History has shown that the Baltic States cannot view their security in isolation from each other. Having learned this lesson, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania, along with building up their national armed forces, have extended and deepened their cooperation in defence matters. Cooperation on joint projects has been a useful experience for the Baltic States, enhancing their future interoperability as part of a wider group of nations in NATO.
BALTBAT, BALTRON, BALTNET and BALTDEFCOL - the four main Baltic cooperation projects
Since the mid-nineties, the three Baltic countries have implemented a number of joint military projects. The first and most important to be established were BALTBAT, BALTRON, BALTNET, BALTDEFCOL. The working language of all the projects is English. All have been assessed on numerous occasions as regards their conformity with NATO policies and operations.
Baltic Battalion (BALTBAT)
The formation of BALTBAT, a tri-national peacekeeping unit, commenced in late 1994. Today BALTBAT is a combined infantry battalion, capable of participating in peacekeeping operations and contributing to regional security. BALTBAT is based in Latvia.
BALTBAT has had extensive experience in peace operations in the Balkans. Since 1998, a company of BALTBAT soldiers has participated in operations in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Baltic Naval Squadron (BALTRON)
The Joint Baltic Naval Squadron (BALTRON) was established in 1997 to enhance the capabilities of the Baltic Naval Forces and coordinate the implementation of various naval tasks. First and foremost, however, BALTRON conducts mine clearance activities and search-and-rescue operations in the Baltic Sea, and seeks to bring the Baltic Navies in line with relevant NATO standards. BALTRON HQ is located in Estonia.
Recoginising the role of personnel training in the further development of BALTRON, the Baltic States Divers Training Center was opened in Liepaja, Latvia in September 2001. A Mine Countermeasures Training Center and Equipment Repair Center have also been established there.
BALTRON already participates in mine clearance operations in the Baltic Sea and has neutralised a considerable number of mines and other explosive materials.
Baltic Air Surveillance Network (BALTNET)
BALTNET was set up in 1996 to gather and coordinate airspace surveillance information. The goal of the initiative is to establish a unified air space surveillance system in all three Baltic countries and make it compatible with similar Western and NATO air defence systems.
The BALTNET system was launched in 2000, with a Regional Air Surveillance Coordination Centre (RASCC) established in Lithuania. The RASCC receives flight plan information and radar data from national civil and military radars in order to produce a Recognized Air Picture. Currently the security systems of the national centres and the RASCC are being upgraded to conform to NATO standards. By the end of 2004, Latvia will complete the full security accreditation of the national node of the BALTNET system. It is envisaged that from 2005, BALTNET data will be shared with NATO HQ in Brussels and most NATO C2 systems.
Baltic Defence College (BALTDEFCOL)
The BALTDEFCOL project was initiated in 1998 to provide training for senior staff officers and civilians. The College is located in Tartu, Estonia. On completing studies at the College, graduates are ready for work on international staffs, serve as chiefs of staff of military regions or at infantry brigade level, work in policy-making and long-term planning positions in the Ministry of Defence or on the General Staff, or train officers in their respective national armed forces.
Fourteen NATO, NATO Partner and invited countries had officers at BALTDEFCOL during the academic year 2002/2003, with Hungary and Georgia represented for the first time. Six students from the reformed army of Bosnia and Herzegovina are also studying at BALTDEFCOL. A lecturer from Latvia has been a member of the permanent staff of the college since 2000.
Joint projects currently being implemented include setting up a registration and management system for persons subject to military service (BALTPERS), the establishment of a Baltic medical unit (BALTMED) and a joint Baltic Logistics System (BALTLOG). Recently a unified Baltic information system (BALTCCIS) has been launched with its central server located in Latvia, Baltic Distance Learning (BALTDISLEARN) has been established, and cooperation is being established in the areas of military environmental protection and operational planning.
The joint acquisition of a radar is an important step toward establishing a joint procurement practice
Latvia continues to evaluate procurement issues together with the other two Baltic States where appropriate. In 2002, the Latvian and Estonian Ministries of Defence jointly acquired Lockheed-Martin 3D long-range radars that will provide coverage of the air space of all three Baltic States and some bordering districts of Russia and Belarus. The radar system will be put into operation by the end of 2003.
Acquisition of new Javelin anti-tank missiles is in the planning stage.
Baltic defence cooperation is also an asset for NATO
Latvia considers that a coordinated defence policy improves the defence capacity of all three Baltic States, enabling them to make a greater contribution to the North Atlantic Alliance, and aims to further explore areas in which the Baltic States could jointly specialize in order to provide well-defined and significant capabilities to NATO.
Experience acquired in the course of implementing joint projects has helped the Baltic States develop political and military interoperability, and establish the culture of compromise and consensus necessary for successful cooperation within NATO.
Foreign assistance has contributed to closer Baltic defence cooperation
Assistance from the international donor community on security and defence-related matters is coordinated by the Baltic Security Assistance Group BALTSEA. Both donors and recipients consider it more feasible to develop projects and carry out training and other activities jointly.
BALTSEA has made it possible not only to avoid duplicating workloads and putting conflicting systems in place, but also bring defence planners and the military of the three Baltic countries and other partners closer together. However, for a number of years there has been a general tendency towards the gradual "baltification" of joint projects, meaning that responsibility is being increasingly taken on by the Baltic States themselves.