There is no single specific document defining Latvia’s foreign policy, though various laws and policy planning documents unambiguously set the margins of Latvia’s foreign policy. In particular, they underscore that its membership in the EU and NATO as well as its strategic partnership with the US are cornerstones of its foreign and defence policies, as outlined further below.
Short-term priorities of external relations are addressed in declarations of governments (cf. the current declaration: Cabinet of Ministers of Latvia 2019) and annual reports of the minister of foreign affairs (cf. the latest report: Minister of Foreign Affairs of Latvia 2018).
Less parsimony can be seen with long-term national security and state defence documents. The National Security Concept (Saeima 2015) takes a wide view of national security, covering various military and non-military issues; it serves as an umbrella document for internal and external security issues. Russia here stands out as the most notable adversary (it is mentioned 43 times in the strategy alone, up from five times in the previous edition from four years earlier (Saeima 2011)). The Concept underlines that membership in NATO and the EU are the cornerstones of Latvia’s national security, while the role of the United Nations, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), and the Council of Europe are also noted with regard to international security issues. In terms of specific external regions, most attention in the Concept is devoted to the conflict in Ukraine, and the Middle East is also mentioned in the context of risks to Europe emanating from the region. In what can clearly be attributed to the whole-of-government approach, the document stresses that “[t]he spectrum of threats to the national security of Latvia exceeds the responsibility of the institutions of defence and interior system. […] [T]he whole public administration has to be involved in identifying, preventing and overcoming threats to the national security.” Furthermore, the Concept underlines the importance of having centralised management both in regard to policy and coordination, of having inter-institutional mechanisms that are constantly operational, and of having each institution manage issues falling under its respective responsibility (Saeima 2015). The State Defence Concept, which primarily focuses on military-security issues, largely stands in the same line with the National Security Concept in terms of inter-institutional cooperation and information exchange (Saeima 2016).
Latvia’s development-cooperation (aid) policy, as outlined in the Development Cooperation Policy Guidelines for 2016–2020, focuses on fostering sustainable development, eradicating poverty, and promoting the rule of law and good governance. In Latvia’s bilateral development cooperation, the priorities are the countries in the EU’s Eastern Partnership (especially Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine) and in Central Asia (especially Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan) along with places where Latvian soldiers or civilian experts are deployed. The development-cooperation policy is implemented by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with the support of other institutions and NGOs (Cabinet of Ministers of Latvia 2016).
All three of the aforementioned documents exemplify an integral whole-of government approach. The first two are well supported at the political level, and most of the priorities are backed by adequate resources, especially those falling under the responsibility of military authorities (since 2018, Latvia’s defence expenditures have amounted to 2 percent of GDP (Saeima 2017)). The same cannot be said about Latvia’s development-cooperation policy, which, though clearly defined, has lacked both financial and political support. For example, in 2017, Latvia provided the lowest net official development assistance (ODA) as a percentage of gross national income among all EU member states (0.11%), which was the second-lowest figure in the EU in absolute terms (USD 31.92 million) (OECD 2018). Given this, it is difficult to characterise Latvia’s development aid as a significant instrument in dealing with external crisis and conflicts.
The issue of funding can be viewed as a detrimental factor for a bolder and better-integrated whole-of-government approach and foreign policy in general. Funding for crisis-management issues is fragmented, with each of the institutions requesting and receiving funds for its own operational purposes. There is no dedicated funding for enhancing inter-institutional mechanisms for external affairs. There is also no clear and comprehensive human resources policy that would foster a whole-of-government approach. For example, there are no comprehensive training programmes for the government apparatus at the national level to foster inter-institutional cooperation (Official of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Latvia 2019; Official of the Ministry of Defence of Latvia 2019).
Finally, there are no explicit political initiatives to foster a smoother whole-of-government approach to external affairs. Granted, there is a clear understanding that no major issue concerning external crises and conflicts can be dealt with by one institution alone. But there has been no clear and consistent push to strengthen a multistakeholder approach that, among other things, would include targeted funding and a comprehensive role for civil society actors.