The Rīga Conference 2014 review

24.10.2014. 12:14

The Rīga Conference 2014—the ninth annual high-level meeting of local and global security policy-makers and experts in Rīga—convened during the 10th anniversary of Latvia’s accession to NATO and the EU and on the eve of Latvia’s first EU Council Presidency. Against the backdrop of the crisis in Ukraine, this year the Rīga Conference focused on issues that are the so-called three R’s presently relevant to the three Baltic States: Russia, Russia and Russia. Russian revisionism and issues related to it—security in the Baltic Sea Region, collective defense and democracy in Ukraine—took the central stage at the Rīga Conference this year. In this respect the focus of the conference somewhat diverged from that of the NATO Summit in Wales held one week earlier, where Barack Obama and David Cameron gave more emphasis to the building of an alliance against the Islamic State.

Rīga Conference speakers reconfirmed that NATO and EU are strong enough to secure all of their member states. Dr. Simon Serfaty of the Center for Strategic and International Studies emphasized the vital role of the NATO alliance: “No single state can deal with the complex issues that we face today…. In today’s turbulent world, the transatlantic relationship remains the critical axis of stability.” Professor Dr. Julian Lindley-French put forward the question of whether the people of Riga can sleep well in their beds, convinced that NATO will protect them—the “Riga test”. There was general agreement that, after the Wales Summit, NATO passes this test.

Not surprisingly, reflections on the NATO Wales Summit at the Rīga Conference were quite different than at the Summit itself. In Rīga, the Islamic State was mentioned only in passing, while Russia, hybrid warfare, and the Readiness Action Plan dominated the discussion. James Appathurai, Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Political Affairs and Security Policy at NATO, confirmed that, with the new Readiness Action Plan, NATO and the defense provided under Article 5 have become more flexible and more adaptable. Latvia’s Minister of Defense, Raimonds Vējonis, characterized the Summit and recent US troop deployments in the Baltic States and Poland as the US “returning back” to Europe. Speakers agreed that decisions taken at the Wales Summit will guarantee the security of the Alliance in the future.

On Russia, speakers agreed that the security landscape in Europe has profoundly changed. Norway’s Minister of Defense, Ine Eriksen Søreide emphasized that, “What Russia has broken cannot be rebuilt in full.” Dr. Ariel Cohen, Visiting Fellow at The Heritage Foundation, added that the present confrontation between Russia and the Western alliance is unlike any 20th century conflict. Not only is this conflict about hybrid warfare in Ukraine, it is about information, energy and economics. Dr. Simon Serfaty warned about the return of history: America is going home, Russia is expanding again and the Europeans are getting tired of each other and the EU. However, Russia is a declining power: “Putin is not Hitler, Obama is not Chamberlain—the future doesn’t have to resemble the past.” Speakers reminded the conference that non-military security—a strong economy, strong democracy and strong societies—are the keys to withstanding cyber warfare, information warfare and other non-military threats. NATO states are resilient in these areas.

Jānis Sārts, State Secretary of the Ministry of Defense of Latvia, repeatedly stated that, to ensure security, NATO must implement decisions taken at the Wales Summit. Mr. Sārts warned that trust in Russia has collapsed and strong deterrence as well as enhanced military capacities in the Baltics are needed to prevent further Russian moves. NATO shouldn’t look at Ukraine in isolation, but take into account the big picture. Revisionists across the globe currently are observing what the price for invading a country is, and, what the Western response to Russia will be. A weak response will embolden revisionist countries, resulting in more instability across the globe.

The Ukraine crisis has persisted for almost a year now, gradually damaging the relations between Russia and the West. Speakers agreed that what happens between Russia and Ukraine will have existential importance for the future of the European Project; however, there was no agreement on what kind of policy NATO should adopt vis-à-vis Ukraine. One group of speakers asked for more decisive action from the EU and US, including military supplies for Ukraine, as it has been left alone in securing Europe´s democracy against Russia; other speakers were far more cautious. Dr. Ralf Brauksiepe, German Parliamentary Secretary of the State Ministry of Defense, argued that the “enemy of my enemy is not my friend.” Matthew Rojansky, director of the Kennan Institute, stated that American military involvement in Ukraine could leave Ukraine worse off. On the other hand, long term US support to Ukraine will depend on democratic and economic reforms in Ukraine. Ambassador Borys Tarasyuk, member of the Ukrainian Parliament, agreed that Ukraine is in desperate need for reform, but reform is difficult given Russia´s interference. Dr. Oleg Shamshur, former Ukrainian Ambassador to the United States, stressed that the way in which reforms in Ukraine will develop depends on the outcome of the war with Russia. To move forward economic and political reforms, Ukraine needs a pro-democratic majority in the Parliament, but first, Ukraine needs peace. However, speakers agreed that, even if Ukraine stops Putin now, Ukraine will have to deal with decades of insecurity and instability.

We kindly invite you to watch the video highlighting the role of the conference through the eyes of our distinguished guests
For more information please visit the official site of The Rīga Conference