According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) and Ministry of Defence (MoD), Latvia is currently taking part in three civilian missions, five military operations and one peacekeeping operation abroad.
Currently Latvia is represented by 16 civilian experts and 63 military personnel abroad.
There are two ongoing EU civilian missions: the EU Advisory Mission to Ukraine and the EU Monitoring Mission in Georgia. Latvia is also taking part in the OSCE Special Observation Mission to Ukraine and UN peace keeping mission Mali. Latvian soldiers take part in the EU training mission in Mali, EU operation countering piracy off the coast of Somalia, EU Mediterranean operation, Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan, and Inherent Resolve operation in Iraq.
Security and Stability
The MFA informed LSM that Latvia's participation in international missions and operations stems from foreign policy priorities, most of which are laid out in the annual report. Primarily, Latvia is interested in promoting security and stability in regions close to its borders.
"European Neighbourhood Policy, including cooperation in the framework of the Eastern Partnership format, is one of the main priorities of Latvia's foreign policy. Consequently, Latvia sends experts in civilian missions to these regions as priority," stated the MFA.
At the same time, MFA plans deployment of civilian experts in future to individual EU and UN missions in Africa, thus demonstrating Latvia's readiness to contribute to international security and promotion of rule of law. Participation in such missions helps Latvia promote its image internationally, as well as to gain experience in international cooperation.
"Overall, it's important for Latvia to be active internationally," says the MFA.
For example, last year the Cabinet of Ministers decided to submit Latvia’s bid for the United Nations Security Council elections of 2025 for the term of 2026-2027. There are five permanent and ten elected members at the Security Council from among 193 UN member states. Latvia has never been a member of the UN Security Council.
The government of Latvia decides on priority missions for Latvia, according to a report prepared by the MFA. The last report for 2017-2019 was accepted last year in February, whereas the new one for 2020-2022 will be presented later this year. The Cabinet of Ministers decide on the participation of each expert in the civilian mission. The decision to send a civilian expert is taken after the candidate has been selected by the relevant international organization - EU, OSCE, UN or NATO. Competitions for expert vacancies are announced on regular basis, and experts from all member countries of the organization can apply. Before sending an expert on a mission, civilian experts are required to undergo special training for operating in a hazardous environment.
Latvia's missions abroad
The European Union has undertaken overseas operations, using civilian and military instruments in several countries in three continents (Europe, Africa and Asia), as part of its Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP). Currently, Latvia is taking part in two civilian missions under EU's lead. One of them is the EU Monitoring Mission in Georgia. The other is the EU Advisory Mission in Ukraine.
The one in Georgia was deployed in September 2008 following the EU-mediated Six Point Agreement which ended the August war. It's an unarmed civilian monitoring mission with priorities to ensure that there is no return to hostilities and to facilitate the resumption of a safe and normal life for the local communities living on both sides of the Administrative Boundary Lines (ABL) with Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Latvia has supported the mission with human resources since the beginning. Mostly experts from the Ministry of the Interior have been involved in this mission, but not exclusively.
Currently, Latvia has five experts participating in Georgia.
"These experiences have engendered in me an understanding of human values (not principles) which are needed for confidence building and mutual trust in situations like in post-conflict Georgia," writes one of the Latvian experts Raitis Tiliks.
To see how the daily work of experts is being organised, watch this video.
The other EU civilian mission in which Latvia is taking part is the Advisory Mission in Ukraine. The mission's vision is "a civilian security sector for Ukraine that is efficient, accountable and enjoys the trust of the public". The non-executive mission formally began operations from its headquarters in Kyiv on 1 December 2014, following the Maidan revolution of 2013/14 and an invitation issued by the Ukrainian government. Three Latvian experts are represented: Senior Adviser to the Prosecutor's Office, Planning and Reporting Inspector and Assistant to the Head of Administrative Mission.
The Ukrainian government has taken some positive steps towards reform, but, as reported by the mission's experts, "there are numerous challenges that hinder reform of the civilian security sector, such as unwillingness and resistance to change, gaps in legislation, insufficient funding, unsatisfactory professional standards, a lack of coordination between agencies, and the prevalence of corruption". Head of the mission, Kęstutis Lančinskas, is from Lithuania.
Latvia has participated in OSCE observer missions since 1999, sending its observers to border surveillance missions to Bosnia-Herzegovina, the North Caucasus, Macedonia and Kosovo, as well as to an observation mission to Georgia. In response to the events in Ukraine, the OSCE Special Observation Mission to Ukraine was deployed 21 March 2014, where Latvia participates with seven civilian experts and has made mandatory and voluntary contributions to the mission.
The mission was set up on the basis of a request from the Government of Ukraine as well as the consent of all OSCE member states to the establishment of the mission. It's an unarmed, civilian mission, present on the ground 24/7 in all regions of Ukraine. Its main tasks are "to observe and report in an impartial and objective way on the situation in Ukraine; and to facilitate dialogue among all parties to the crisis".
Currently 79 persons from #Latvia, including 16 civilian experts and 63 military personnel, are deployed in international missions and operations ?worldwide. #EU #OSCE #UN #NATO pic.twitter.com/sxFzqMms6d— Latvian MFA (@Latvian_MFA) March 11, 2019
EU military operations
According to the MoD, units of the National Armed Forces (NAF) participate in international operations following resolution, recommendation or request from international organizations of which Latvia is a member or with which Latvia cooperates. Decisions about which missions and operations the country shall participate in is ultimately taken by the government. As mentioned, Latvia participates in six military operations with 63 military representatives.
One of the EU military operations in which Latvia is taking part is the EU training mission in Mali (EUTM Mali). In March 2012, a coup d'état took place in Mali, and the security and political situation in the country worsened significantly throughout the year.
In 2013, the EU training mission was established. The mission provides training for the Mali Armed Forces and carries out advisory functions on management and control, logistics, human resources, human rights, international humanitarian law, and civilian protection. It's important to note that this mission does not get involved in combat situations. Here you can see the map of current deployments.
The mission is composed of almost 600 soldiers from 21 EU members and four non-member states (Georgia, Montenegro, Serbia and Albania). According to the MFA, Latvia's participation in this mission was started in April 2013 with two soldiers, but now there are three NAF soldiers. The mission's main goal is “to contribute to the training of the Malian Armed Forces“.
In 2018, the European Council allocated a significantly increased budget of 59.7 million euros to the mission for the period from 19 May 2018 to 18 May 2020, compared to 33.4 million euros for the previous two-year period. The MoD data shows Latvia planned to contribute to the mission by paying 283,262 euros in 2018.
Another EU operation is off the coast of Somalia with a goal to counter piracy. EU Naval Force ATALANTA was launched in December 2008 as a response to Somali-based piracy and armed robbery at sea off the Horn of Africa and in the Western Indian Ocean.
The operation "protects vessels of the World Food Program (WFP), African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and other vulnerable shipping, it also deters, prevents and represses piracy and armed robbery at sea, monitors fishing activities off the coast of Somalia, supports other EU missions and international organisations working to strengthen maritime security and capacity in the region".
Data shows that the mission so far has been successful: there were 736 hostages and 32 ships being held by Somali pirates in January 2011, but by October 2016 that number has dropped to no hostages and ships being held.
Military assets and personnel are provided by the contributing states, including Latvia, with the associated running costs and personnel costs being met on a national basis. According to the MoD, Latvia has one representative in this Operation and in 2018 Latvia planned to contribute 53,287 euros. In addition, there is a common budget to cover extra costs that are incidental to the Operation, and this budget is agreed and monitored by the Athena Committee of Member States on an annual basis.
Latvia also takes part in EU Mediterranean operation (EUNAVOR MED SOPHIA). This Operation's goal is basically "to identify, capture and dispose of vessels and enabling assets used or suspected of being used by migrant smugglers or traffickers". Latvia has one military representative, currently serving in Operation's headquarters in Rome, and in 2018 Latvia planned to contribute 29,381 euros to this Operation.
Unlike other Operations, this one has a human story behind its name. There's a story of "a baby who was born on 24 August 2015 at 04.15 am on board the German frigate Schleswig-Holstein, operating in the Central Mediterranean Sea as part of EUNAVFOR MED Task Force". According to the story, the child was born to a Somali mother and was rescued together with other 453 migrants. After being disembarked on the evening of the same day in the harbour of Taranto, the baby "was named after the German ship dedicated to the Prussian princess Sophia of Schleswig-Holstein (8 April 1866 - 28 April 1952)". The name was chosen "to honour the lives of the people we are saving, the lives of people we want to protect, and to pass the message to the world that fighting the smugglers and the criminal networks is a way of protecting human life".
Other missions and operations
The United Nations (UN) Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) is the first UN peacekeeping mission in which Latvia is taking part. In January 2016, the parliament (Saeima) supported the decision to send Latvian experts to the Mission, and currently there are ten military experts taking part in the Mission. According to the MoD, in 2018 Latvia had planned to contribute 587,407 euros. At the same time, according to the MFA, Latvia has made a number of voluntary contributions to UN peacekeeping operations in addition to mandatory contributions.
The Mission was approved in 25 April 2013 "to support political processes in the country and carry out a number of security-related tasks".
Basically, the Mission focuses on ensuring security, stabilization and protection of civilians by "supporting national political dialogue and reconciliation, assisting the reestablishment of State authority, the rebuilding of the security sector, and the promotion and protection of human rights in that country".
NATO is currently leading Resolute Support, a non-combat mission which provides training, advice and assistance to Afghan security forces and institutions. Over 16,000 personnel from 39 NATO member states and partner countries are deployed, and Latvia has been participating in the mission since its beginning with dozens of NAF soldiers, serving as advisory and multi-level headquarters officers and instructors. Currently, 42 NAF soldiers are in Afghanistan and in 2018 Latvian MoD planned to contribute to the mission to the tune of 4,696,473 euros.
In addition to participating in the Resolute Support Mission, Latvia also participates in the International Partner Fund for Supporting the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces from 2015 to 2020. Previously, according to Latvian MFA, Latvia also took pat in NATO missions in Bosnia, Kosovo and Iraq.
Latvia has also been a member of the Global Coalition since September 2014 and is an active partner in four of the Coaliton Working Groups: preventing the flow of foreign terrorist fighters, countering the financing of terrorism, strategic communications, and the military campaign. Latvia contributes to Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve, the multinational coalition dedicated to militarily defeating the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Iraq and Syria.
Multiple Latvian instructors have been deployed to train company-level Iraqi Security Forces. Currently, six Latvians are participating. In 2018, Latvian the MoD planned to contribute to Inherent Resolve in the amount of 1,959 553 euros.
See for yourself
Currently, there's an ongoing exhibition at the Latvian War Museum with photo reports and soldiers' personal belongings from international missions and operations. Memorabilia has been gathered from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania, Kosovo, Mali, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Latvia is also a member at various international organisations and is permanently represented at the UN in New York, Geneva and Vienna, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the Organization of Chemical Weapons, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the European Security and Defense Organization, and the Council of Europe.