Latvia continues to shift to the military rails

LATVIA – «Defensive» conscription

The Saeima Committee on Defence and Home Affairs made the expected decision this week to continue reviewing a package of draft laws related to the introduction of national defence service in Latvia. In fact, the green light was given to return to the compulsory military conscription.

Latvia continues to shift to the military rails

It is possible to look for differences and similar features of the conscription service that was in Latvia from 1992 to 2006, but one thing is clear: Latvia is slowly but surely shifting to the military track, i.e. preparing for all possible scenarios, including the worst – war.

Somebody continues to «reproach» the former Minister of Defence Artis Pabriks for coming up with the fix idea of conscription on the eve of elections in order to get more political points. But let us be realistic: in the current situation and in conditions when all the neighbouring countries have compulsory conscription, Latvia would hardly survive long without creation of its own system of conscription.

Even before the elections, rumours were actively spread that the military service was imposed or almost forced on us by American allies. Of course, this version cannot be ruled out either, but it is unlikely that the Americans care very much whether we will have a few hundred more or fewer soldiers.

Total defence

One way or another, it must be understood that the establishment of the conscription system is only part of the overall new, if you like, security concept of the LR. It consists of total reinforcement of all types of defence.

It includes purchase of air defence systems, strengthening of coastal defence, creation of additional military bases, including those that are located close to Latvia’s eastern borders… It includes expansion of military presence of military and equipment of other NATO countries on Latvian bases…

It is obvious that Latvia will have to create an effective, modern civil defence system almost from scratch. We would venture to say that we still have an overwhelming majority of people who do not know what to do in the event of natural disasters, military attack, or other emergencies.

The occasional brochures are, to put it mildly, not the most effective way of teaching residents how to deal with emergencies. A modern civil defence system is perhaps even more important than conscripting young men.

Conscripts will also have alternatives

But let us return to conscription itself. In essence, it is not simply a return to conscription for a relatively short period – 12 months in fact, with one month’s leave taken into account. It is the creation of an entirely different system of service for the benefit of the state.

Firstly, an alternative civilian service system should be created in parallel. By the way, there is not even a draft law on the horizon – according to rumours, it is expected to appear closer to the spring of next year. This would allow those guys who cannot serve in the army for good reasons and cannot take up arms, to fulfil their civilian duty by working, for example, in social institutions, hospitals and the internal affairs system (in particular, fire and rescue services).

The circle of men who do not need to be called up for military service has to be clearly defined. No, we are not talking about exemption from conscription for health reasons, it is already clear. But, for example, what is the point of conscription of medical students, i.e. future doctors?

It would be more logical to create a special military department for medics, where they would be trained both in military field medicine and even in skills of handling weapons. Perhaps police officers should continue their service in the police force as well…

If we talk about compulsory military service itself, this would involve a completely different system for the National Armed Forces. The issue of building new barracks for conscripts, medical care for conscripts, uniforms and weapons for conscripts, and training of instructors will all have to be addressed.

Voluntarily at first. And if they don't want to...

Yesterday, at the meeting of the Defence Commission, the Defence Ministry made the following forecast: starting from July, the Defence Ministry may announce the voluntary military conscription of 18 and 19-year-old boys who will join the army voluntarily for 11 months. If there are not enough volunteers, the “deficit” will be made up by… a lottery. That is, by means of a lottery it will be decided which of the young men of conscription age will still be “taken as soldiers”. In this case, a maximum of 300 people are to be drafted next year.

As far as one understands, the real draft – already in a compulsory manner – will begin in 2024. Apparently, the Defense Ministry expects that by that time, the military department will have additional funds to accommodate, train, feed and equip conscripts…

It was initially planned that by 2028, we will have 7500 conscripts, including not only National Armed Forces soldiers proper, but also those who choose to serve in Zemessardze. Service in Zemessardz, by the way, is another option for men of conscription age from 18 to 27. The advantage is that Zemessardze soldiers will not have to live in barracks for 11 months. They will only be away from home a few times a year – during short-term training camps. But the service itself will extend over several years.

It should be noted that girls of the same age, from 18 to 27, will be able to serve in the army, but voluntarily.

It should be recalled that recently a people’s initiative was submitted to the Sejm, whose author advocated strictly voluntary military service. However, the Saeima decided not to promote this initiative, which had collected more than 10,000 signatures of Latvian citizens. Apparently, the deputies do not believe that there will be too many volunteers… Especially considering the paltry «regimental allowance» to be paid monthly to conscripts about 300-400 euros a month.

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