The Baltic Course

The path we choose

By Igors Graurs, political scientist

The majority of the Latvian political elite still entertains a simplified and overpoliticized opinion about the likely course of foreign policy for this Baltic country. For most this is due to the way of thinking inherited by us from the time of global opposition when all nations were divided into us and them, and refusal to join either of the blocs was almost automatically interpreted as proof of siding with the enemy. Such an approach, very much in line with the spirit of the Cold War period, completely exhausted itself in the late 1980s and nowadays is anachronistic, albeit a number still content with it to date

Political neutrality 

Political neutrality is not an invention of the 21st century. Even the Soviet Union recognized the non-aligned movement although until the downfall of the Soviet system, neutrality, as a rule, still had political connotations and was fairly precisely positioned somewhere on the East-West axis. Political neutrality does exist, but rather as an exception than a rule, and its choice and form of existence has long been determined by restricted limits in space and time.

Thus one may start to understand why most Latvian politicians prefer to aim their activities either East or West rather than rack their brains for more complicated, multi-lateral foreign policy structures. We are simply afraid to admit to ourselves that it is quite realistic for Latvia to make its own independent choice and there aren't any reasons or excuses for any unconditional choice of this or that black-and-white scenario. It seems we do not want to admit that to apply such primitive methods, rather than discard them, would be contradictory to our true national interests.

Political benefit

«Wishing to find out what benefits Latvia would exactly get from NATO membership, I have still not been given any more or less comprehensible answers, although I have talked to many leading pro-NATO-minded people in our country.»

Only ten or fifteen years ago only the world's superpowers could afford to live by the formula offered by Lord Palmerston in the mid 19th century: "England does not have eternal allies or eternal enemies, it has eternal interests." Of course, today we cannot imagine this formula being applied by any small country like Latvia.

If one tried to look at the world through the prism of this formula, many things would take on completely different forms, requiring us to change our beliefs and perceptions. Thus, for example, it would become clear that it is not in our interests to terminate relations with Russia - a giant nation and key player on the political field of our region.

There can be no question as to us liking Russia or not. Such criteria can be used to pick a wife, not a political partner. No, that's no slip of tongue on my part, I meant to say partner, as the benefits from cooperation with Russia can be far greater than those we have today. Many may think they like the current relations between Latvia and Russia - relations kept at an arm's length and in uncertainty over scores of issues, but this is completely out of line as to Latvia's strategic foreign policy interests.

Political choice

I personally have great trust in our president, but even she will not be able to pick up our little country alone and carry it across the Atlantic to be placed somewhere between the US and Canada, on the banks of the Great Lakes. We were, are and will be a country between the Baltic Sea and Russia with all the positive and negative consequences of this fact. Of the positive, there is plenty, only one has to be smart enough to see them and brave enough to name them. No need to rush on passing a lifetime use of these advantages to yet another big brother or even big gray-haired-daddy. The time has finally come for us to benefit from our country ourselves. The right is ours and paid for dearly by sweat and blood poured by hundreds of generations of people that lived on this land.

We have been building our Second Republic for over ten years now. Of course, by measure of the world's history, ten years would go better together with the word "only" rather than "already", but for us it is one-third of the entire history of our independent nation. Being in the midst of a given historical turn, we sometimes fail to realize just how important it is from the perspective of the whole process. I think I would not be mistaken if I said that the present time is unique for Latvia in two ways. Firstly, we are about to make a choice that would determine the fate of our country for years to come from political-economic (EU) as well as the military-political (NATO) aspects. The second unique feature of this time is the chance to make the choice on our own. This, naturally, increases the responsibility of our politicians, as well as the general public. Whether we want it or not, we will all soon have to answer either "yes" or "no" to two questions of utmost importance.

The will to understand

My own personal opinion? Let's begin with NATO. I personally find the neutrality of Finland and Sweden very appealing. Even theoretically their security and independence cannot be threatened only because they are not members of the alliance. At the same time, their neutrality does not prevent them from joining the struggle against world terrorism, only they have full control over their involvement in the process and do not depend on the will of any politicians this or that side of the Atlantic.

«We will definitely be doomed if Latvia rejects EU membership, while Estonia and Lithuania join. Our language will indeed fade out over the next three or four generations or would only be found in rural areas as a certain means of household communication.»

I also respect the position of the Danish and Norwegian people, who agreed to join NATO, however, reserving the right not to have any foreign military bases, military contingent or nuclear weapons on their territories during peacetime. And I absolutely disagree with our right-wing politicians, who respond to every inquiry by NATO like the lady from a joke, who when approached by a young that asked "What would you do tonight?", she answered: "Anything!".

Wishing to find out what benefits Latvia would exactly get from NATO membership, I have still not been given any more or less comprehensible answers, although I have talked to many leading pro-NATO-minded people in our country. I am not a housewife from a distant rural area, so I do not buy any superficial speeches about Western democracies waging war against some evil power of a very vague description. In the given situation I, naturally, cannot agree to membership in an organization that has in recent years taken on a series of actions that I believe to be quite inadequate, to put it mildly, especially when considering the causes that prompted these actions. And no less important is the fact that NATO membership would require a very real amount of money in no small size, which our country does not have to spare today. Like any Latvian citizen I could easily think of a dozen places and things that need extra allocation urgently. There's no use in naming them all, as there simply isn't any exception.

In this situation I do not think it quite right to say that it would be the wisest decision to spend an additional 100 million US dollars annually on NATO membership, as compared to last year's national budget. I also find little sense in application of these funds within the military budget. The proposed purchase of radar equipment worth 30 million US dollars makes me picture a savage with no pants that has set out to buy himself a top-hat and tie. As a businessman, I see Lockheed Martin's interest in the deal, I see in this project implementation of strategic NATO interests but I do not see why this has to be at our expense, moreover, at the expense of our security. This is just one example that gives me the chance to realize again and again the lack of elementary competence among our military experts.

I am well aware that I am only one of 2.3 million people living in our country but I will do my best to make sure that personally I have a clear idea of all the pros and cons before casting my vote in a referendum on this matter. As for the question whether a referendum on is needed at all, the very attempt of making a decision without consulting the people would be treason of national interests at its purest form. Voltaire in his time said: "I absolutely disagree with your opinion but I would give my life for your right to state it." Could it be that democracy in the Republic of Latvia in the 21st century still has not grown up to the level of democracy in the period of the 18th century French monarchy?

I believe not. I hope that in our country there are also people ready to stand up against the political voluntarism of our right-wingers.

NATO enthusiasts in our country have a favorite argument for the simple-minded, accusing their opponents of being Russian-oriented and lobbying its interests in Latvia. Experts took this construction as demagogy from the very start. To repeat it after the September 11 events would be perceived simply as political nonsense in the view of growing closeness between Russian and NATO leaders on many issues. Based on this, my position as a NATO-skeptic only gathers in strength as I am a person who puts Latvian interests before those of Russia, the United States or anybody else.

Patriot of country

I have considerably less skepticism for the EU. I understand that this "lemon" does have a rind, and quite hard at that. But as an economist and a person with some knowledge of geopolitics, I do not see any alternative for keeping Latvia's sovereignty. No slip of tongue again, as I understand sovereignty only through the prism of an open community and market economy. In today's conditions, if Latvia tries to diverge off the road followed by all Europeans, we would be doomed for destruction as an independent state and a peculiar, if at all, culture.

We will definitely be doomed if Latvia rejects EU membership, while Estonia and Lithuania join. Our language will indeed fade out over the next three or four generations or would only be found in rural areas as a certain means of household communication. The reality of preserving our individuality does not lie in severe regulations for the use of Latvian language, but in the real well-being of those who speak it. If the welfare level in Latvia allows for a good and comfortable life, our children will not leave to earn their living abroad and immigrants will voluntarily get down to the Latvian language text- books.

As far as the formula for accession to the EU is concerned, meaning the much-spoken At Any Cost and ASAP, I find this unacceptable. The time factor is of great importance, of course, but we cannot disregard the matter of quality or the price we will have to pay. The people have the right to get straight and clear answers in this respect too, before they vote in favor of this or that decision.

I am a patriot of my country. I will not leave it whether it is admitted to NATO or not, whether it will have or have not good neighborly relations with its bordering nations. But I want my sons to stay in this country not for lack of choice but out of love for this land, and may they never look at the boy from next-door down the barrel of a firing arm only because he prefers to speak another language.

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