The role and development of terrorism in Latvia's foreign affairs


The threat of terrorism[1] remains an increasingly high security issue on a global scale. As in years before, 2016 also witnessed shocking and gruesome acts of one-sided violence targeted mostly at civilian populations. In the Western world, one immediately recalls Brussels attacks on 22 March, shooting in US nightclub in Orlando on 12 June[2], attack of the Istanbul airport on 28 June, and attack in Nice on 14 July. Yet, by far the most appalling instances of terrorism in terms of numbers of acts and casualties remain outside the West. Countries, such as Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Somalia, and Nigeria[3] still suffer the most from terrorism. In this grim picture, throughout the years Latvia has remained outside the scope of terrorist attacks. However, 23 % of the local population considers terrorism to be a serious threat to Latvia.[4] Yet it remains highly unlikely that Latvia may face direct threats of terrorism. A different picture arises by looking at these threats indirectly and how that may affect the security situation in the country. In terms of security, Latvia’s foreign policy rests on strong cooperation with its key partners, the EU, NATO, and the US. Over the years, Latvia has continued to facilitate and promote improved ties with its allies. Also for 2016, Latvia’s foreign policy goals were set to reflect on these values. These goals can be categorized in two sections: practical counter-terrorism and peace-keeping operations in various regions, and promotion of strategic cooperation and capabilities with partners; the layout of this paper will follow this categorisation. Firstly, an analysis of the 2016 aims and objectives set by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) in January 2016 will be provided. Secondly, assessing the level of achievement of these goals, the recommendations for 2017 will be set out. The recommendations will be impacted by the changing environment of the main terrorist threats globally but also by the new circumstances Latvia’s allies have found themselves in.


In the annual Foreign Minister’s report on achievements in 2015 and aims for 2016[5], continued focus on global and regional security is one of the five main Latvia’s foreign policy priorities. In this section, the underlying trend is to continue and strengthen cooperation within the EU, NATO, and with the Transatlantic partners: the US and Canada. While in all these aspects the priority was set for Latvia’s own security, this policy can only be achieved by addressing the security threats and challenges posed on regional and more global scale. The stronger and more secure the world is, the safer is also Latvia. In regards to terrorism as a security threat, the Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkēvičs’ address laid out several priorities that can be divided into two subsections: military assistance in volatile regions, and cooperation and capability improvements with close allies.

Perhaps the most direct fight against terrorism has been the international coalition to combat the Islamic State (IS) by eradicating its military, financial, and propaganda capabilities. The Foreign Minister raised a priority to consider whether Latvia should be involved in direct military cooperation within the international coalition. In addition, Latvia’s participation in international peace-keeping operations and training missions has been set as a strategic tool to promote and show its solidarity with partners. Latvia will continue participation in EU’s EUTM Mali operation. In addition to Mali, important is Latvia’s decision to participate in the UN peace-keeping operation (MINUSMA) in the country. Concerning NATO’s mission in Afghanistan, for 2016 the task has been to decide whether Latvia should remain active in Afghanistan by continuing to support the country’s national armed forces.[6]

In relation to cooperation with allies, Latvia has said to strongly support and aim towards improved and strengthened ties between EU and NATO. Important to mention is also the need for closer cooperation with Central Asian countries, particularly when it comes to fighting the rise of terrorism. This cooperation primarily has to be addressed through EU. Another task for 2016 was to support and welcome other countries to sign the Additional Protocol to the Council of Europe Convention on the Prevention of Terrorism (or Riga Protocol).[7]

Besides these objectives, which will be discussed in the analysis part, other related tasks include improving border control, countering possible hybrid threats, ensuring the EU’s political dialogue with the MENA region, and strengthening societal (both national and EU-level) “critical thinking capabilities”[8] through supporting and improving independent media[9] and strategic communication.[10]

As mentioned above, in the context of terrorism, the priorities listed by MFA can be divided into two sections. First, Latvia’s own involvement in military and peace-keeping operations abroad and, second, promotion and facilitation of partner cooperation and capabilities to counter regional terrorism threats. The former considers more pragmatic decisions and tasks that had to be tackled, hence, the results are much more obvious. The latter mainly deals with more conceptual challenges and ideals. For these tasks the result is not so clear-cut but rather depends on whether there has been any progress towards the goal. The following section will look more critically at these objectives that were laid out at the start of 2016 and analyse the level of success (or failure) of them.


Latvia’s Military Involvement in Training Iraqi Troops

Already in mid-January 2016, Saeima approved sending the Armed Forces specialists to Iraq as a part of the international coalition to fight IS. The proposed ten soldiers have been tasked to provide training and advisory role to the Iraqi troops.[11] For now, Latvia’s participation has been set until early 2018, but most likely will require an extension afterwards. This decision can be seen as a direct move to show Latvia’s key allies its willingness and seriousness to take part in cooperative measures to combat IS. The mission is to provide an advisory assistance to the Iraqi soldiers, an experience that Latvia’s troops have already tested in the years before in Afghanistan and Mali. By late 2016, the advancement of Iraqi troops to retake Mosul slowly comes with hard-fought successes, but one can expect that the actual liberation of the city will be a prolonged struggle, which might last throughout 2017. Even after such a key victory, the fight to regain sovereign control of Iraq’s territory will stretch past 2018. After that, the core issues will be to sustain and build towards peace. By already being part of the operation now, Latvia shows willingness to commit to a long-term operation in the future. This commitment is a welcome sign to Latvia’s allies. Though the importance will be to remain committed and engaged throughout the years even after 2018.

Continued Peace-Keeping Efforts in Mali

There are currently two operations the soldiers of Latvia’s Armed Forces are part of. First, the EU’s Training Mission (EUTM Mali), in which Latvia began its involvement in 2013. Information provided by the Ministry of Defence indicates seven soldiers of the Armed Forces are taking part in the mission.[12] The mandate of the mission is set until 2018. There have not been any major developments or changes compared to years before. Nonetheless, the support for Mali government’s fight against Al-Qaeda’s regional terrorist cell AQIM (al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) is an important task within the Sub-Saharan region. It is necessary to remain committed to the mission, which shows Latvia’s EU partners its willingness to assist, even though the region does not appear to be of topical concern in the current period.

Second, the United Nation’s Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). This is the first time Latvia has been part of a UN peace-keeping operation. The mission was approved by the parliament in early 2016. Initially it included one soldier but the aim has been to have up to three military personnel to participate in the operation. While the number might seem small, it portrays a direct result of France’s request for support in late 2015 after the deadly Paris terrorist attacks. Again, this shows Latvia’s commitment to its allies and is worth of a praise for a swift reaction in time when France had called for an assistance. Not only does it show solidarity for wider range of partners, it also puts Latvia on the map of peace-keeping assistance in the eyes of the UN; this contribution should be a positive step towards Latvia’s goal to have a seat in the UN Security Council in 2026.

Continued Participation in the NATO Mission in Afghanistan

The decision whether Operation Resolute Support (RS) in Afghanistan should continue was already decided before the NATO Warsaw Summit in mid-2016, while the Summit had to deal more with the technicalities and financial matters. After the combat operation had ended two years before, the main function of RS will remain capacity and capability development and improvement on an institutional level as well as provision of a “train-advise-assist” measures to the local forces.[13] One of the main difficulties for NATO in this regard is to find financial support to sustain the operation until 2020. After the Summit total commitment almost reached €4 billion,[14] which still falls short from the necessary €5.5 billion.[15] Latvia has pledged to annually commit approximately €460,000 from 2018 to 2020.[16] In terms of soldiers on the ground, Saeima approved up to 30 military personnel until the mandate expires at the end of 2016. Even though it appears this number was not reached,[17] the continuation of involvement is a positive step, but it is likely to be necessary to demonstrate an increased engagement. While financial contribution might not cause significant change, commitment to increase military presence is a more plausible tactic.


Riga Protocol Signing/Ratification

After signing the Riga Protocol in 2015, Latvia set in its agenda to welcome other member-states to sign and ratify the additional protocol. In October, 2015, 17 members of the European Council signed the protocol. As of mid-November 2016, the total number of signatures increased to 31, followed by 3 ratifications.[18] Although it is difficult to assess whether this increase is in direct relation with Latvia’s encouragement and diplomatic dialogue. What remains puzzling though is that Latvia itself has not yet ratified the Riga Protocol.[19] While this paper cannot argue the reasons and motivations behind such decision nor can it predict when such action will take place, it must be noted that in order to welcome others to join, Latvia should first set an example and ratify the protocol itself.

Cooperation between the EU & NATO

Both the EU and NATO have been on a path to improve cooperation already for more than a decade. The two institutions share most of the current security challenges. They also have 22 members in common. Latvia’s earlier objective was reaffirmed right before the NATO Warsaw Summit. Rinkēvičs stressed that the priorities of the EU-NATO cooperation are: “first, the coordination of early warning; second, cyber defence; and third, strategic communication and joint exercises in crisis management”.[20] The Warsaw Summit came with a successful signing of the EU-NATO Joint Declaration. The European Defence Action Plan is already on its way as well and is expected to be adopted in late 2016. This plan also aims to work in close synergy with NATO. The improved cooperation is a welcome sign of action in times of uncertainty. The past issues between the two institutions[21] have now moved to the background of more complex security threats in the neighbouring regions. Also, the British decision to leave the EU, as the strongest military in the Union and with the closest ties with the US, has caused the EU to rethink and redefine its posture as an international security actor.[22] It is difficult to assess Latvia’s individual involvement and facilitation of these events and developments. Though, given Latvia’s strong position on the matter, the results are an accomplishment for Latvia’s foreign policy. Still, the future holds a difficult task. The practical issues of joint EU-NATO cooperation will remain a challenge, for instance, what will be the practice of finding a path to complement each other’s ‘tool box’ rather than duplicating the work.[23] Also, a concern particularly for NATO will be not to lose the necessity for its military assistance in case the EU’s capabilities improve. From the perspective of Latvia, the proposal of EU army does not seem of appealing.[24]

Increased Cooperation with the Central Asian Countries

Latvia has been actively engaged in facilitating the EU-Central Asian cooperation for some time now. The cooperation is sought not only in economic and political spheres, but also in terms or regional and international security.[25] Progress in this regard was achieved by successfully placing Central Asian cooperation as one of the main priorities during the Latvian Presidency of the EU Council in 2015.[26] By doing so, Latvia managed to re-establish the role of the EU’s Special Representative for Central Asia and, hence, demonstrate the potential engagement of the EU in the region.[27] Also for 2016, Latvia had set a priority to continue its path to improve cooperation with Central Asian countries in fighting terrorism. Examples of engagement include the Rinkēvičs’ meeting with the EU Special Representative for Central Asia Peter Burian in late March, which occurred right before the international conference organised by the Latvian Institute of International Affairs together with MFA particularly on the topic of the EU’s Global Strategy and Central Asia.[28] Later, on 13 September 2016 at a conference organised by Slovakia’s EU presidency, the Latvian Foreign Ministry’s Parliamentary Secretary Zanda Kalniņa-Lukaševica, actively spoke on the necessity and significance of development cooperation with Central Asia. These examples show clear Latvia’s multi-level engagement (whether on a bilateral basis, or on the institutional EU level, or with active involvement of the civil society and NGOs). While certain activities take place, it is difficult to assess the improvement in comparison to the previous years, but the engagement is visible and welcomed. When it comes to terrorism and security threats, there is still a great concern of extremism in Central Asian countries. The negative effects and consequences of radicalisation in the region may be felt not only in Central Asia but also in the West.[29] Besides the concerns of corruption and human rights violations in some of the countries in the region, the presence of foreign fighters and radicalisation will continue to pose a great threat and challenges that require immediate priority. Unfortunately, these societal concerns often go hand-in-hand with radicalisation. If the security challenges are not dealt with accordingly, the economic and political potential the region holds will be questioned. Without long-term security and stability, the full potential of the region will not be achieved.


Before proposing recommendations for Latvia’s foreign policy for 2017, it is necessary to address the ‘elephant in the room’ – the surprising result of the US presidential elections. Like it or not, Donald Trump has been elected president. Due to his criticism towards NATO and suggestions on how to fight Islamic terrorism during his campaign, perhaps the biggest uncertainty of what the next year will bring internationally stems from the EU’s, NATO’s, and Latvia’s key ally. From anecdotal evidence, right after November 8, during the congratulatory messages, leaders of the EU[30], NATO[31], as well as Latvia[32] (also other countries) made clear reminders of the relationship each actor holds with the US, particularly in terms of common security concerns, and how this relationship must continue. This uncertainty arises in various forms. For NATO, Trump has criticised the alliance’s relevancy in the face of current global developments. He has also questioned NATO members’ commitment to the alliance if they do not fulfil their participatory duties of setting their military expenditure at 2% of GDP. In fight against terrorism and IS, Trump has advocated for more engaged military action in Syria and Iraq, rather than a continuation of the current form of assistance from the US and allies. Trump has used Brexit as a role model for his own campaigning, demonstrating his lack of belief in unified Europe. His election success has sparked newfound encouragement for the Eurosceptic parties in the Netherlands, France, and elsewhere. It is not yet clear whether Trump’s policy agenda will follow the suit of his earlier remarks. Yet, it would be naive to brush off these statements as just a campaign propaganda. Change will occur in the US foreign policy, and the rest of the world will be forced to adapt.

Military Presence in Regions

Considering the possible shift in global policy when dealing with countering terrorism, militarily Latvia will have to increase its presence and assistance in the three regions it is currently involved in. In Iraq, Latvia should advocate for a continuation of the international military assistance. The US may want to opt for a direct military involvement, but such a strategy is bound to increase tensions in an already volatile region. The direct fight against IS must remain in the hands of local forces, while Latvia can increase the assistance in Iraqi troop training. An increase in training personnel will reaffirm and reassure Latvia’s allies about its commitment to fight against IS.

The same applies to Mali. Latvia’s continued involvement in EUTM Mali and newfound participation in MINUSMA shows solidarity not only with France, which after Paris attacks plead for assistance to its EU members, but also signals to Europe that Latvia’s concerns for security and stability are not only related to its own direct threats that come from neighbouring region. In addition, by participating in its first UN peace-keeping operation (MINUSMA), Latvia increases its leverage after proposing its candidacy for the UN Security Council for 2026-2027. Participation in MINUSMA gives Latvian military personnel a new experience and in time should be gradually increased to show that for Latvia this is not only a symbolic move but also a legitimate security and stability concern. Ideally, the number could increase up to ten military personnel over several years. Though, faced with limited capabilities, for now the main priorities should remain with Iraq, Afghanistan, and EUTM Mali.

NATO’s commitment to continue its presence in Afghanistan is a welcome step. After the end of the military operation, the situation in the country is far from secure. Strengthening local forces is a positive step towards sustainable peace in Afghanistan. Latvia’s continued involvement in Afghanistan is a direct sign of solidarity with the alliance’s members (especially importantly now with the US). In addition, it demonstrates Latvia’s security concern within the wider Central Asian context that it also promoted through the EU. Presence in Afghanistan is a good way to show Latvia’s involvement with the EU and NATO concerns. Latvia should consider an increase in military personnel presence to reach the 30-soldier limit, it has approved.

Cooperation with Partners

Building and facilitating stronger cooperation between and within Latvia’s key allies should be a long-term process, particularly now in times of uncertainty that comes from the US. First, the practical objective of ratifying Riga Protocol should be achieved. With such an act, Latvia increases its leverage and standpoint as a committed ally in countering terrorism. Its duty should be to set an example of how even small states can take concrete steps in this direction.

The increased EU-NATO cooperation has seen major positive developments in 2016. It has been a welcome sign also in terms of Latvia’s policy agenda.

The current uncertainty over Trump’s foreign policy agenda, questions whether the US will continue its previous policies. It is likely that Trump will wish to increase the military position and status of the US. This is not necessarily a negative step, unless the US also wishes to confront and demonstrate more direct force in conflict regions. In this regard, Latvia, as a member of both, the EU and NATO, and as a strategic ally of the US, should facilitate a dialogue. Firstly, in order to better understand what the new US president actually wishes to achieve. Secondly, to promote the path that was set in 2016 where both organisations increased their communication and cooperation in order to complement each other’s strengths and alleviate weaknesses, instead of duplicating each other’s actions.

A key issue when dealing with the security situation in Central Asia is the way countries in the region fight terrorism and radicalisation. Often the radicalised individuals join the fight in Syria and Iraq, though the main concern is their return, especially noting that the fight against IS is in progress. If the climate in Syria and Iraq becomes too costly, the fighters are more inclined to return to their home countries. Hardened with battle experience and countered with difficulties to integrate back into the society, they are likely to engage in terrorist activities in Central Asia.[33] Recent studies suggest that the harsh government repressions against potential terrorist suspects only increase the rate of radicalisation in Central Asian countries.[34] The stigmatisation of religion in these countries[35] is one of the main drivers for radicalisation. Also, financial hardships contribute to this process.[36] Thus, Latvia should continue its active engagement with Central Asian countries and through the EU should promote a change in policy strategies that would improve the human rights situation in these countries. A crackdown and criminalisation of one’s religious sense of belonging only works in the hands of terrorist organisations, such as IS, who propagate this injustice and appeal to would be radicals to join the rebel groups.

Additional Considerations

Other aspects for consideration include the increased threats posed by IS in the West. With the diminishing capabilities and strength of IS in Syria and Iraq, a direct consequence of coalition’s military successes, the risk of retaliatory attacks in Europe may rise. Also, as the cost of remaining part of IS increases, it becomes more likely that the foreign fighters would return to their home countries. While there is no direct threat for Latvia, its eastern border may become an easier entrance into Europe than the traditional routes via Turkey. Additionally, the situation in Syria is likely to remain complex, in part, due to the number of actors involved, while the conflict in Iraq is much more ‘suitable’ for improvements. In this regard, it will be important to work towards sustaining the peaceful transition process. Western allies, including Latvia, should commit to a long-term assistance in institution and security building in the country.


For 2016 Latvia set out several foreign policy objectives to deal with the current trends and developments of global terrorism. These goals are both – practical steps that aim to facilitate peace in conflict regions, and more idealistic objectives that mainly deal with improving the cooperation and capabilities of Latvia’s allies. Concerning the practical aspects – the decisions made regarding Iraq, Mali, and Afghanistan are positive steps, which will not only facilitate the main objective of peace-keeping operations, but also show Latvia’s solidarity with and commitment to its key allies. For 2017, Latvia should continue this path and perhaps even increase its presence, particularly in Iraq. As for cooperation goals, it is often difficult to pinpoint direct causality of Latvia’s actions but progress has been made, especially when it comes to the EU-NATO cooperation. Also, cooperation with Central Asian countries has continued in 2016. Due to the changing environment in the US and possibly within some of EU countries, 2017 appears riddled with uncertainties. Latvia will have to manoeuvre as the uncertainties unfold, and aim to mediate between the partners to stay on the current

[1] Due to the limited nature of this analysis, the threats discussed are the ones that originate from radical Islamic terrorism. This does not exclude the existence of potential threats of other types of terrorism (e.g. ones that are not ideologically driven, but have a political objective).

[2] The perpetrator of the shooting had pledged allegiance to IS during the massacre, but evidence shows no direct link to the terrorist group.

[3] “2016 Terrorist Attacks,” ESRI, November 2016,

[4] “Pētījums: Lielākais 21.gadsimta drauds Latvijā ir nabadzība,” Diena, 15.02.2016,

[5] “Ārlietu ministra ikgadējais ziņojums par paveikto un iecerēto darbību valsts ārpolitikā un Eiropas Savienības jautājumos 2016,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Latvia, 05.01.2016,

[6] Ibid.

[7] “Ārlietu ministra ikgadējais ziņojums par paveikto un iecerēto darbību valsts ārpolitikā un Eiropas Savienības jautājumos 2016,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Latvia, 05.01.2016,

[8] Ibid.

[9] The Baltic Centre for Media Excellence, founded in November 2015, can be mentioned as an example in this regard.

[10] NATO Strategic Communications Centre for Excellence serves as an example.

[11] Kathleen J. McInnis, “Coalition Contributions to Countering the Islamic State,” Congressional Research Service, 2016,

[12] “Latvijas dalība starptautiskajās operācijās,” Ministry of Defence of the Republic of Latvia, 2016,; Information by MFA indicates only three soldiers participating in EUTM Mali. For more information: “Latvijas dalība starptautiskajās operācijās,” Ministry of Defence of the Republic of Latvia, 19.10.2016,

[13] “Fact Sheet: NATO’s Enduring Commitment to Afghanistan,” The White House, 09.07.2016,

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ian Anthony and Ian Davis, “The 2016 NATO Summit: What will be on the agenda in Warsaw?” SIPRI, 15.06.2016,

[16] “Bergmanis: Latvija turpinās sniegt atbalstu Afganistānai,” Ministry of Defence of the Republic of Latvia, 09.07.2016,

[17] Official data from NATO’s Resolute Support Mission shows that in July the troop contribution by Latvia was 21 soldier, 07.07.2016,

[18] “Chart of signatures and ratifications of Treaty 217,” Council of Europe, November 2016,

[19] Ibid.

[20] “Foreign Minister Rinkevics speaks in favour of decisions on closer cooperation between the EU and NATO at the European Council in June,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Latvia, 24.05.2016,

[21] The difficult Cyprus (EU but not NATO member) and Turkey (NATO but not EU member) relationship serves as an example.

[22] Nicole Koenig and Jekaterina Grigorjeva, “Three arguments for an ever closer EU-NATO cooperation,” Jacques Delors Institut Berlin. 21.07.2016,

[23] For instance, NATO’s Operation Ocean Shield and EU’s Naval Force Operation Atalanta. Both maritime operations aim to ensure safe passage of ships and protection from pirates along the coast of Somalia.

[24] Maris Andzans, “Prospects of the Development of the Common Security and Defence Policy of the European Union: Perspectives from Latvia,” in Andris Spruds and Diana Potjomkina (eds.) Coping with Complexity in the Euro-Atlantic Community and Beyond. Riga Conference Papers, Latvian Institute of International Affairs, 2016, 41-50.

[25] “Edgards Rinkevics: Latvia Contribues to the EU-Central Asia Dialogue,” European Dialogue, 24.12.2012,

[26] Gunta Pastore, “Leadership Through the European Union Council Presidency: Latvia and Central Asia,” Latvian Institute of International Affairs, March 2016,

[27] Sebastiano Mori and Leonardo Taccetti, “Rising Extremism in Central Asia? Stability in the Heartland for a Secure Eurasia,” European Institute for Asian Studies, February 2016,, 1-23.

[28] “Foreign Minister and EU Special Representative discuss developments in Central Asia,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Latvia, 31 March 2016,

[29] Sebastiano Mori and Leonardo Taccetti, “Rising Extremism in Central Asia? Stability in the Heartland for a Secure Eurasia,” European Institute for Asian Studies, February 2016,

[30] “Letter from Presidents Tusk and Juncker to congratulate Donald Trump on his election as the next President of the Unites States,” Council of the European Union, 09.11.2016,

[31] “NATO Secretary General congratulates US President-elect Donald Trump”, NATO, 09.11.2016,

[32] “Mūrniece: Esam gatavi turpmākai sadarbībai ar ASV jaunievēlēto prezidentu,” Diena, 09.11.2016,

[33] Abdul Aziz, “Terrorism in Central Asia: Different Names, Same Outcome,” Stratfor, 24.03.2016,

[34] Sarah Lain, “Strategies for Countering Terrorism and Extremism in Central Asia,” Asian Affairs, 2016: 47, 386-405.

[35] An example of this is Kazakhstan’s legislation on religion after violence in 2011. For instance, the new regulations require to re-register religious groups and ban prayer rooms in state institutions. Also in Uzbekistan, the law on religion can punish unregistered religious activities. For more see: Sarah Lain, “Strategies for Countering Terrorism and Extremism in Central Asia,” Asian Affairs, 2016: 47, 386-405.

[36] Ibid.

Publicēts 18. janvāris, 2017

Autors Olafs Arnicāns