Paramilitary: Total Mobilization On The Baltic

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May 28, 2017: Latvia, like the other two Baltic States, is not just spending more money on defense but also implementing many reforms in an effort to deal with return of the Russian military threat and the fact that the three Baltic States are tiny compared to Russia and in need of some new thinking on how to keep the Russians out.

In light of this most Latvians accept the new “total mobilization” policy which provides more opportunities for all citizens to participate. The voters would not revive conscription but so far there has been sufficient willingness by military age men (and many women) to join or otherwise support the largely part-time military. There are now voluntary programs in high schools where students can receive basic military training. Other countries have found that programs like this enable many potential recruits to see if they have any aptitude and interest in this sort of thing. Many find that they do and those who are not really good at it discover that as well. The military is also establishing a Summer Training program in which students can volunteer for several weeks (or more) of full time training. There is now money for National Guard units to conduct training that can get expensive (like how to obtain lumber and other materials locally to build roadblocks and other obstacles). There is also more money for part time soldiers to practice their marksmanship and using other weapons (grenades, mortars, anti-tank rockets, explosives in general).

Like the other two Baltic States Latvia is tiny (population two million) and 0nly 61 percent of that is ethnic Latvian while 25 percent is ethnic Russian. Defense spending is only half a billion dollars a year (1.7 percent of GDP). Latvia, like the other Baltic States plans to increase defense spending to two percent of GDP by the end of the decade but even then that is not a lot.

The current Latvian armed forces are quite small. There are 4,600 active duty troops and 8,400 in the National Guard. Many of the troops who complete a term of active service join the 12,000 strong reserve force and many also join the National Guard. The Latvian military is very similar to what Sweden, Switzerland and Israel have used. The small number of full time troops are there mainly to train and support the 20,000 part time personnel.

The Latvian National Guard is more like the American National Guard in that it devotes a lot of its training and organization to dealing with natural or other emergencies in a specific part of the country. But the Latvian personnel are armed and improving their military skills enthusiastically and often on their own time. It’s all about the Russian threat, which has been around for a long time.

Since Latvia joined NATO in 2004 they have had ample opportunity to test their system by mobilizing reserve and National Guard units more frequently for training, often with other NATO troops. Because Latvia went all-volunteer in 2005 they have no problem getting troops to go overseas on peacekeeping duty. Meanwhile Estonia and Lithuania have revived conscription and Latvia will monitor how that goes and that will influence future efforts to revive it in Latvia.

There is also more sharing of ideas with the other Baltic States. For example in late 2016 neighbor Lithuania issued a 75 page “how to survive another Russian occupation” manual for its citizens called; "Prepare to survive emergencies and war." All three Baltic States have plenty of experience with being invaded and occupied by Russia and wants to remind its citizens what works, especially now that the Baltic States have a mutual defense treaty with the United States and all other NATO members. Latvia has a Mobilization Law which covers all this and the bit of legislation is in a constant state of upgrade and revision.

The “prepare to survive” guide provides tips that resonate with most Russian neighbors. Thus the guide tells how to behave when dealing with the invader while also spying on the occupation force. The manual provides illustrations and description of most Russian weapons and details of how the Russians use secret police, local informants and special operations troops to try and control an occupied population. The manual also points out that Russia will send in agents (or activate ones it has already recruited) before an invasion and provides tips on how to detect the presence of these agents, especially in preparation for an imminent invasion.

Latvia is not alone in doing this sort of thing. Since the Soviet Union fell apart many Russian neighbors have feared a revival of the traditional Russian aggression. Thus in 2004 Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia joined NATO, putting parts of the former Soviet Union (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) within NATO and on Russia’s border. Many Russians do not like this, for Russian policy since 1945 has been to establish a "buffer" of subservient countries between Russian territory and the rest of Western Europe (especially Germany). This attitude is obsolete in a practical sense but old habits die hard.

The Russian government said it was willing to work with NATO in areas of mutual benefit but that did not work out. Now there is a state of undeclared war between Russia and NATO. These new NATO members are more worried about the renewed Russian aggression than the original NATO members (the U.S. and Western Europe). The nations of “east NATO” are asking for more presence by troops from “west NATO.” Some of the eastern members (especially Poland and the Baltic States) have called for the permanent basing of U.S. troops on their territory. The smaller states Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania believe Russia could overrun them in two days and senior NATO military commanders openly agree. Russia considers such talk more evidence of NATO aggression against Russia. Lithuanians have heard this kind of talk from Russia before and want to avoid the usual outcome.

 


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