Airis Rikveilis: 30 YEARS OF DEFENCE COOPERATION BETWEEN LATVIA AND THE UNITED STATES: BEYOND STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIP AND INTO THE FUTURE
Cooperation in security and defence with the United States of America is amongst the top priorities of Latvian defence policy. The current State Defence Concept (SDC) states that the United States “is Latvia’s main strategic partner” and follows a similar line taken by all previous SDCs since 2003. The agenda of this partnership is broad and active. It ranges from political consultations at the level of Ministries of Defence (MOD) and Foreign Affairs (MFA) of both countries, to military exercises of various types. Latvia hosts several hundred U.S. soldiers as part of rotational military presence.
There are several milestones that help trace the evolution of this dynamic cooperation Firstly, the U.S. State Partnership Program (SPP), in 1993, formed the framework for beginning “mutually beneficial” relations. Over the years, this cooperation consistently formed the backbone of military-to-military contacts and has maintained its purpose by timely adaption and responsiveness to specific needs and abilities of Latvia. Secondly, in 1998, the U.S.- Baltic Charter brought broader political context into security and defence cooperation and bolstered security efforts towards prospective NATO and EU membership. Furthermore, NATO membership in 2004 provided new opportunities to enhance cooperation with the U.S. Assembling joint units of US and Latvian soldiers would have seemed an improbable development just some years ago, but based on cooperation with Michigan National Guard (MING), training of the Security forces of Afghanistan became a reality. Shared operational experience and acquired new capabilities led to intensified cooperation with MING that added to the quality of the Latvian National Armed Forces (LNAF).
Eventually, the deteriorating global security situation caused by the Russian aggression against Georgia and Ukraine substantially intensified military cooperation. The U.S. military presence in Latvia (and also in Lithuania and Estonia), as part of the Alliance reinvigorated emphasis on deterrence and particularly the commitment by Allies as agreed in the NATO Madrid Summit to “defend every inch of Allied territory” , is playing a critical role in maintaining peace and security in the region.
This paper offers a brief overview of the political and military development of defence cooperation between Latvia and the United States throughout 30 years of partnership. This overview will form the backdrop for the less analysed elements of Latvian-American defence relations that result from the deteriorating security situation and the progress in streamlining US political and financial support to the Baltic States as part of the Baltic Security Initiative. Changes in the Alliance’s posture stem from Russia’s illegal occupation and annexation of Crimea in 2014 and unprovoked aggression against Ukraine
in 2022. Events related to Latvian and American military cooperation in previous years have been covered in a several papers devoted to the topic. It is therefore not the intent of this paper to cover the whole spectrum of accumulated experience. At the end of the paper some opportunities for future cooperation are provided, coupled with proposals for next steps in the partnership between Latvia and the State of Michigan.
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