17:17 Nov. 30, 2016
Latvian defence spending is rising as Riga watches shifts in US and Russian policies
The Latvian parliament passed a budget that will see the country's spending on defence rise from 1.4 percent of GDP this year to 1.7 percent next year and then up to the magic NATO number of 2 percent in 2018. Defence spending is one of the major factors US President-elect Donald Trump said he'd be looking at while gauging his enthusiasm for NATO's Article 5 obligation, which calls for the entire alliance to respond to attacks on a single member.
Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics doesn't appear too concerned yet. He's been repeatedly asked in recent weeks whether his country will be the scene of "World War Three," as so many headlines claim.
"Everyone outside Latvia should calm down," he said with a smile. "This is not going to be another Ukraine. It's not going to be another kind of 'hotspot' or problem spot for Europe."
The foreign minister noted that increases in Latvian defense spending started long before any of Trump's threats about downsizing NATO. "We take our commitment [to NATO] seriously," he said, "and we don't have any reason to doubt" the United States will too, in case of what he calls a "contingency."
He has multiple reasons to feel confident, 1,000 or so of them in the form of international troops to be stationed in Latvia early next year as NATO stands up a new battlegroup in each of the Baltic states and Poland. Latvian Defense Ministry State Secretary Janis Garisons said the new Canadian-led battlegroup makes clear to any potential attackers "our troops are here and if needed, more will come."