Atis Lejins speech: Security in the Baltic region

Speech by Atis Lejiņš on the occasion of a working dinner on security in the Baltic Sea region organized by the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung in Latvia together with the Latvian Institute of International Affairs November 21, 2017.

“In the past few days we have seen a flurry of seminars both “overt and covert” dealing with German foreign and security policy, which will culminate on December 1, in a speech on fundamental aspects of German policy given by Mr. Knut Abraham from the Federal Chancellery for Security and Development Policy Department.

This indicates that something has fundamentally changed in German foreign policy. You don’t need a crystal ball to see that.

Just recently Mr. Bruno Kahl who heads the Bundesnachrichtendienst (Federal Intelligence Agency) publicly commented on Russia’s covert activities in the USA and Catalonian elections, stating that Russia is no longer a strategic partner of Germany but a potential danger.

Of course, the change came with the illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia and its aggression against Ukraine. This must have come especially as a shock to Germany because Vladimir Putin, in effect, copied Hitler’s methods in the annexation of Sudetenland and the Austrian Anschluss on the eve of the Second World War.

Suddenly the Baltic Sea region has become a vital security concern for Germany. This issue has been raised regularly in the previous Riga Conferences and has now been settled.

We see that Germany is now in Lithuania leading the NATO battalion with and additional 200 Norwegians. Of course, Lithuania’s purchase of German armored personnel carriers (APC) also played a role, but this is normal politics.

In the 1990-ies Finland chose American fighter planes instead of the cheaper Swedish Gripen for a very simple reason – to engage America in the defense of the country. Similarly Sweden today is buying the Patriot air defense system from America, because military purchases mean also gaining military security from US. Look at Israel. Poland is doing the same. Latvia  made a deal with Great Britain purchasing APC’s which helped bring the two countries closer together in defense and security.

Germany is the leading EU power and it must assume its responsibility for European security and defense, hence we will see an increase in German engagement in the Baltic States region.

Let us look at some of the facts indicating this fundamental change in German policy.

Germany today has a total army manpower of only 160 000, but it will grow to 198 000 in 2025. The German army will then be somewhat bigger than the British army, today the biggest army in Europe.

We must keep in mind that during the Cold War West Germany alone had an army of half a million soldiers. And they were very good. For example, in military exercises with the Marine Corps, the German army came on top, which for me as a former US marine is a kind of embarrassment. But the Germans were fighting on their soil.

Of course, we have heard about the deficiencies in the German army today, but these are now being remedied. By 2018 Germany will increase its defense budget to 42.3 billion EUR, and it has officially stated that it will reach 2% of its GDP in 2025.  70 billion EUR is serious money.

By the way, right after Crimea’s annexation by Russia, Germany bought back about 400 main battle tanks that were previously sold to the private sector. These tanks are now being modernized, and you can quote me, they will not be sent to Afghanistan!

Now let’s look at what America is doing in our region.

If Germany has increased defense spending in 2018 by 1.5 billion euros, America for her European Defense Initiative for FY2018 has increased her budget to 4.6 billion dollars which is an increase of 1.2 billion dollars (~ 1,01 billion EUR) from 2017.

From this sum 100 million dollars will be allocated to the Baltic States, as stated by the Congress – to deter Russian aggression and enhance the defense capabilities of the Baltic States. 350 million dollars will go to Ukraine.

Clearly the USA presence here is vital for the defense of Europe, especially in the Baltic sea region. One must always keep in mind that Germany doesn’t have nuclear weapons, and those that Great Britain and France have, are nowhere near the deterrent power enjoyed by the USA. Only a superpower that is the USA can to talk to Russia on an equal basis. We are all hiding behind the back of the USA.

In conclusion, some words about PESCO, the Permanent Structured Cooperation in European Defense that was signed by 23 European states last Monday, including all three Baltic States.

We need this for our defense. For every dollar America spends on weapons, Europe spends 4 dollars. I don’t need to say that this is a huge waste of money that Europe can’t afford. Especially now after the latest “Zapad” exercises where we saw that Russia has reached 70% of its armed forces modernization goals which means it now has the capability to attack us.

That’s why NATO is also changing, and that’s why we must change. We must buy our weapons only from EU and NATO countries, those states with which we train together and eventually may have to fight together with. America supports this initiative. It has a heavy burden in Asia and I haven’t even mentioned North Korea.

There is another, more subtle, reason why we must increase European defense capabilities. We all have been taken aback by President Trump’s recent assertion that he believes Putin when he denies influencing the US elections. Is this fantastic claim not an eye opener for all of us?”