UARU
Former Latvian President Reaffirms Support for NATO's Baltic Presence
30 October, 2016
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What You Need To Know:

✅  Faced with an ever unpredictable and bellicose Russia, Latvia is preparing to welcome more NATO troops and equipment to the Baltics

✅   The new contingent aims to counter Moscow's recent military moves, including the buzzing of NATO alliance planes and ships, the moving of a nuclear-capable, long-range missiles to the exclave of Kaliningrad and snap army drills near Europe's borders.

✅   We spoke with former Latvian President Varia Vike-Freiberga to get her views on how best to deal with Russia's provocative actions and the refugee and migrant influx that has split opinion across the EU's 28-nation member states. 

✅  Varia Vike-Freiberga: "The concern about the larger security space than your own borders I think is a very basic concept but that's very important in a world where few countries truly can say ‘we don't need anybody at all, we can manage it all by ourselves."

FULL TRANSCRIPT OF INTERVIEW

REPORTER

- To what extent is NATO’s commitment to the Baltics right now in terms of military defense policy enough to deter Russian aggression?

VARIA VIKE-FREIBERGA

- We’ll have to see, won't we? I think calibrating the sort of deterrence capability is a very difficult thing to do. We know how President Obama drew red lines in Syria about chemical weapons and it was very difficult to actually follow through on that. Here with NATO, I hope the situation is quite different. What we are having is a practical commitment to collective defense and obviously, our Armed Forces or those of Estonia and even together with those of Lithuania are not a match for the military power of Russia. And we have had for years now, exercises -- military exercises -- where the as you know, one has a legend about what the task is and that legend is about invading a small neighboring country. And when you have repeatedly such exercises and massing of troops on your borders and you see what happens in Georgia and Ukraine and I think it's absolutely reassuring to see boots on the ground of a different color. That really demonstrates physically, by their presence, the readiness of the commitment and the willingness of our allies to consider this territory -- their territory -- as far as security is concerned.

REPORTER

- One of the many interesting things about your background is that you're an IDP after World War II and Europe is now undergoing this crisis because the refugees seen as a centripetal force in breaking apart the EU and maybe NATO eventually as well. I mean to what extent do you agree with that analysis and to what extent do you think Europe can best respond to the refugee crisis?

VARIA VIKE-FREIBERGA

- When my children were little one of their favorite books was called ‘Chicken Little’ and Chicken Little was always crying: “the sky is falling down, the sky is falling down!” And I think there's been a lot of crying in Europe about the sky falling down. When President Bush Senior went to Kyiv for his famous speech in 1990, he told the Ukrainians not to ‘rock the boat’. After all, Gorbachev was a good man and one should try and support him, otherwise the ‘sky will be falling down.’ And well a lot of pieces of the sky have fallen on our heads in between and certainly the situation in Syria is absolutely abominable and awful. But in Europe, there are situations that have led to certainly the differences of interpretation, differences of opinion but that is why we have democracies. I think it means we have to work all the harder. I have in my previous career as an academic been president of a many numbers of academic bodies. And believe you me, when you have 35 different learned societies sitting around the table and trying to adopt new bylaws, it’s a bit of a challenge but it can be done. And I think the Europeans have this commitment. What we have as a problem right now is that the electoral cycles are so short that politicians seem to be spending at least half their time thinking about the next elections. They should be thinking about the next decade, at the very least, and that is that is one of the weaknesses of our electoral systems. But the alternative to having an authoritarian leader, of course, is not something that we wish to have. So we do have to somehow strengthen our own both ideological positions as to what our values are because these are being put into question and also our political processes. When you make a commitment to something, then we should keep it. And sort of being lured away by economic interests three days after you finish saving the Chancellor of a very large European country. I think is one of the dangers that Europe has to face, the human factor and the human weakness.

REPORTER

- One element in western politics is that there is a constituency of people who are skeptical of the value of NATO; we've seen that in the candidacy of Donald Trump. So for example what do you think can best be done to reassure people that NATO -- at least for the people in the United States for example – that it really is a valuable investment?

VARIA VIKE-FREIBERGA

I would say that it can be done but it takes work and it has to be put on your list of priorities. Before we joined NATO, I spent considerable time as President meeting with American congressman and American senators and explaining to them. When a congressman from somewhere in the Midwest asked me: “What should I tell my electors about accepting Latvia into NATO, supposing someday we need to send our sons and daughters to defend it?” Well and then I did my best to explain to him so that when time came, there would be a positive vote about it. It’s work. You can't tell your story once in your life and then expect that as people grow older as they grow up and have never heard the previous story in other words your message has to be repeated again and again. We see mendacious affirmations and disinformation spreading and being repeated and repeated and repeated until people start believing it. Well, things that are actually the idea that ‘common defenses for our common good’, the Americans have understood that from way-way back. Certainly starting with the First World War and the Second World War, of course, Pearl Harbor had a lot to do also with their decision to join but they had been helping Britain already before that. So the concern about the larger security space than your own borders I think is a very basic concept but that's very important in a world where few countries truly can say ‘we don't need anybody at all, we can manage it all by ourselves'.