Latvia faces loss of U.S. military aid

Latvia might lose USD 3 million or more in U.S. military aid because it hasn’t agreed to exempt American military and government officials from being brought before the new International Criminal Court, according to one Latvian diplomat.

It came as little surprise when U.S. State Department officials announced July 1 that more than 30 nations, including Latvia, would lose military aid, said Rihards Muciņš, a senior diplomat in the Latvian Embassy in Washington, D.C.

Last year, the U.S. Congress passed the American Servicemembers’ Protection Act, which calls for restrictions on foreign military aid to countries that fail to sign so-called Article 98 agreements. The deadline for signing the agreements was June 30.

Article 98 is part of the Rome Statute, the 1998 treaty that set up the International Criminal Court. Latvia ratified the treaty in June 2002. But the U.S. government, fearing that the court might be used as a political weapon, has refused to become a party. And it has pressured countries around the world to sign agreements that under Article 98 would not allow them to turn over American military and government officials to be tried by the international court.

Latvia, whose government is intent on bringing the country into the European Union, announced late last month that it would not sign the protocol—in line with an EU policy that supports the court and frowns on granting impunity.

“We’re caught between two millstones,” Muciņš told Latvians Online.

The Latvian Ministry of Defense still is calculating exactly how much of an impact the U.S. decision will have on its budget. Latvia has been counting on the military assistance as it prepares to join the NATO defense alliance, but Muciņš said the lost money won’t impede the nation’s progress.

Military aid that already has been allocated in the current fiscal year will still be disbursed, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said during a July 1 press briefing.

Latvian officials also don’t expect the United States to freeze aid for Latvian participation in peacekeeping and humanitarian efforts in Iraq, Muciņš said.

Several nations are exempted by the United States from signing the Article 98 protocol, including members of NATO. But their pending membership doesn’t exclude the Baltic republics or other NATO candidates.

“They are subject to the provisions of the act,” Boucher said in a June 30 briefing at the State Department. “We would note that Romania has signed an Article 98 agreement with us, and we continue to advise these countries, as well as others, of the importance of signing Article 98 agreements with us.”

At least 50 nations have signed Article 98 agreements and a total of 134 receive some sort of military assistance from the United States, according to the State Department.

In Congresss, two bills that would exempt Latvia and the other NATO candidate countries from having to sign Article 98 agreements remain under consideration.

Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) introduced his bill June 19 in the House of Representatives. It was approved June 26 by the Subcommittee on Europe and sent on to the full House International Relations Committee.

Rep. Doug Bereuter (R-Neb.), chair of the subcommittee, told his fellow representatives that it would be fair to treat the candidate countries the same way as NATO’s full members.

“Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia are small countries that have had to build their militaries from scratch after regaining their freedom from Soviet occupation,” Bereuter said in his statement to the subcommittee. “The relatively modest assistance from the United States is helping them to develop niche capabilities like explosive ordnance disposal teams, military police, and mine-hunting ships—capabilities that NATO needs.”

But an aide to Shimkus admitted to Latvians Online that “it doesn’t look good” that the legislation will be approved.

Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) introduced a similar bill June 24 in the Senate, where it remains before the Committee on Foreign Relations.

The International Criminal Court is based in The Hague. Anita Ušacka of Latvia, elected in February, is one of a number of judges serving three-year terms on the court.

Andris Straumanis is a special correspondent for and a co-founder of Latvians Online. From 2000–2012 he was editor of the website.

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