BNN INTERVIEW | Latvian embassy in USA: we would like to see a larger US military presence in Latvia

Next year Latvia and USA will celebrate the 100th anniversary of their mutual strategic relations. Latvia’s ambassador to USA Māris Selga and representative of the Ministry of Defence Rolands Heniņš tell BNN why USA is an important partner to Latvia, why development of interstate relations is important and what are the biggest challenges and benefits for both countries.
«Security, security and security»
For Latvia, one of the biggest benefit from cooperation with USA is security, security and security. One example of this is the cooperation established between Latvia and Michigan National Guard, which was established in 1993. This cooperation has significantly improved the development of the Air Force Base of Latvian National Armed Forces, BNN was told by the ambassador.
The list of accomplishments is long, starting from joint participation in military missions and development of military capabilities. The biggest development project was the procurement of Black Hawk helicopters. Michigan National Guard provided advice and training to Latvian pilots and maintenance personnel. The two sides continue looking for new cooperation opportunities, meeting and discussing them on different levels. In summer 2021 Commander of Latvian Armed Forces Lt. General Leonīds Kalniņš visited Michigan. There he observed the participation of Latvian troops in Northern Strike military exercises and met with the leadership of Michigan National Guard.
Ambassador Selga stresses that 2004 was significant because Latvia joined NATO and Article 5 of NATO Treaty on provision of assistance in the event of a military attack.
Representative of the Ministry of Defence Rolands Heniņš notes that for Latvia this cooperation in the defence sector is very important, considering USA is Latvia’s strategic ally. «USA has political, military, economic and other means at its disposal to influence choices of countries that are not too friendly towards us. USA is a global superpower, and it is in our interests to maintain the closest possible ties in all sectors.»
Representatives of the embassy stress that Latvia’s cooperation with USA in the defence sector became more intensive after Russia’s aggression in Ukraine in 2014. «We organize regular military exercises in Latvia with American troops and in USA with our troops. We also participate in international missions together. USA provides financial and intellectual assistance to enhance the capabilities of our country’s armed forces. We are satisfied and grateful to the US Congress for the support provided to Baltic States. In recent years the US Congress has started providing finances for aid to Baltic States. This has allowed us to commence different military capabilities development projects more quickly. Latvian diaspora in USA plays an important role. These people maintain close contacts with their local senators and congressmen, urging them to provide more support to Latvia.»
Defence expert Heniņš says the focus of defence and security is understanding joint threats and challenges, compatibility of military forces, development of armed forces, as well as the importance of taking joint action against hybrid threats.
«The biggest challenge in this particular field is maintaining the importance of Latvia and Baltic region for USA. American political elite and society generally follow the developments in countries around the world. It is clear the interests sand challenges for USA as a global superpower extend much further than our region. The growing influence of China is the main threat identified by the current US administration. Decision-makers and opinion leaders in Washington continue actively discussing the potential threats coming from China and whether or not USA requires the means to oppose it,» says Heniņš.
USA relies on support from its allies, Latvia included, when it comes to identifying the threats posed by China, fighting against hybrid threats, and battling terrorism in different hot spots around the world. USA expects Latvia to be an active NATO ally and that the country will be able to defend itself and allocate sufficient resources towards its defensive capabilities, representatives of Latvia’s embassy to USA explain.
Latvia’s ambassador to USA stresses that defence covers many different activities – not just the defence field, but also security in energy, environment and finances. «The topic of finances became all the more topical after the report from Moneyval and Financial Action Task Force, which suggested Latvia would need capital repairs to avoid being added to the ‘grey list’ and reduce the risk of money laundering activities in the country. USA was able to provide Latvia with useful advice to enhance the country’s financial stability. Such examples help form mutual ties that take the shape of practical advice and action.»
«From Latvia’s perspective cooperation has always been excellent with republicans and democrats»
Ex-president of USA Donald Trump and Latvia’s ambassador to USA Māris Selga. Publicity photo
Māris Selga entered his post as Latvia’s ambassador to USA during the presidency of Donald Trump. He continues serving as Latvia’s representative during Joe Biden’s presidency. The ambassador stresses the change of presidents in USA has not changed relations between it and Latvia or ongoing projects. «From Latvia’s perspective cooperation has always been excellent with republicans and democrats. We don’t really divide the administration and we are prepared to work with whoever the US citizens have picked as their president.» The diplomat says the most difficult task is meeting with representatives of the administration in person during the pandemic. Although talks continue using technical solutions, the ambassador hopes meetings in person will become more accessible soon, because the US state administration follows the recommendations from epidemiologists. «This is why we hope vaccines will make life easier, because currently forming new contacts is very difficult.»
Defence advisor Heniņš stresses that military exercises, plans for development of defensive capabilities, and other cooperation initiatives are planned multiple years in advance, because they require time, resources, etc. Cooperation with the Michigan National Guard is executed in projects that were commenced many years ago and the implementation of which does not depend on the change of administration in Washington.
Each new administration reviews its directions, outline priorities and allocates resources to accomplish set goals.
«Our priority in cooperation with USA in the field of defence is focused on greater presence of US troops in Latvia, creation of military equipment and armoured vehicle reserves in our country, as well as development of plans for tighter regional defence and enhancement of our military capabilities. The current US administration is currently reviewing the deployment of its armed forces around the world. We have outlined in this process that we would like to see a larger presence of US military in Latvia,» comments Rolands Heniņš.