Latvia’s approach to national security should be viewed as part of the Nordic-Baltic security architecture and, as such, a vitally important part of wider Euro-Atlantic security. The new National Security Concept is therefore significant in the context of known regional, global, and local threats.
Given Latvia’s geographic location and current political status, it will not come as a surprise that Russia, and increasingly Belarus, are identified as the main threats. Latvia’s sophisticated internet infrastructure is also reflected in a refreshed and detailed section on cyber threats.
Priority areas for strengthening national security in the document include the continued boosting of military capabilities and NATO cooperation, as well as increased resistance to influence operations from Russia.
The concept highlights wider societal resilience in ensuring national security and points at a variety of domestic factors that challenge resilience, from demographic decline and social inequality to radicalization.
Given the range of hybrid threats, the analysis points to civil society and institutions, and the need to identify and tackle vulnerabilities. “The most effective way to tackle hybrid threats is to foster national and collective resilience,” it says. “Hybrid threats concern both the state and civil society, which is why the approach to strengthening resilience should include all public administration and all society.”
Yet it is exactly in its treatment of societal resilience that the concept falls short. While the analysis of global and regional threats is accurate, the priorities to address these are structured in a formal, traditional way, addressing military and information issues adequately but faltering when it comes to key responses to hybrid risk.
As highlighted in the analysis of the NATO reflection group known as NATO 2030, authoritarian regimes target democratic societies, distorting the information environment to undermine trust in democratic institutions.
This is exactly what the authoritarian regimes in Russia and Belarus have been doing in the Baltic states, by spreading disinformation about Covid vaccines or creating clouds of misinformation around the Belarus border crisis. The latter was a hybrid attack par excellence, instrumentalizing all vulnerabilities, from weak border infrastructure to societal polarization around developing world migration.
In view of this highly sophisticated ecology of hybrid threats, the countermeasures suggested by Latvia’s new concept are simplistic and somewhat one-sided.
The country is home to a Russian-speaking minority composing around a quarter of the population, and the risk of ethnic polarization is mentioned in the document. But rather than tackling the threat by building trust between the different linguistic communities, and creating positive identification with Latvia among Russian speakers, it proposes an imposed uniformity.
Methods suggested include increasing the presence of monuments to celebrate significant figures in Latvian history in public spaces, and ensuring the Latvian information space is increasingly free of the Russian language. The document even makes a point of closing down Latvia’s public broadcasting in Russia by 2026 — a proposal that has already provoked uproar among Russian-language commentators.
This is a mistake – and should be addressed even though the Latvian Parliament has already voted on the document. The media consumption habits of Latvia’s Russian speakers suggest that many will simply not switch to news and commentary in Latvian if there is a ban. Instead, they would seek information in Russian elsewhere — a void the Kremlin’s disinformation machine would be delighted to fill.
The good news is that the mistake is relatively easy to correct since the concept was developed under the previous government, in which public media policy was the remit of the right-wing National Alliance. The new coalition, in which both defense and media policy fall under the center-left Progressives, should have no difficulty correcting the error.
It would also be wise to strengthen the role of strategic communications in the sections on hybrid threats. Improved communications, such as maintaining the line that Latvia’s Russian speakers belong to Europe and not to Russia, would produce more resilience in domestic audiences and in the institutions that underpin democracy, and that is exactly what Latvia and the Baltics need in the face of the current geopolitical turmoil.
Marija Golubeva is a Distinguished Fellow with the Democratic Resilience Program at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA). She was a Member of the Latvian Parliament (2018-2022) and was Minister of the Interior from 2021-2022. A public policy expert, she has worked for ICF, a consultancy company in Brussels, and as an independent consultant for European institutions in the Western Balkans and Central Asia.
Europe’s Edge is CEPA’s online journal covering critical topics on the foreign policy docket across Europe and North America. All opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position or views of the institutions they represent or the Center for European Policy Analysis.