ABOUT RĪGA CONFERENCE

The Riga Conference 2009 United the Presidents of the Baltic States into the Discussion of International Security

From October 23 to October 24 in the Mazā Ģilde (the Small Guild) the Rīga Conference 2009 titled “Economic Recovery in a Changing Security Environment: Transatlantic Agenda 2010” took place. It was attended by the President of Latvia, H.E. Mr. Valdis Zatlers, the President of Estonia, H.E. Mr. Toomas Hendrik Ilves, the President of Lithuania, H.E. Ms. Dalija Grybauskaité, the Prime minister of Latvia, Mr. Valdis Dombrovskis, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration of Luxembourg, H.E. Mr. Jean Asselborn, the Minister of Defence of Latvia, Mr. Imants Liegis, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Latvia, H.E. Mr. Maris Riekstiņš, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Estonia, H.E. Mr. Urmas Paet, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania, H.E. Mr. Vygaudas Ušackas, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Spain, H.E. Mr. Miguel Angel Moratinos, the EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus, Mr. Peter Semneby, the President of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, Mr. Craig Kennedy, as well as about 300 other academics, politicians, representatives of the non-governmental sector, commentators and journalists.

The opening panel of the Rīga Conference 2009 “Recovery from the Recession in the Baltics – What Lies Ahead?” featured prominent speakers as the Prime Minister of Latvia Mr. Valdis Dombrovskis, Member of European Parliament and former Prime Minister of Latvia Mr. Ivars Godmanis, Deputy Governor of the Bank of Estonia Mr. Märten Ross, Central and Eastern Europe Correspondent for The Economist Mr. Edward Lucas, Research fellow at the Baltic International Centre for Economic Policy Studies Dr. Vjačeslavs Dombrovskis. Discussion was moderated by the Professor of the Stockholm School of Economics in Riga Dr. Roberts Ķīlis.

The discussion was mainly focused on the three Baltic States, which were seriously affected by the world economic crisis. In this changing environment, Latvia is affected very strongly. However, some economic indicators show that the situation is gradually stabilizing, but still economic crisis has demonstrated an urgent need for reforms. In Latvia, these reforms are being implemented by reforming public administration, changing tax policy, reducing the state budget and reforming the health care system. While carrying out these reforms, Latvia will not give up its international commitments, for example, supporting the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan.

In In Estonia, the consequences of an economic crisis are becoming more visible, as it was projected in the initial stage of the crisis. However, it was stressed that this is not the time to change priorities – integration into the European Common Market and maintaining strong links with the Nordic financial sector. Latvian and Estonian representatives highlighted the objectives of both countries to adopt the Euro. Estonia focuses on introduction of the single European currency in 2011, but Latvia in 2012.

Some participants encouraged to draw attention to the fact that it is important to implement the necessary reforms timely and accurately. The time of crisis must be used for deep structural reforms. It was also pointed out that transport and energy sectors are closely linked to the Baltic security issue. In this situation of economic downturn, countries should responsibly exercise their social policies, paying special attention to unemployment and education.

On October 24, The Riga Conference discussions continued with the new challenges in a changing security environment. In the morning a discussion entitled “Providing Strategic Reassurance in Northern Europe” took place at the Small Guild between the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Latvia, H.E. Mr. Māris Riekstiņš, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Estonia, H.E. Mr. Urmas Paet, Deputy Prime Minister, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Immigration of Luxembourg H.E. Mr. Jean Asselborn, Executive Director of the German Marshall Fund’s US Transatlantic Center in Brussels, Dr. Ronald D. Asmus, Senior Analyst at Swedish Defence Research Agency, Dr. Robert Dalsjö. Discussion was moderated by Senior Researcher of the Danish Institute of Foreign Affairs Mr. Pertti L. Joenniemi.

The Participants discussed the new security challenges Northern Europe faces in a time of economic downturn. Taking into account the economic impact of the crisis, the discussion focused on the economic dimension of security. The participants acknowledged the close cooperation between the Baltic and Nordic countries. Opinions were divided on whether in a time of crisis the level of cooperation was sufficient or even stronger cooperation was needed.

The Northern region should become more visible in the work of various international organizations, especially in the framework of the G20 process. Participants noted the positive effects of the EU's future strategy in the Baltic Sea region, which will facilitate the financial and labor movements in Northern Europe.

Concerning the hard security, the situation in the region is stable. However, this situation can be even more improved by strengthening the Article 5 of the Washington Treaty. To ensure an even higher level of security, Northern European states also need to take into account new threats - energy disruptions, financial downturn and cyber attacks. NATO and the U.S. still remain important elements of security in this region.

In the panel discussion, which was dedicated to the security situation of the Black Sea region - Changing European Borders: A New Security Paradigm in the Black Sea Region. The discussion included speakers as the National Security Advisor to the President of Georgia, the Secretary of the National Security Council, Ms. Eka Tkeshelashvili, the EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus, Mr. Peter Semneby, Ambassador of Ukraine to the Russian Federation, First Deputy Secretary, National Security Council of Ukraine, H.E. Mr. Kostyantyn Gryshchenko, Member of the Parliament of Moldova Mr. Andrei Popov, and the Ambassador of the United States of America to Latvia, Ms. Judith G. Garber. The discussion was moderated by Prof. Dr. Rasma Kārkliņa, Professor of the Political Science Department of the University of Latvia and Adviser to the Minister of Defence of Latvia.

In the framework of the discussion participants addressed new security challenges in the Black Sea region. The events of August 8, 2008 showed Russia's aggressive policy and ability to change borders and alter the distribution of power. Such conduct is contrary to international law. Not only Georgia, but also Ukraine has suffered from a review of the borders – by activities of its Black Sea fleet, Russia has changed the de facto sea border with Ukraine. This action shows that Russia seeks to transform the Black Sea into an exclusive zone of Russian influence. The West should take into account this threat also affecting other Black Sea countries. It was recognized that the EU's Eastern Partnership is to serve as an instrument of stabilization, development and integration into the European market. The European Union should work more actively with the countries which have a desire for closer cooperation with the EU. Economic cooperation and national efforts will support stability and facilitate democracy. However, focus should not be on hard security alone, other forms of security should be a priority as well.

Speakers of the afternoon discussion titled “Milestones of the New Strategic Concept of NATO” were the Defense Minister of Latvia, Mr. Imants Lieģis, Member of the Strategic Advisors Group, Atlantic Council and Professor at the Royal Military Academy of the Netherlands, Dr. Julian Lindley-French, Senior Vice-President for EU, NATO and European Cooperation, Thales Group, Dr. Edgar Buckley, the Director of Deloitte Consulting and Former NATO Assistant Secretary General for Defense Investment, Marshall S. Billingslea, Brigadier General (ret.) of the German Army, Dr. Klaus Wittmann. The discussion was moderated by a Representative of the Group of Experts for Drafting NATO's New Strategic Concept, Mr. Aivis Ronis.

Participants discussed drafting process of NATO's New Strategic concept as well as its outcome. The new NATO Strategic Concept will be an entirely new document that will be created in today's global world context. The document should reflect the central place of collective defense, deterrence policy, assured by conventional and nuclear weapons. An emphasis on cooperation with NATO partner countries should also be made. One of the participants mentioned that the new strategic concept should be a kind of "social contract", which would be concluded not among countries and their leaders, but peoples. Content of the document must be consistent with the opportunities and resources available, emphasizing the need for risk-sharing and shared involvement. Authority of the Secretary General should be increased, as this would facilitate necessary structural reforms of the Alliance.

In the closing discussion under the heading "Transatlantic Agenda 2010 – A Baltic Vision", the Presidents of the tree Baltic States - the President of Latvia, H.E. Mr. Valdis Zatlers, the President of Estonia, H.E. Mr. Toomas Hendrik Ilves, and the President of Lithuania, H.E. Ms. Dalija Grybauskaité took part. The discussion was led by the President of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, Mr. Craig Kennedy.

President of Latvia Mr. Valdis Zatlers emphasized the need to promote confidence-building measures. He noted the need to strengthen economic and military cooperation between the Baltic States and the USA. This cooperation should be aimed at overcoming the economic crisis. The President of Lithuania, Ms. Dalija Grybauskaité, mentioned that the region faces new security challenges, but at the same time it must be able to cope well with the old security threats. It was stressed that the security of the Baltic States should not be different from its level in other NATO countries. Estonia's President Mr. Toomas Hendrik Ilves stated that Baltic security deficit issue is resolved, which alters relationship with other members of the Alliance.

The Rīga Conference 2009 was organized by the Latvian Transatlantic Organisation in co-operation with the Ministry of Defence of Latvia, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Latvia, the Baltic to Black Sea Alliance and the Commission of Strategic Analysis of Latvia under the auspices of the President of Latvia. The conference is supported by the German Marshall Fund of the United States, the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, the Soros Foundation Latvia, the Embassy of the United States in Latvia, and NATO. Mercedes-Benz passenger cars are provided by Domenikss Ltd - Authorized General Distributor of Daimler AG in Latvia.

The first Rīga Conference was held in 2006 during the NATO summit in Riga, providing a suitable forum for the world`s top politicians, diplomats, academics and commentators to discuss issues of international security. Since 2006, the Riga Conference has become an annual event achieving international recognition and marking Latvia on the world’s map as a meeting place of international policy experts and diplomats.