Debates on foreign policy, 2017
Here is my parliamentary speech in the debates on foreign policy in January.
Ministers, Excellencies, Honorable Presidium and Members of Parliament!
‘’The post-historical nirvana has ended! The prevailing conviction that the ambitions of great powers belongs to the past together with spheres of influence is gone”.
This was acknowledged by the director of the Latvian Institute of International Affairs Prof. Andris Spruds.
Are we really returning to a state of affairs which existed in the previous century between the two wars? Then you had the conviction that it is best if everybody is for themselves. We know how this ended for us and Europe.
The American historian Francis Fukuyama wrote that after the fall of the Berlin Wall history ended: all states east of the former wall would become democratic and there would be no more war. Democracies did not fight each other.
The grand democratization to the east began. However, soon enough, came the backlash and turn-around. After Vladimir Putin came to power the process began to move in the opposite direction – to the west, and this time on a wave of authoritarianism.
One has to wonder how this turned out to be popular not only in eastern Europe, in the former bloc countries, but also in the west!
Brexit, however, is special because the Brits think that this way they would gain a bigger say for themselves in this new, 21st century than in the previous century when the world’s biggest peace and security project was founded – the European Union.
Prime Minister Theresa May has declared her government’s intent to leave the Single market completely while partly wanting to remain in the Customs Union. Is this option feasible?
We know that Great Britain certainly does not want to see the EU splintered, and May will also say this on Friday when she will hold talks with Donald Tramp.
But what are we to do in this situation:
Our foreign and security achievement, our strong position is that we seized the window of opportunity after the fall of the Berlin wall and now find ourselves where we should be, mainly in the EU and NATO.
Therefore we have three main priorities, which have been defined by the Foreign Ministry and which we are debating today. These are:
- To strengthen our external security in cooperation with our allies and partners in NATO, no the least the USA and Canada;
- To actively engage in the further consolidation of a whole and secure EU;
- To continue to facilitate stability and development of our EU neighbors to the east and south;
I will elaborate on this three points.
Much has been said that the new USA president Donald Tramp has declared that he will only defend those NATO states who pay the required 2% for defence. But we must remember what Roberts Gates, secretary of defence in the Bush administration, said in his departing speech in 2011 in Brussels. Things cannot continue as they are unless Europe fulfills its obligations to NATO.
Gates warned that the 2% must be achieved – hence this is nothing new. But then nobody took action.
Europe began to arm itself not because of what Trump said but because of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. That was the turning point because everybody was horrified of the possibility of a big war in Europe again.
Even Germany has reconsidered; the downward trend in defence spending has been reversed. Though cautiously, Germany is increasing its defence budget, including the formation of new tank battalions.
Now we have the situation where we will have a NATO battalion not only in our state, in Estonia and Lithuania, but also in our neighbors Poland and Romania. Have we noted that the biggest contributors after Canada to this battalion are the southern European states Spain and Italy, with Poland contributing with a tank company?
Furthermore we find ourselves in a situation which we couldn’t bring about in the inter-war period however much our diplomats tried beginning with our first foreign minister Zigfrids Anna Meierovics, mainly close defence ties between the Nordic and Baltic countries.
Then we wanted, besides Finland and Poland, also Sweden in a regional defence system, but nothing came of these efforts.
But currently this has been achieved! All the Nordic states – Denmark, Norway, Finland and Sweden, together with the Baltic states are now in one common regional defence system.
These states were able to draw the only logical conclusion from the real threat facing the region, in addition to vital USA support.
President Barack Obama met with all the Nordic prime ministers and one president last May in Washington where agreement was reached on the above.
This was America’s – Obama’s answer to Russia’s war against Ukraine, which without doubt saved us from a similar situation here in the Baltics.
Today Sweden and Finland understand that they cannot on their own defend themselves against Russia without us, and likewise we know that we cannot defend ourselves without them. Hence close regional cooperation is a logical outcome, no less because of Brexit.
The combined Nordic, Baltic and Polish GDP is bigger than Russia’s, but these states spend half us much on defence as does Russia! Currently Germany spends 39.4 billion for its defence, which is only 1.2% of its GDP. Imagine if Germany reached 2% – this would add up to 80 billion! Putin’s Russia then could not compete anywhere near with the Nordics, Baltics, Poland, and Germany together, let alone the rest of Europe, not to mention the USA and Canada. Putin knows this, he is not sure about his future, and that is why he is so active.
Of course, the key is the USA. That is the only great power that can stand up and alone against Russia.
Two months ago military exercises took place some one hundred kilometers to the east of Helsinki where American fast boats landed special forces to assist the Finns ir repelling an aggressor. I assume it was in the shape of green men.
It is telling that we also have to the east of Riga a town called Rezekne whose mayor complained about NATO exercises in its vicinity to American newspapers. I haven’t heard that the mayor in the Finnish town made any complaints about exercises for the benefit of his country. The good news is that in Daugavpils another citizen pointed out that American soldiers should not be seen as foreign, but rather as ourselves.
As already mentioned, closer Northern European cooperation between those states that are in NATO and those that still are not is due largely to the USA and Obama. Therefore I propose: should not the Three Stars Medal be conferred to the former USA president Barack Obama?
It was during his presidency that Congress allotted more than three billion for the defence of the Nordic, Baltic, Polish and Rumanian countries. But this was only for three years. We don’t know what will come after.
We must use this period of grace to pull ourselves together and increase our defence spending to above 2%, which Estonia has already managed to. Just 2% will not be enough in our fast changing world.
How to achieve this?
We can do this in the same way as Estonia did. In other words finalize painful reforms in education and health. They were no less painful in Estonia, but they were done, and new money was found. We can see the result.
We needed to bring up the strength of our professional army to 6000 but we didn’t get past 5700. We have to think about whether or not to put into effect a voluntary military service of six months for at least 2000 youth, from whom we could recruit new soldiers.
It is not pleasant to hear that NATO is obsolete and has not fought against terrorism. It has, especially in Afghanistan where Europeans lost many hundreds of soldiers. That is why the new American defence secretary Mattis has confirmed that USA obligations to NATO are indivisible.
USA and European economic ties are especially strong. This has been confirmed by the incoming commerce secretary Wilbur Ross in preliminary Senate hearings, where he said that he understands only too well the lessons from the 1930’s. High tariffs raised by the USA against Europe only deepened the Big Depression in America. The USA together with Europe create millions of jobs on both sides of the ocean.
We must attentively observe what the new negotiations on NAFTA will bring as well as what will happen with TPP after Trump has pulled America out.
The big convulsions in America and Europe happened because the middle class, which came to force after the end of the Second World War, has shrunk – the gap between those with big money and those with little means has steadily increased.
However, Latvia finds itself in a situation where things have moved in the right direction! Recent statistics reveal that the incomes of the lower wage earners has increased by almost twice as much was as those of the well-to-do, i.e. by 10% to 6%.
Does this mean that our non-social democratic coalition has in fact driven a masked social democratic fiscal policy?
We are on the right track!
We have two years until our national elections. During this time we must dedicate ourselves to the three priorities set out by our Foreign Ministry as already mentioned. This will not only further our defence and security, but will also raise our welfare and prosperity.
All three priorities come together in achieving our paramount goal to strengthen our state in such a way that no one will want to call us a former republic of the USSR, but rather a strong state,
- Where a rational tax system prevails,
- Where unemployment is below 5 percent,
- Where it is easy to establish enterprises with high wages for workers,
- And where foreign capital is eager to come and place its money!
The era of Latvia as a cheap wages country must come to an end.