On 29 September the Saeima conceptually supported the National Defence Service legislative drat and other accompanying legislative drafts associated with the recruitment reform.
During debates ex-Minister of Defence Raimonds Bergmanis stressed the parliament discusses a legislative draft that extends to every single Latvian citizen. «I hope we will have the self-esteem to prepare and adopt it well enough for it to help us defend our country,» said the politician.
He outlined multiple problems in the annotation of the legislative draft. For example, development of the law did not assess the comparison between the costs and benefits, nor are there plans to do that later. Additionally, the development of this legislative draft was attended only by Student Union of Latvia and Latvian Family Physicians Association, but there were no talks held with Latvian Association of Local Governments or other involved organisations.
The annotation also mentioned that the legislative draft will not affect the development of the country’s and municipal information and communication technologies, territorial development and the environment, which Bergmanis called poor work on legislative proposals.
Saeima deputy Aigars Bikše mentioned one very important topic is which groups of Latvian citizens will be conscripted into military service.
As for modern views regarding gender equality, the parliamentarian said the topic of mandatory military service for only one gender should not be limited only to men.
Bikše said Sweden and Norway have both decided that all residents are to contribute to national defence. He claimed that this approach promotes the sense of justice and co-responsibility in society. He also stressed that the Israeli army also trains women.
Participation of all citizens in national defence is necessary, which is why Latvia should not approach this topic with a 19th century approach, because letting some group to not contribute would be be fair, he explained.
Chairman of the Defence, Internal Affairs and Corruption Prevention Committee Juris Rancāns said Russia has announced partial mobilisation, whereas the Saeima has only started trying to adopt national defence through long discussions.
Rancāns stressed that in the current geopolitical situation Latvia cannot afford to waste time on long discussions because training of new troops needs to start next January, if not sooner.
The only option is passing the law now and amending it later, because there is no way to predict all possible situations, said the politician. He invited deputies to not waste time on «formal and insignificant» details.
Saeima deputy Vita Anda Tērauda said the war in Europe and Latvia’s security situation demand enhancing the country’s defensive capabilities. National Defence Service is needed and welcome in order to benefit everyone – men and women, people living in Latvia and abroad. Youngsters would consider any other approach as unfair, said the politician.
This is why Tērauda will submit amendments to the law that will gradually provide men and women with the same duties. In all other requirements the deputy will propose establishing that Latvian citizens living abroad are to be conscripted into military service from 1 January 2024 onward in order to have time to develop solutions for ways to bring back far-away living Latvian citizens, said the politicians.
Parliamentarian Vjačeslavs Dombrovskis said that in the past he believed Latvia should establish normal neighbourly relations with Russia and cooperate with the country. Now, however, his opinion has changed. He said Latvia needs to prepare for the worst and be ready to defend Latvia.
The National Defence Service will serve as a major foundation for public cohesion, said Dombrovskis.
He also said that objections from some deputies is nothing more than pre-election rhetoric. If objections have justified complaints, they can be resolved, but this requires specific proposals, said the politician.
Saeima deputy Didzis Šmits said adoption of mandatory military service seems more like a hysteric fit and a message that suggests what Latvia did in the past was wrong. According to him, Latvia has destabilised the army because the heads of the military will not approve of Attīstībai/Par! party’s pre-election campaign, said the politician. Mandatory military service would yield tangible results only after a decade, which is why it would not have an affect on Russia’s ongoing war, which Latvia and Ukraine must win, said the politician.
The politician said that on Saturday, 1 October, the newly-elected 14th Saeima will open the legislative act in order to pull out all pre-election ideas.
Jānis Dombrava said Latvia’s armed forces are four times smaller than they were in the inter-war period. He added that geopolitical risks have not gone down since then. The mobilisation organised by Russia is a direct risk for the safety of Baltic States, said the politician. According to him, cancellation of mandatory military service was a mistake because several dozen thousand residents would have been trained to act in an emergency if this hadn’t happened.
The politician believes armed forces’ instructors are professional, responsible and are respectful towards their colleagues. Youngsters, he said, would learn useful skills and become more independent.
Saeima deputy Rihards Kols voiced support of National Defence Service during debates. He also said for years the government did not use the opportunity to adopt mandatory military service.
Kols also mentioned that everyone, Saeima deputies included, have the option to join the National Guard.
Politician Sergeijs Dolgopolovs said that defence guidelines should be changed before the war, not during one. According to him, the law will be changed multiple times and reaching an agreement on amendments will difficult because it it necessary to change a large number of different aspects. The parliamentarian said the legislative draft is poorly made and that the issue should be left for the 14th Saeima to tackle, as it will have a fresh perspective.
Jānis Iesalnieks explained the need for Latvia to adopt National Defence Service by the fact that during NATO summit in Mardrid Latvia’s representatives were clearly told that the country should pay more attention to its defence.
As previously reported, on Wednesday, 28 September, Saeima’s Defence, Internal Affairs, Corruption Prevention Committee conceptually supported the National Defence Service Law and accompanying legislative drafts.
More on this topic: Though the law receives bashing, Latvia still plans to go with mandatory military service
Ministry of the Interior Personnel and Administrative Affairs Department director Daiga Piebalga expressed concerns about existing difficulties with filling spots in police, fire fighters and border guard colleges, as the law regarding National Defence Service would conscript young and service-worthy citizens into military service instead.
Ministry of Health representative Kitija Kravale outlined the expansive potential rights that are planned to the provided to the Ministry of Defence to inspect conscripts’ health using e-health and register.
The ministry believes this right should be coordinated with patients’ rights.
Ministry of Welfare’s Social Services and Disability Policy Department director Aldis Dūdiņš said the legislative draft’s option to replace military service with civil service may create misleading associations and expectations.
Last week Dūdiņš mentioned that the ministry believes requirements for appropriate health requirements should be the same for National Defence Service and civil service. The issue regarding accommodation options remains open as well, as there may be situation when youngsters conscripted in Zilupe may be called to undergo service in Riga and vice versa.
Saeima deputy Bergmanis is concerned if existing infrastructure in Latvia is capable of taking in all conscripts and if existing military medical services are able to properly assess the health of all conscripts.
He also questioned how it is planned to evaluate the «conscience and intentions» of people who may refuse to serve. Additionally, Bergmanis questioned the concept of equality if adoption of civil service happens later than military service.