Discussion on Latvia’s 5 years experience of membership in NATO and the Alliance’s new strategy for Afghanistan took place in Riga

22.04.2009. 10:10

On April 21, 2009 Riga hosted a discussion „New Challenges for NATO and Its Partners”, which focused on the Latvia’s 5 years experience in the transformed and enlarged NATO as well as on a new NATO strategy for Afghanistan.

USEMB_Janis_Kalnins_IThe first panel discussion entitled „Latvia’s 5 Years of Membership in Transformed and Enlarged NATO: Achievements and Drawbacks” featured such prominent speakers as Mr. Andris Teikmanis, State Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Latvia, Ms. Heather Conley, Former Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs of the US Department of State, Dr. Olaf Osica, Senior Research Fellow from European Centre Natolin, Warsaw. The discussion was moderated by Dr. Andris Spruds, Director of the Latvian Institute of International Affairs, who encouraged participants to provide their assessment of the Latvia’s 5 years experience in NATO and the 60 years experience of the Alliance as well as to reflect their views on the most critical issues the Alliance faces today.

Mr. Andris Teikmanis, looking back at the Latvia’s 5 years membership into NATO, stressed with satisfaction that the most important achievement during this period of time is that Latvia has transformed itself from being a security consumer to the security provider, which can contribute to the security strengthening in other countries. This is confirmed by the fact that Latvia is capable not only to secure and control its own borders, it also participates in securing the stability in the Baltic Sea region as well as in the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan. Mr. Teikmanis has acknowledged that a choice to become a member of NATO was the right one and that Latvia will continue to take active part in the transformation of the Alliance, so it could defend the population of its member states and partners against new threats.

Ms. Heather Conley shared her experience about the time she spent, working in the US Department of State on the NATO enlargement issues. Former Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs acknowledged that preparation of the NATO enlargement was not an easy task as some of the NATO member states expressed doubts on the necessity of the enlargement, thus accepting countries from the Eastern Europe. Moreover, candidate states themselves had to accomplish numerous reforms in order to become fully-fledged member states of the Alliance. In Latvia, preparation process for membership in NATO was not so easy, and one of the most serious problems was introduction of the effective corruption combating and preventing mechanism.

Assessing the 60 years experience of NATO, Ms. Conley stressed that the biggest its achievement was a successful enlargement. She also named two important failures of the Alliance – NATO Bucharest summit, where Georgia and Ukraine were not granted a Membership Action Plan (MAP), and NATO’s inability to find an adequate answer to Russia’s invasion into Georgia during the Russia-Georgia conflict in August 2008. Ms. Conley also pointed to the fact that NATO finds itself at the crossroads, because, first of all, it is necessary to adjust itself to the bigger amount of the member states, and, second, the Alliance has to find the most successful approach to securing stability in Afghanistan.

In his turn, Mr. Olaf Osica from Poland, who is Senior Research Fellow from European Centre Natolin, described Poland’s experience in NATO and linked it to the important NATO challenges nowadays. Mr. Osica stressed that the view of Poland and Baltic states on the many issues concerning NATO is similar as well as threats to the security of these states.

Researcher from Poland during the discussion argued that NATO becomes weaker what concerns the performance of its primary tasks. Alliances are made not to defeat an enemy, but to deter. Therefore the efficiency of the Alliance is measured not by the amount of the winning battles, but by the capability to deter enemies from the offensive. NATO was successful in this task during the Cold war, but after the collapse of the Soviet Union it is not performing it as successfully as before. According to the words of Mr. Osica, the problem is that NATO’s military capabilities became weaker, but the Alliance itself became internally incoherent with the member states being split. The main element of deterrence is an ability to convince an adversary that any offensive will be met with the offensive from the member states of the Alliance. But NATO’s internal division and military inability have decreased the belief in NATO as a security guarantor. In these circumstances one should not wonder why separate NATO member states start to think that Article 5 does not provide sufficient security guarantees, and that it is necessary to strengthen bilateral contacts with the most powerful member of the Alliance – the US.

During the discussion Mr. Osica and other discussion participants underlined that NATO-led mission in Afghanistan is an opportunity to increase the unity of the Alliance. However, it is only possible if its member states will introduce necessary reforms to increase their military capabilities in order to improve NATO capability.

USEMB_Janis_KalninsThe second panel discussion entitled “NATO’s mission in Afghanistan: A New Strategy?” has brought together such experts as Mr. Jānis Garisons, Undersecretary of State for Defence Planning of the Ministry of Defence of Latvia, Mr. Bruce Rogers, Charge d’Affaires of the U.S. Embassy in Latvia, former director for Provincial Reconstruction and Local Governance in Kabul, H.E. Mr. Jawed Ludin, Ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Island, Amb. Karl Harbo, Senior Fellow at the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, former head of the Delegation of the European Commission to Afghanistan. In the framework of the discussion, a video connection with Islamabad was organised, thus bringing into the discussion Ms. Simbal Khan, Acting Research Director, Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad. Discussion was led by Dr. Atis Lejiņš, Chairman of the Freedom and Solidarity Foundation.

In the framework of the discussion heated debates took place on a new strategy for Afghanistan proposed by the new US president Barack Obama. According to the moderator of the discussion Dr. Lejiņš, who summarised the conclusions of the discussion, “a new strategy means a new surge of the US military in Afghanistan with the aim to resolve the conflict, but only for some time. In reality it means “americanization” of the Afghan conflict. But does it mean that NATO cannot cope with its task in Afghanistan? As we witness a new surge in the number of US militaries, a new strategy means that it is vitally important to improve the capability of the Afghan National Armed Forces, create a competent government and conduct a dialogue with moderate representatives of the Taliban, who are ready to be engaged into the political process and to abolish fighting.

He continues, saying, that “a new strategy means also that in parallel it is necessary to resolve a problem with the Taliban movement in Pakistan, where it has gained its strength in the recent years, thus threatening not only stability in Afghanistan, but also in Pakistan. The problem is that Pakistani authorities deny any threats coming from Taliban, and it is also not clear, whether Pakistani secret services support Taliban, perceiving them as a strategic partner in a possible war with India. Pakistani armed forces are mainly deployed along the border with India, leaving the weakly armed border guards to secure the border with Afghanistan, who cannot cope with Taliban fighters. “Freezing” conflict between India and Pakistan is the key to success in the fight to end the conflict in Afghanistan, and it is only one of the aspects, which has been highlighted during the discussion.

According to Ms. Khan, although presence of Taliban in Pakistan is a problem, but one should not forget the internal clashes between Afghans themselves and inability of Afghanistan to control its own border with Pakistan. To support her argument, she cited fact that Afghanistan did not establish border control points, while Pakistan has already done it.”

The conference was organised on the occasion of the NATO 60th Anniversary and Latvia’s 5th Anniversary of NATO membership and was attended by more than 90 guests – diplomats, academics, journalists, military persons, politicians, representatives of the non-governmental organisations and students.

At the discussion venue two photo exhibitions on the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan were available for the public, which were kindly provided by the Ministry of Defence of Latvia and the Embassy of Canada in Riga. In the framework of the discussion the Ministry of Defence of Latvia offered to visit the photo exhibition entitled “Latvia’s participation in the international mission in Afghanistan”, where the main tasks of the Latvian contingent soldiers are displayed – securing guarding and patrol functions, area observation, neutralization of the unexplosive munitions, as well as the training of the Afghan National Army. For its part, the Embassy of Canada provided a photo exhibition “Rebuilding Afghanistan”.

The conference was organised by the Latvian Transatlantic organisation (LATO), the Latvian Institute of International Affairs and the Freedom and Solidarity Foundation in cooperation with NATO, the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Latvia and with the support of the Embassy of the United States of America, the Embassy of the Republic of Poland, the Embassy of Canada and the Ministry of Defence of Latvia.

Photos from the conference are available here

Programme of the conference