Good morning Canada, good afternoon Europe, dear friends, and colleagues,
In 1948 Churchill warned that: “Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.” With this in mind, today my themes will be the importance of NATO; Canada’s pivotal role in the enhanced Forward Presence of NATO’s troops in Latvia (eFP); and NATO’s future.
But first a little historical perspective. The Baltic States declared independence in 1918 and secured this de facto by peace treaties with Soviet Russia in 1920. A foreign policy of strict neutrality did not prevent them from being coerced into providing military bases to the Soviet Union in 1939. This was followed by military occupation and annexation in the week that Paris fell as Hitler and Stalin carved up Europe between them in 1940.
Independence was again declared in 1990 after half a century of occupation with Russian troops finally leaving Latvia in 1994. We do not wish to repeat our reliance on neutrality which ended with half a century of Soviet, then Nazi, then again Soviet occupation. Other European countries, now our Allies, had similar experiences at the beginning of the Second World War.
Therefore, after this brutal lesson Latvia’s primary foreign policy aim on regaining independence was NATO and EU membership.
Why is NATO so important and why has NATO proved to be the most successful defensive alliance in history? In my view, it is because of its fundamental values which are clearly stated in the North Atlantic Treaty: “(member states) are determined to safeguard the freedom, common heritage and civilisation of their peoples, founded on the principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law.”
In other words, member states are united in the shared values of defending liberty and our way of life. These historic values are again under attack. They are being undermined using the tools of free speech and democracy to destroy these very freedoms. When authoritarian states use modern technology to distort our information space, to interfere in the fair conduct of our elections and even carry out assassinations on NATO territory, then it is time to wake up to these threats.
We live in an era of technological competition, which the West is by no means certain of winning. Authoritarian regimes use these digital instruments to control their own populations as well as to destabilise our democracies. This is particularly dangerous because it is not well understood by our own peoples. Therefore, NATO needs to put more emphasis on resilience. Failure to do so may weaken our ability to protect NATO from non-military threats. Let us remember that, as we enter a renewed period of geopolitical rivalry, this is a contest between democracy and authoritarianism.
I will now move on to collective defence, eFP and the role of Canada. The North Atlantic Treaty also asserts that: “(member states) are resolved to unite their efforts for collective defence … for the preservation of peace and security.” That, of course, is the main role of a defensive alliance. Today it is exemplified by eFP which improves the security of Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia with a level of deterrence and defence we could not provide alone.
eFP demonstrates NATO’s determination to defend every one of our Alliance’s members. It also proves that we understand that a threat to any one Ally is a threat to us all. It is important for all NATO members to protect the external borders of NATO now, in order to avoid the need to trigger Article 5 at a later stage, with far more serious consequences.
Canada’s role in the eFP Battle Group Latvia strengthens the important transatlantic link. But Canada’s contribution goes well beyond that. We have seen many times that if Canadians take on a task, they take it seriously - as witnessed in such heroic battles as those at Vimy Ridge in the First World War and at Juno beach on D Day. In Latvia we know that we can rely on Canadians.
Of particular importance is Canadian leadership. Through professionalism, tact and dedication Canadians have made this the most integrated Battle Group with 10 different nations participating. In addition, they have taught the Latvian armed forces a great deal – directly and indirectly by example. Therefore, together with our other Allies, we are very interested not just in Canada’s continued contribution to eFP beyond 2023 but in continued Canadian leadership overseen by the important Canadian National Headquarters – Task Force Latvia.
Many may not know that on 26th August we will be celebrating the 30th anniversary of the restoration of diplomatic relations between Canada and Latvia. I would also like to take this opportunity to express our solidarity with Canada over China’s arbitrary detention of the two Michaels: Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig.
Now let me turn to NATO 2030. We are all familiar with its outline and Secretary General Stoltenberg’s views, set out in his Food for Thought Paper of 11th February. It stresses the need for a new chapter in transatlantic relations and for NATO to become stronger politically, taking on a more global approach.
In view of today’s challenges, no single state alone (even the most powerful) or Europe alone can overcome the risks to our security, our democracies, and our way of life. We must acknowledge the continued - or even increased - importance of the United States’ leadership and the transatlantic link. Europe needs the US, just as the US needs her Allies.
We welcome the Secretary General’s call for increased funding for deterrence and defence activities. As I have said earlier, in the Alliance we are all equal and defence of NATO’s external borders is the defence of us all.
In addition, I would like to draw particular attention to two areas: the enhanced focus on resilience and the defence of the rules-based international order.
Resilience depends on citizens’ trust and belief in their country. Without this, armed force alone will not guarantee security. This trust, in turn, depends on justice and fairness towards the individual – in essence on belief in the rule of law and it’s just implementation.
The arguments are similarly with regard to the international rules-based order. If countries cannot rely on the observance of legally founded treaties and agreements, they will lose faith in the organisations upholding these and will seek to make arrangements and grant concessions to the powerful who can flaunt such agreements.
I would also strongly support the renewed political commitment with increased consultations between Allies at many levels including Interior Ministers and National Security Advisers. In the past internal security has been seen as a national responsibility. It is time to recognise the threats facing us today and to adjust to them. This is particularly relevant in light of the situation in Ukraine which you will be discussing later.
Let me be clear: none of us wants to return to the Cold War. For this reason, NATO has decided to twin deterrence with dialogue. Dialogue with Russia must not be at the expense of sufficient deterrence and defence. But without dialogue, we will not build a better, secure, and predictable relationship with Russia in the long term.
With the emergence of increased global disorder and a variety of completely new threats, we must each reassess our own and our Alliance’s security and the contributions we are prepared to make towards it. In Latvia, in addition to devoting 2 % of our GDP to defence, we are introducing a comprehensive defence system which aims to involve all citizens in sharing responsibility for the security of our country.
Following the events of 2014 in Ukraine, we have changed our law on National Security in order to make it the duty of our armed forces at every level to defend against external aggression, even without specific orders. It is also illegal to order the armed forces not to resist – in other words, if deterrence fails, we will fight. It is important to know that, should it ever come to this, the Canadian-led Battle Group will be with us as part of our Mechanised Brigade.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share these thoughts with you!