The Challenge, article by Sandra Kalniete, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Latvia, published in the daily newspaper Diena, 4 February, 2003

02.12.2014. 19:09

The Challenge,

article by Sandra Kalniete, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Latvia,

published in the daily newspaper Diena, 4 February, 2003

Currently a debate on the situation in the Middle East is intensifying in Latvia. I am following it closely and with great interest, as this discussion is the most convincing testimony to

- the freedom of expression as enshrined in our Constitution and other legislation having become the norm of social behaviour;
- the civil society that has emerged in Latvia.
- the fact that the legacy of totalitarianism has been overcome also in this essential component of democracy; and
- the sense of responsibility of Latvia's people for processes taking place in the world.

In my opinion, however, the most crucial question has somehow been obscured in this discussion: why has the Iraqi regime become the focus of world attention? Saddam Hussein is no victim of international conspiracy, but rather a ruthless tyrant, and the totalitarian regime that he has created carries out violence against his own people and threatens other nations.

There is a strange ring to the references to possible civilian casualties, and to non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries. Could it be that we have forgotten our own history? In earlier times we ourselves had to pay a very high price in blood for the consistent application of the non-intervention principle. Stalin and his successors were allowed a free hand to conduct a reign of terror against ten million people in the Soviet Union and the countries of Europe relegated to the Soviet sphere of influence. Did not innocent civilians suffer then? No one intervened either in 1956, when the people of Hungary rose up against totalitarianism. This uprising was ruthlessly suppressed by the Soviet Union, and the names of 22 600 civilians killed along with 150 000 who suffered repression were written into the annals of history. The outcome of the Prague Spring of 1968 was similar: about 1000 civilians were killed or injured, while over half a million were subjected to reprisals. In China, Cambodia, Poland, and in many other places innocent people have had to suffer under totalitarian regimes. Similarities are evident to what is happening currently in Iraq.

The issue is not whether someone prefers a military solution. Neither the USA, nor the countries of Europe want a military solution. Saddam's negative attitude towards the UN Security Council's unanimous demands - as expressed in Resolution 1441 - for Iraq's voluntary disarmament does not leave much hope for the efficacy of a solely diplomatic solution.

In the last 12 years the UN Security Council has adopted sixteen resolutions on Iraq. How effective these diplomatic efforts have been in achieving Saddam's disarmament can be seen from the recent reports of UN inspectors Blix and El Baradei, who state that:

- Iraq has not been able to explain and provide documentary confirmation of the whereabouts of 26 000 liters of anthrax bacteria and 38 000 liters of botulin, 1.5 tons of VX nerve-paralyzing agent, etc;
- Iraq has not provided a verifiable answer to the question of the whereabouts of 6500 chemical bombs that were in its possession at the end of its war with Iran;
- Iraq has been unable to explain the origin of the 12 rocket heads found by the inspectors;
- it has been confirmed that Iraq has illegally imported 380 rocket engines and has tested rockets with a range of more than the permitted 150 kilometers.

Chemical, biological and the deadliest of atomic weapons in the hands of irresponsible regimes can lead to incalculable consequences and the loss of thousands of innocent lives. If the organisers of the terrorist acts of September 11 had had access to weapons of mass destruction, the number of victims would have numbered in the hundreds of thousands at least.

Latvia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs remembers how many citizens and residents of Latvia were in New York during that fateful time, and how the telephones rang continuously at the crisis center that had been established by the Ministry, as relatives and friends sought news about their loved ones. It was our good fortune that nobody from Latvia was buried under the Twin Towers.

How profound was Latvia's empathy for the ordeal of the Zelcerman family, when three of its members had become hostages in the Moscow theater siege last autumn. Theses experiences make me loathe to even consider the horror that could have arisen had anthrax spores from Iraqi laboratories been scattered in the skies above New York or another city on September 11!

The situation in Iraq is a kind of test for the international community of whether violations of internationally recognized norms regarding weapons of mass destruction are tolerated, of whether the international community can bring about compliance with these norms.

Other undemocratic regimes are watching the course of events and drawing their own conclusions for the future. If the international community is not able to react adequately to Iraq's violations, maverick regimes would feel free to make new attempts to obtain weapons of mass destruction. Therefore we cannot wait for the next terrorist attack so that later we might rue the consequences. We need to forestall a situation where irresponsible regimes can freely develop weapons of mass destruction, and where terrorists can gain access to these weapons. Clearly, Latvia is worried that civilians may become casualties in a possible conflict, as indeed are other members of the UN. But it is important to recall that the Iraqi people are suffering now. Even the UN's Oil for Food program has become a means of personal enrichment for Saddam's clique, and a source of revenue for his research program on weapons of mass destruction.

I am also astonished by the views of some Western intellectuals who claim that the Iraqis truly support and love Saddam, who conclude that the Iraqis have made their choice and that democracy and human rights cannot be established by force. Looking at the drawn features and the remote expressions of the Iraqis publicly demonstrating their loyalty to their leader, I am not convinced. It is, however, quite possible that there is no lack of people who believe in Saddam's fatherly nature.

Every totalitarian regime has a Macchiavellian ability to stifle the human spirit to the point where the abnormal is accepted as normal. At Stalin's funeral there was hysterical collective mourning, but after public revelations about the atrocities of the Stalin regime the souls of the tormented could be reborn. Nonetheless the "softer" wave of totalitarianism that followed put a halt to this process. I can imagine how the women of Iraq must feel, looking at their sick, half-starved children - the parallels with that which has been experienced so many times are clear. Just as a nation's rush of anger swept away Ceausescu and Milosevic, a similar fate to the Iraqi regime should come as no shock. As soon as a certain amount of truth about a totalitarian regime becomes known, people tend to regain their senses and recovery can begin. However, full recovery takes much longer. We know this from our own experience.

Saddam Hussein's regime has acted despotically against its own people, using chemical and biological weapons against them. In 1980 these weapons were employed against a number of villages inhabited by Kurds. In the space of a few minutes, several thousand people were annihilated. There are grounds to suspect that these weapons were used repeatedly against peaceful civilians. In 1983, 8000 Kurdish men were shot. From 1987 to 1988 alone, according to Amnesty International figures, Iraq killed more than 100 000 of its own people. Inhumane punishments are practised in Iraq: amputation of various parts of the body; branding; the cutting off of ears, tongues or noses. Many thousands of Iraqi refugees are scattered throughout the world, and they have nowhere to return to, as they are politically persecuted and subject to repression in their homeland. Let us not be fooled that Saddam Hussein speaks for the Iraqi people.

The use of force against Iraq is in no way an attack on the Islamic world. This is understood by Iraq's neighbours, the Arab states that are helping the US and Britain keep up the military pressure on Saddam's regime. The religious fanaticism promoted by the regime of Saddam Hussein is another thing altogether. This fanaticism does not promote tolerance and is one of terrorism's main pillars of support, not because it is supported by the broad masses, but rather because it is manipulated by small numbers of individuals.

I will not dwell on the many other parallels which link Saddam's regime with its historical predecessors. Suffice it to say that the deceitful declarations of former Soviet leaders denying the existence of a broad range of weapons of mass destruction, or indeed their denial that the USSR systematically supported a number of terrorist groupings through provision of weapons, make it difficult to believe Saddam Hussein's assertions that there are no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. If he has such weapons, then the danger of them falling into the hands of terrorists cannot be ruled out. The inability of the international community to obtain a clear overview of the situation threatens international security.

Since the events of September 11 it is the task of every responsible head of state to take preventive measures against similar tragedies, and to ensure that weapons of mass destruction do not fall into the hands of terrorists. Afterwards will be too late. Admittedly, it is very difficult to decide on the need to avert threats before they have done real damage, particularly if these preventive measures may well lead to the loss of innocent lives.

In this context Afghanistan deserves to be mentioned. Everyone knew for several years that it was becoming a haven for international terrorists. Action only followed after many thousands of civilians lost their lives in the World Trade Center.

Of course, the ideal solution to the issue of Iraq would be a unanimous decision by the UN Security Council on the forcible disarmament of Saddam, thereby giving a clear signal that the prolonged game of cat-and-mouse is over. Saddam has demonstrated that he understands only the language of force, and it would be naive to hope that any new facts or arguments would force him to comply. Therefore it is doubtful whether we should drag our heels and allow Iraq to once again ignore a UN decision. The inspectors need to be given more time, but this cannot be prolonged interminably. The timeframe in which Iraq can still take steps to avoid a military solution needs to be clearly defined.

Security is now indivisible, and in the current situation nations cannot by themselves guarantee their own security. A crisis at any point on the globe can, through a domino effect, have direct or indirect repercussions across the entire world. The Latvian public needs to understand that we cannot stand by and hope that nobody threatens us because we threaten nobody. Those frightened by the prediction that our active involvement in the regulation of the crisis in Iraq will heighten the risk of terrorism in Latvia should remember Indonesia. British intelligence warned Indonesia about possible acts of terrorism, but the majority - there preferred to believe that non-involvement is a guarantee of security. What followed was the Bali tragedy.
Latvia has learned from its historical mistakes and immediately upon regaining independence renounced the policy of neutrality that had been declared in the interwar period. In 2002 we received an invitation to become a member of NATO, but we need to be aware that NATO is not just an organisation that provides security guarantees. NATO also places on its members the responsibility of being an Ally and of promoting security both within the Alliance and, in line with the unanimous decisions of the Prague Summit, to be prepared to take preventive action against serious security threats, should they develop beyond the Alliance's borders.

We need to be aware that our participation in international organisations is not sufficient to safeguard achievements of Latvia's foreign policy. Everything depends on our own activity and on our ability to find allies. I do not agree that small nations cannot influence the course of international events. At times it is precisely the smaller nations that exhibit more resolve than the great powers. For example, the first country to internationally recognize Latvia was Iceland, thereby opening the way for other countries to do the same. Similarly, the seven newest NATO members, with their historical experience, their political will and their determined action, can strengthen the unity of the United States and its European allies.

To those that like to speak of "our brothers riding off to foreign wars" who will "lay down their lives in foreign lands", I would like to call to mind the year 1940. Then, Latvia's government chose not to help Finland defend itself against Soviet aggression. Latvia's occupation followed, during the first year of which alone every sixth Latvian soldier was subjected to repression, a total of 4665 military personnel in all, of which 3395 disappeared without a trace.

Latvia and the Baltic States have special relations with the United States, which for many years consistently refused to recognize the incorporation of the Baltic States into the USSR. The example provided by the US inspired others from among the world's democracies to follow suit. I am deeply grateful to the United States for the preservation of Latvia's de iure status, just as I will always feel grateful to the US for protecting free Europe from fascism and communism. The noble meaning of solidarity and the responsibilities of an ally become particularly understandable when one sees the unending lines of white crosses in the graveyards of fallen American soldiers in Normandy. Since September 11, the people of America find themselves in a state of war with terrorism. Keeping in mind the US support to Europe in the two bloodiest wars of the 20th century, our duty now is to stand in solidarity with the American people.