Address by the President of Latvia Raimonds Vējonis at the opening of the Riga
Excellences, ladies and gentlemen,
It gives me great pleasure to welcome you to the 2017 Riga Conference.
We live in a time of change and uncertainty. The comfortable and relatively safe world that Europe had come to know since the fall of the Berlin Wall has gone. Instead we are faced with a host of new challenges. These range from severe financial crises and unpopular austerity to international terrorism and refugees. Our democratic institutions are under attack in the modern information space and our infrastructure is under cyber-attack.
It is no surprise that reactions differ from country to country as well as on different sides of the Atlantic. The result of last year’s UK referendum and the outcome of the US Presidential election were unexpected and have made us reassess old certainties. It has also focused our minds on what we can do to improve our security. Since I became President two years ago, security has been my priority. We are used to hearing about hard and soft power and about resilience. Napoleon wrote that the moral is to the physical as three is to one. Therefore, I would like to look at security in two ways: as soft security and hard security.
Hard security is, in many ways, the easier part. For Europe this has been based primarily on the NATO Alliance with North America - Atlanticism. Latvia was indeed fortunate to be able to join this Alliance in 2004. Following the Russian occupation and annexation of Crimea and intervention in the Donbas, membership has reassured us and provided an unprecedented degree of deterrence for our region. Our NATO Allies have shown an understanding of the situation in which we find ourselves. The historic Warsaw Summit with its commitment to enhanced Forward Presence is crucial for our hard security and we are most grateful to the contributing nations participating in the Canadian-led battle group in Latvia.
It is also important to recognise the unique role that America plays in the Alliance. America’s commitment to Article 5 has again been confirmed. The US battalion in Poland is excellent, but I would like to stress that a continuing US footprint in the Baltic States is also essential if we are to send the right signals about our determination to deter and defend.
If NATO helps us overcome the challenges of hard security, the EU should do the same with soft security. As Europeans, we must do more to protect our borders and our citizens. Areas of greater cooperation include the safety of our information space and cyber security. We must stimulate media literacy and critical thinking in our populations.
Latvia and the other Baltic countries have always been, and always will be European, despite 50 years of Soviet occupation. We want to be at the core of Europe, not in some grey zone.
Our vision is of a Europe with no division lines and without large differences between individual member states. The key is to be part of active Europe instead of complaining about the dangers of a 2 speed Europe.
For Latvia, hard security has meant a steep rise in military expenditure which will reach 2% GDP in January, improved equipment programmes and a significant boost to our National Guard, the Zemessardze. Latvia must continue to contribute to NATO and the EU in areas where we have particular expertise such as Joint Terminal Attack Controllers, Special Forces and other niche capabilities. Our STRATCOM Centre of Excellence has very quickly become a world-wide authority on the subject.
However, we must also recognise the different priorities of soft security. In order to counter hybrid threats, trust and belief in the state are central. Soft security involves everyone, not just military and state personnel. Therefore, we must look after all our citizens as well as we can. 2% defence spending must be balanced with other programmes such as adequate health care and good quality education. Even more, social cohesion among ethnic groups is vitally important. Even small, symbolic opportunities to remove barriers must be seized.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I have talked about soft and hard security, but to conclude I want to mention our shared values: life, liberty, equality and democracy. I think it would be fair to call these the values that the vast majority of Americans and Europeans still hold now. Let us be clear: today they are under attack. Therefore, we must do all we can in the areas of both soft and hard security to ensure that our children and grandchildren will be able to exercise these rights in the future.
Thank you for your attention. I hope that the exchange of ideas at this conference will result in the development of goals for the future.