On November 18th, 1918, the Republic of Latvia was proclaimed and the Provisional Government of the new state was approved at the Second City Theatre of Riga (today the National Theater).

The Latvian State was proclaimed at a time when the German occupation army was still on its territory. World War I had just ended. According to contemporaries, "the time of beautiful illusions had begun", and the defence of the new state was far beyond the capabilities of the Latvian National Assembly. During the formation of the Provisional government, the post of the Minister of War or Defence was not even established, since the National Assembly declared peaceful and friendly relations with all neighboring countries. For the purposes of maintaining public order, a National Militia was formed under the Ministry of the Interior. However, the complicated political and military situation, as well as the threat of annexation by Soviet Russia, called for the defence of the independence of Latvia.

On November 22th, 1918, the Ministry of Security was formed. Lieutenant Colonel Roberts Dambitis was appointed as the Head of the Ministry. On December 6th, Janis Zalitis took the vacant position of the Minister. He was a lawyer, and one of the organizers of the Latvian Riflemen battalions. There were 15 people on the staff of the Ministry; many of them represented the National Union of Latvian Soldiers, which had been organized by officers in August, 1917.

The history of the Ministry's structure and subordinate institutions is very complex - their names, functions and subordination changed a number of times. The Headquarters in the Ministry of Security administered not only the logistical requirements of the armed forces, but also their formation, preparation and training. It was not until early December, 1918, that the formation of the Headquarters was begun. Gradually other parts of the Ministry were formed.

Kara ministrijas darbinieki
Ministry of War staff, 1930

In 1922, the Ministry of Security was renamed the Ministry of War. The Ministry of War was divided into institutions directly subordinated to the Ministry and institutions subordinate to the Army Commander. During the first years of the State, the Ministry contained the following institutions: Secretariat of the Ministry, Head Commissariat, Department of Armament, War Sanitary Department, Department of Court Martial, and the Department of Budget and Credits. The Ministry also contained several independent entities - the Armory, the Army Printing House, the Army Department Store, the Artillery Depot, and the Workshops of the Head Commissariat. The Ministry of War owned about 1,700 buildings and had 28,000 ha of land at its disposal.

In 1933, the maintenance section and the different procurement sections were joined in the Department of Procurement. The Ministry of War also supervised the Museum of War, established in 1916.

By the time of the Soviet occupation in 1940, there had been 22 different ministers, and in three instances only acting ministers. Of the 18 individuals who had, either once or twice, been Ministers of War, six were Generals, (D. Simansons, R. Bangerskis, E. Kalnins, M. Vacietis, J. Balodis, K. Berkis), two - Colonels (F. Birkensteins, E. Laimins), but the other Ministers (K. Ulmanis, E. Feldmanis, J. Goldmanis, G. Zemgals, J. Ducens, J. Arajs, A. Ozols, A. Alberings) were civilians. General Janis Balodis headed the Ministry for the longest period - eight and a half years.

As a result of the Soviet occupation and the subsequent annexation of Latvia into the Soviet Union, the Ministry of War as well as other state institutions of the Republic of Latvia were liquidated on September 27th, 1940.

From August - September 1991, after international recognition of its independence, Latvia, like the other two Baltic countries, was able to implement an independent security policy, and begin the work of building a new state defence system. However, the state's system of self-defence had its beginnings back in 1991 during the Days of the Barricades. On January 24th, 1991, the Public Security Department was established. The state's defence institutions began to form after the real restoration of independence.

In November, 1991, the Supreme Council of the Republic of Latvia passed the decision to establish the Ministry of Defence of the Republic of Latvia. The members of the Supreme Council did not desire to restore the former name - the Ministry of War - because they were afraid of being misunderstood by the Soviet Union and the world at large. On November 13th, a majority of the members of the Supreme Council voted for the establishment of the Ministry of Defence. On November 19th, the Supreme Council appointed Talavs Jundzis as the first Minister of the restored Ministry of Defence.

The Ministry of Defence was formed on the remnants of the former Public Security Department, taking over its assets and employing most of its staff. Other institutions, such as the state defence forces, the National Academy of Defence and other entities related to state defence, were subordinated directly to the Ministry of Defence.

As of the restoration of independence there have been following Defence Ministers (in three cases they were only acting ministers): T. Jundzis (Nov. 1991 - Aug. 1993), V. Pavlovskis (Aug. 1993 - Sept. 1994), J. A. Trapans (Sept. 1994 - Mar. 1995), M. Gailis (Mar. 1995 - Dec. 1995), A. Krastins (Dec. 1995  -Mar. 1997), T. Jundzis (Jun. 1997 - Oct. 1998), G. V. Kristovskis (Nov. 1998 - Mar. 2004), A.Slakteris (Mar. 2004 - Dec. 2004 ), E.Repse (Dec. 2004 - Dec. 2005), L. Murniece (December 2005 April 2006), A.Slakteris (April 2006 - December 2007), V.Veldre (December 2007 - March 2009), I.Lieģis (March 2009 - November 2010), A.Pabriks (November 2010 - January 2014), R.Vejonis (January 2014 -  July 2015), R.Bergmanis (2015.07. - 2019.01.), A. Pabriks (2019.01. - 2022.12.), I. Mūrniece (2022.12. - 2023.09.), A.Sprūds (2023.09. - to date). All of the above Ministers were civilians.

The first Commander of the Defence Forces was Colonel Dainis Turlais. Under his leadership the National Armed Forces (NAF) were formed in October, 1994, by combining the National Guard, the Navy, the Air Force and other units of the Defence Forces.

As of 2000, the following have been Commanders of the National Armed Forces: Colonel Juris Dalbins (Oct. 1994 - May 1998), Colonel Juris Eihmanis (Jun. 1998 - Dec. 1998), Colonel Raimonds Graube (Jan. 1999 - Jan. 2003 ), Vice-Admiral Gaidis Andrejs Zeibots (Feb. 2003 - July 2006), Brigadier General Juris Maklakovs (July 2006 - July 2010), Lieutenant General Raimonds Graube (07.2010. - 01.2017.), Lieutenant General Leonīds Kalniņš (01.2017. - to date).