latvia agree to, and which should it not agree to? Should the basic directives outline the margins of such compromises, thus faciliating the job of the officials and restricting those trying to endorse revolutionary ideas? What would our contribution in the context of globalization be, for example, in abatement of terrorism? What democratic instruments and how will we make use of in order to protect Latvia against possible enthnic conflicts? Should not that be at least outlined in the basic directives?
Another example is the meeting of the heads of state of EU countries to discuss the draft constitutional agreement. Will that be compatible with what we voted for in the referendum on joining the EU? In our opinion, before we agree, we should initiate a debate of experts whether we should organize another referendum as provided for by Article 68 of the constitution of Latvia.
It seems that even for those experienced in foreign policy there are too many unknowns - not only for solving but also for composing - in the big equation that could be called the foreign policy priorities of Latvia for the next five years. It is hard to expect a better result if pre-emptive and large discussions with representatives of economic, political and public organizations have not been organized and planned.
If the aim of the authors of the basic directives was to prepare a formal, nonbinding document that is full of claptraps in order to cover the nonexistance of a concrete strategy, then their aim has been achieved. o

Andris Berzins is former prime minister of Latvia, and Eduards Ikvilds is a lecturer
at the University of Latvia.