Cablegate: Poll: Latvians Feel Secure; Support National Defense

DE RUEHRA #0579/01 2121438
P 311438Z JUL 07




E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Poll: Latvians feel secure; support national defense
policy, but question international military missions

1. (SBU) Summary: An annual opinion poll commissioned by the
Ministry of Defense (MoD) in December 2006/January 2007 confirms the
tendency shown by previous polls commissioned by the MoD since 2000:
the majority of Latvian residents consider Latvia a safe country and
in general support the government's policies in the area of
security. Contrary to the poll commissioned by the Ministry of
Foreign Affairs in September 2006, the poll commissioned by the
Ministry of Defense shows rather small support for participation of
Latvian soldiers in international peace-keeping missions. The
discrepancy might be explained by death of two Latvian soldiers in
Iraq at the time the MoD's poll was carried out. In addition, the
availability of only excerpts of both polls hampers deeper analysis
of the contradictory results. Though the poll shows low public
support for Latvia's involvement in international stability
operations, there is no evidence that the poll's result has changed
the generally strong political support for international
deployments. End of summary.

2. (U) At the end of December 2006 and beginning of January 2007,
the Ministry of Defense commissioned an annual public opinion poll
of 1,070 people between the ages of 17 - 74 on their views on
various state security and defense issues. Selected results were
released in early July. The survey includes three main areas: the
security situation in the country; evaluation on the National Armed
Forces (NAF); and government activities in the security and defense
fields. Such surveys by the Ministry of Defense, with some minor
changes, have been commissioned since 2000, providing grounds for
data comparison over the years. The MoD's opinion poll reveals that
in general the majority of respondents see positive developments in
all areas related to security and defense, however, the poll
indicates rather small support for participation of Latvian soldiers
in international stability operations.

State security

3. (U) The 2006 poll shows that in general Latvian society feels
secure and that this feeling continues to increase: a vast majority
(almost 74 percent) believes that in 2006, the security situation in
the country improved or remained the same. Not only has the number
of respondents who see positive developments increased but also the
number of respondents who believe that the security situation has
worsened has decreased. In 2006, only four percent believed that the
situation got worse over the past year in comparison to eleven
percent in 2004 and nine percent in 2005.

4. (U) The survey also explored what issues respondents felt were
the greatest threats to security (respondents could select multiple
answers to this question). The results are not surprising: 44
percent say "economic crisis" is the major threat to state security;
followed by crime (43 percent); drugs (40 percent); environmental
crisis (38 percent); terrorism (23 percent); conflicts among ethnic
groups (21 percent); strikes and social disturbances (11 percent);
unspecified "threats of war" (eight percent); other unnamed threats
(one percent). Three point five percent of respondents believe that
there are no threats at all to Latvia's security. The ranking of
threats in 2006 are rather identical to the results of previous
polls, except for the attitude of respondents towards environmental
issues: in 2006, seven percent more than in 2005 consider
environmental issues a threat to state security.

5. (U) Comment: The rankings are not a surprise. Economic
conditions, especially inflation nearing ten percent and a widening
wealth gap, are topics on everyone's minds. Furthermore, according
to official data, the number of crimes and rate of drug use are on
the rise and affecting more individuals. The increased number of
respondents who are concerned about environmental crisis most likely
reflects the priority status of the issue on the EU agenda and
greater awareness of the problem in Latvia. End comment.

National Armed Forces (NAF).

6. (U) The second set of questions concerns the NAF. Also here, the
poll indicates that, overall, people see positive developments: 66
percent believe that in 2006 the National Armed Forces made progress
in its development. 2006 saw the end of conscription and a
relatively smooth transfer of the NAF to a professional army.
However, a few individual cases which raised public concern about
leadership and professionalism in the NAF in 2006 (among them the
death of two parachutists due to lack of training and co-ordination)
probably contributed to some negative evaluation.

7. (U) Apart from the overall evaluation, the study also explores
views on specific problems related to the NAF. Forty percent cite
poor health conditions of young men as the biggest problem. That
coincides not only with a conclusion of the army recruitment
committee (in 2006, almost 30 percent of applicants failed physical
tests) but also general statistical data on poor health conditions
and short life expectancy of Latvian men. Other problems in the NAF
perceived by respondents were: lack of arms and equipment (36
percent); lack of patriotic feelings among members of the military

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(36 percent); lack of professionals (31 percent); small defense
budget (28 percent); hazing incidences (16 percent). In comparison
to previous polls, the biggest change of views has taken place
regarding hazing incidences: the respondents who believe that hazing
incidences are a problem in the NAF have dropped by sixteen percent
in comparison to 2005.

8. (U) While 64 percent of respondents agree that the National Armed
Forces is a good place to make career, only 49 percent believe that
it is prestigious to serve as a soldier in the professional army.
That might be explained by rather low wages and comparatively
restricted living conditions of soldiers. It also indicates a trend
in industrialized countries to view the military as a good career --
for someone else.

NAF involvement in international military operations

9. (SBU) Interestingly, the published results lacked a general
question whether the NAF should be involved in international
peacekeeping operations. However, the Ministry of the Defense
confirmed to us that the study included such a question and provided
the results, which were not included in the published figures.
Surprisingly, only 26 percent of respondents in this poll supported
involvement of Latvian soldiers in international military operations
and 58 percent were against. Significantly, the support for
international military activity among ethnic Latvians is about 33
percent, but among other ethnic groups (primarily Russians) it is
only 16 percent. The results contrast with a survey carried out by
the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (published September 2006), in which
the question was asked if people opposed Latvian participation in
international stability operations and only 18 percent of
respondents said they opposed Latvia's involvement in such missions.

10. (SBU) Political scientist Nils Muiznieks noted that the data is
very difficult to compare as the questions on Latvia's involvement
in peacekeeping operations were phrased differently in each poll,
with the MOD asking a positive "do you support" and MFA asking the
negative "do you oppose." In addition, only some results of both
polls were revealed, thus making comparison of the responses to
differently phrased questions even more difficult. However, he noted
that the death of two soldiers around the time when the MoD's poll
was conducted might have skewed the result against Latvian
participation in stability operations.

11. (U) The MoD's survey also offered respondents a series of
arguments (respondents were only allowed to pick one) in favor of
and against involvement of the NAF in international military
operations, depending on whether the respondent had a positive or
negative stance on involvement of the NAF in international
operations. These results were published. The argument most often
cited by supporters of involvement in military operations was that
all NATO member states should participate in peacekeeping operations
(24 percent). The second most popular argument among supporters (21
percent) is that international military operations provide a
possibility to improve soldiers' professionalism and performance.
The main arguments against participation of Latvian soldiers confirm
respondents' concern about Latvia's economic situation - the most
popular argument against participation of the NAF in international
military operations is "there are other more urgent needs to be
funded" (27 percent).

Government Policy

12. (U) The last set of questions relate to the work of the
government in security and defense policy. The published study does
not include a question on whether respondents agree with the amount
of funding allotted for defense issues (and MOD says no such
question was asked), however, respondents were asked to prioritize a
number of defense budget items in the scale from +5 to -5. The
highest rankings (+2.7, +2.6 and +2.5 respectively) were given to
increase of soldiers wages and social insurance; funding for
military education; and improvement of living conditions. The poll
also indicates that the government should pay more attention to
providing information about defense policy. The majority of
respondents feel there is a lack of information on state security
and defense policies (64 percent); participation of Latvian soldiers
in international operations (60 percent); the NAF (59 percent);
Latvia's NATO membership (58 percent); and on the defense budget (54
percent). The government has considered the results and responded:
on June 26, the Cabinet of Ministers allotted nearly USD 40,000 to
produce a series of TV reports on national defense policy, Latvia's
NATO membership, and the professional army.


13. (U) The published MoD's study in general provides majority
approval for the government's policy in security and defense areas,
except for participation of Latvian soldiers in international
peacekeeping operations. Public support for general defense and
security policies is not surprising since there have not been any
major security threats, as well as general public do not perceive

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impact of developments in defense policy on their daily lives, while
various economic and social issues have been concern of almost all
members of society. The small support for Latvian soldiers' presence
in peacekeeping missions is likely explained by the death of two
Latvian soldiers in Iraq exactly at the time the poll was carried
out. The Iraq mission was never supported by more the twenty-five
percent of respondents in other polls and in a country the size of
Latvia, two deaths have a big impact. The fact that this part of
the poll was not published likely reflects a wish by the government
to avoid any uncomfortable public discussions on this issue.
Nevertheless, despite the low public support, no decrease of
political support for international deployments has been observed
and we don't foresee any in the short-term so long as there are not
casualties. But the Latvian government is going to need to develop
a more aggressive public campaign to explain how its troops are
deployed overseas and why it matters.


© Scoop Media

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