Looking back on the international conference “Latvia’s NATO Membership and the Benefits for the Society and Economy”

20.03.2015. 21:13

Yesterday on March 19 representatives of government institutions, defence industry NGOs, researchers, entrepreneurs and field experts met in Riga to discuss reassurance measures,  defence  spending,  defence  capabilities,  as  well  as  future  development  possibilities for the defence industry in Latvia and the Baltics. The conference was organized by the Latvian Transatlantic Organisation (LATO) in collaboration with the Federation of Security and Defence Industries of Latvia, supported by NATO Public Diplomacy Division and U.S. Embassy in Riga. Photos can be found here.

The discussion introduced hybrid warfare as the modern form of warfare, as proven by the Russia-Ukraine conflict. J. Bērziņš (Managing Director, Center for Security and Strategic Research, National Defence Academy of Latvia )  pointed out several characteristics of hybrid warfare: the involvement of non-state actors; the use of another country`s domestic vulnerabilities against it; the combined use of military and non-military means to influence the opponent, etc. The experts invited not to treat a possible conflict in Baltics, similar to that of Ukraine, as a certainty; but rather to draw lessons from it.

M. Riekstiņš (Permanent Representative of Latvia to NATO in Brussels) highlighted the security challenges in Eastern Europe as the primary concern of NATO. The main reason for that are threats to the sovereignty, territorial integrity and statehood of countries in this region, posed by Russia as an aggressor. M. Riekstiņš named several important trends, observable in the actions of Russia: attempts to redraw borders by force; violation of international commitments; willingness to interfere in neighbouring countries; non-transparency of Russian military efforts, etc.

Regarding hybrid warfare, three principles of NATO`s response to this threat were identified: 1) responsiveness, identification of threats (both on the national and NATO level); 2) deterrence by organizing defensive measures according to the threats; 3) collective defence based on Article 5 (in case of failed deterrence). Currently, the NATO plans to increase its military presence in Eastern Europe as long as it is considered necessary, as well as to work on improving the alliance`s responsiveness and readiness (procedures, action plans, etc.). M. Riekstiņš also clarified that NATO should not be viewed only in terms of its relationships with Russia, but rather as a defensive alliance with the main purpose of securing its members against any enemy.

M. Hill (Chairman of NATO Industrial Advisory Group) stressed the importance of a dialogue and cooperation between the industry and the government on the national level in order to identify capability gaps and improve the defence capabilities of memberstates and, thus, NATO as a whole. R. Kutt (Director of Procurement Department, Ministry of Defence, Estonia) introduced the successful example of the collaboration between the Estonian government and defence industry, i. e., providing government support for enterprises with innovative ideas that have export potential. Juan R. PEÑALVER, Director, International Business Development Lockheed Martin MST  explained that global companies like Lockheed Martin and Thales are interested in finding local partners, to see what they have to offer. They encourage the small and medium companies to reach out and to come forward with offer to explore the possible cooperation.

Second session in the context of the Latvian and Baltic defence industry, most speakers emphasized the need to focus on innovative products, dual-use technologies and finding niches to fill in the very competitive defence market. State Secretary of Ministry of Defence Mr. Jānis Sārts emphasized that for modern capabilities we need smart technologies to meet the requirements. He indicated that one of our niches is IT in which Latvian companies have a competitive edge and can provide important software. Increasing defence spending will allow investing in research and development to help creating innovative and competitive products. Furthermore, as E. Egle (Chairwoman of the Board, Federation of Security and Defence Industries of Latvia) explained, the society needs to recognize that development of the defence industry is not only about spending, but serves as a boost for overall economy as well (such as creating more jobs, attracting investments). Moreover, the defence industry is often the source of technologies that can be transferred to benefit other sectors as well.

The discussion brought up areas of possible improvement of the Latvian defence industry, such as increasing the defence budget and research funding. It was also noted that cooperation between all parties – the government, industry and research facilities – should be enhanced in order to achieve the best possible result.