Latvia to ramp up defense spending and reintroduce conscription over Russian security threat

U.S. Army Captain Michael Duncan smiles in front of a Stryker vehicle of the U.S. Army's 2nd Cavalry Regiment, during the ''Dragoon Ride'' military exercise, in Riga, Latvia, Sunday, March 22, 2015. (AP Photo/Oksana Dzadan)
By Dénes Albert
3 Min Read

It is likely that Latvia will need to increase its defense spending and introduce compulsory military service, including women, in order to deal with the national security risks posed by Russia, the Latvian President Egils Levits said on Monday.

Speaking to the Reuters news agency, Levits said that Latvia wants to gradually increase its defense spending from the current 2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) to 2.5 percent by 2025.

According to him, the existing spending plans include the establishment of new military bases to host additional NATO troops in accordance with the agreements reached at the summit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Madrid at the end of June.

“Safety is of primary importance in our policy, Levits told the news agency. “We have already committed to the 2.5 percent GDP increase, but it may not be enough, and we have to prepare for that,” he added.

Levits ruled out a direct military confrontation between the Baltic states and Russia, explaining that “NATO is able to protect each of its member states, and there is a very strong political will for this.”

News agencies recalled that recently neighboring Lithuania and Poland had also announced plans to increase their defense spending to 3 percent of GDP.

Latvia was one of the first to demand the use of Russian assets frozen by Western sanctions for the reconstruction of Ukraine. Levits stated that European lawyers are currently working on how to implement this. As he said, Russia violated international law to an extent not seen since World War II, which also includes provisions for war reparations.

“We must not allow states to violate international law without consequences,” he added.

Latvian Defense Minister Artis Pabriks announced at the beginning of July that the compulsory military service, which was abolished in the mid-2000s, would be restored.

After joining NATO, Latvia stopped conscription. Since 2007, the army of the Baltic EU member state has been made up of professional soldiers and volunteer national guardsmen who serve part-time on weekends.

The country of less than 2 million people, which borders Belarus and Russia, currently has only 7,500 active duty soldiers and national guard personnel supported by a 1,500-strong NATO contingent.

According to the plan, military service would be voluntary for the time being starting in 2023 and will only become mandatory again starting in 2028. Plans for general conscription and increased defense spending have to be approved by the Latvian parliament.

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