Latvia’s foreign policy environment is and will continue to be constantly changing. The year 2020, like 2019, will bring many challenges, tough decisions and opportunities. Foreign policy of Latvia is mainly depending on common position of European Union and is very much affected by proximity to Russian Federation. Geographical location of Latvia can be viewed as one at the intersection of superpower interests. As the Annual Report of the Minister for Foreign Affairs on the accomplishments and further work with respect to national foreign policy and the European Union 2018states, the best way for Latvia to defend its vital interests and make the foreign policy is to operate in an international environment characterized by the four following features: a strong European Union (EU), a strong NATO, the preservation of the current international system, and possibilities for engaging in regional cooperation that meets its national interests. It stays true for 2020 as well.
The future development of Europe and Latvia faces many challenges: geopolitical shifts, competitiveness in the digital economy, climate change, security in changing global environment, search for its own identity and future image. Important foreign relations event for Latvia is the Conference on the Future of Europe to be held on Europe Day, 9 May 2020. The conference will address a broad debate on the future of Europe – on institutional change, decision-making, policy priorities, values. The interest of Latvia in the conference is to assert itself as the creator of the future of Europe, as a supporter of a strong Europe, and as a keeper of European values .
Several big trends affecting foreign policy of Latvia in 2020 are listed below.
- Multilateralism is in crisis
Multilateralism now is experiencing a small crisis. The important challenge for Latvia in 2020 is rivalry between the main players, such as U.S.-China-EU-Russia relations, which inevitably affects the current multilateral order and Baltic region state of affairs. The recent debates contain several issues: the weakening of the values of democracy, human rights, free trade and collective defense alliances, such as NATO in the international area. It also can be assumed that European Union got weaker in 2019 due Brexit and many populist and nationalist parties evolving in Europe. Instead of the multicultural practice of coordinating national policies, including foreign relations, in groups and alliances of many states who all therefore have a voice at the international stage, world is approaching multipolar order with several great powers heavily influencing international relations. For small countries like Latvia these are not good news.
Wider multilateralism crisis shares doubt over the foundations on which agreements have been reached and over institutions that regulate interstate disputes. Neighbor of Latvia, Russia, is actively working to bring international norms and the interpretation thereof closer to their own more authoritarian norms. International organizations and regional agreements, which have characterized the political space of post-war Europe, are experiencing a certain crisis of influence and recognition. Such shifts of values and norms towards specific regimes are not in the interests of Baltic states. Latvian government should be able to accurately assess the international situation, the challenges and opportunities created by changes, and to formulate its foreign and security policy in accordance with the conclusions drawn.
- Security is a priority of foreign policy
Russia is one of the security challenges of Latvia. If in the past the European Union had pursued a strategic partnership with Russia to address a wide range of issues – trade, energy, climate, counter-terrorism, non-proliferation of nuclear weapons – then, since the military aggression of Russia against Ukraine, the EU has resorted to the policy of sanctions. The next decisions on the sanctions will be made in summer 2020. However, current trend shows that Western countries are looking to build closer relations with Russia; there is a weariness of sanctions and a weariness of the strong position that has been taken so far.
Latvian parliament insists that the task of Latvia is to ensure that the sanctions policy remains in place until a solution is found to the conflict in Eastern Ukraine and the Crimea. It is important for Latvia to keep the focus on international violations of Russia on the European agenda, without giving the opportunity to deviate from the principles and fundamental values of the EU. The security of Latvia is closely interconnected with of the strong transatlantic links. Special attention will be paid to the enhancement of the legislative framework regulating the field of development cooperation, the improvement of the system for evaluating bilateral development cooperation, as well as public outreach measures to raise awareness of the importance of development cooperation and its role in fostering sustainable development . The cooperation between allies will remain the priority on 2020 foreign policy agenda in Latvia.
- Cyber security is a part of comprehensive national defense system
There are significant challenges that Latvia and its allies should address collectively in 2020: climate change, migration control, gun control and cyber security. President of Latvia stressed, that “cybersecurity imposes one of the greatest challenges for the future not only on a state but also on every citizen. To overcome this challenge much has been already done at national level. However, to ensure the security of our information space and cyber security, the capacity of the responsible institutions must be further enhanced, and public media literacy must be facilitated” . On 17 September 2019, Cabinet of Ministers of Latvia (Latvian government) approved the ‘Cyber Security Strategy of Latvia for 2019-2022’. The strategy describes cyber security context of Latvia, identifies future challenges and national cyber security policy priorities. Cyber security is part of comprehensive national defense system. Considering the potential national and social impact of cyber-attacks, cyber security is becoming more and more crucial in comprehensive national defense, which aims to engage every member of the society in defending Latvia against all types of conflicts, including both the military and non-military conflicts. Ministry of Defense and other competent authorities will have to complete specific tasks, for example, define security standards for cloud computing, smart devices and on-line services; develop recommendations for authentication of digital signature; raise public awareness on internet safety; educate public and local administration staff on ICT safety; strengthen the capacity of law enforcement community to prosecute cyber-crime .
- Challenges of digital communication: preservation of democratic values and fight with disinformation
The communication of values is another challenge provided by digital communication technology, which is expected in 2020. Today’s international challenges are becoming more and more complex. Globalization and the development of new technologies has created strong mutual connections, but also a mutual vulnerability, and are seriously affecting foreign policy. The digital economy, digital tools, the digital world – this is the future of economic development. But it also poses a challenge to democratic values. The creation of new platforms for the flow of information and its transnational use make the boundaries between military and non-military threats to blur. Misused digital tools pose a threat to democracy (disinformation, spreading of false information, hacking and manipulating social media platforms, interfering with electoral processes, etc.). Social media manipulation become the new frontier for global powers seeking to influence elections, not only their own, but those of neighbors as well, polarize public opinion and side-track legitimate political discussions . Latvia will be increasing the capabilities of responding to these challenges and preventing intervention in the national politics through the media by working with units that identify cases of disinformation, creating campaigns against “fake news”, stimulating media literacy in society and teaching critical thinking to young people.
The world is constantly changing, and humanity and states must be able to change along with it. Currently, Latvia’s image can be summarized as following: “Latvia would be regarded as a small state that is trying to jump into another weight category in the area of culture and which has a large and dynamic capital, which is a northern European transit center and is developing as a growing innovation center for education, ICT and health care.”  The challenges of foreign policy that Latvia will face in the future will require long-term strategies in all sectors of national importance as well as the creation of a stable economic, political and security environment.
To conclude, the foreign policy of Latvia in 2020 will be affected by mutual relations of super-powers such as China, USA and Russia; polarity of the world order; next steps in international politics made by Russia; joint priorities of European Union. However, foreign relations with Russia Latvia will build according to democratic values and its own national security priorities, no matter if some of its European allies will move towards closer cooperation with Russian Federation. The participation in international organizations and NATO alliance will be maintained as priority of Latvian foreign policy to save multilateral order. Cyber-security and battle with fake news and disinformation aimed to weaken the security of the state, will be high on agenda in 2020.
In short, Latvia will pursue a proactive, Euro-Atlantic, effective foreign and security policy.
 Latvian Foreign and Security Policy. Yearbook 2020
 Website of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Latvia. https://www.mfa.gov.lv/en/news/latest-news/62813-the-cabinet-considers-the-report-on-the-implementation-of-latvia-s-development-cooperation-policy-guidelines-for-2016-2020
 Website of Chancery of the President of Latvia. https://www.president.lv/en/news/news/the-president-of-latvia-cybersecurity-is-one-of-our-greatest-challenges-for-the-future-25408
 Website of Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Latvia. https://www.mod.gov.lv/en/news/latvia-approves-new-cyber-security-strategy-2019-2022
 How Social Media Companies are Failing to Combat Inauthentic Behaviour Online. Prepared by NATO Strategic Communication Center of Excellence: https://www.stratcomcoe.org/how-social-media-companies-are-failing-combat-inauthentic-behaviour-online
 The Centenary of Latvia’s Foreign Affairs: Scenarios for the Future, http://www.liia.lv/en/publications/the-centenary-of-latvias-foreign-affairs-scenarios-for-the-future-760
*This article has been made in cooperation with China-CEE institute and is the intelectual property of China-CEE institute