“Words Without Real Actions… Are Useless”

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Instability and uncertainty have always been the features of the world surrounding us, but the recent several years have brought them to levels known only to the generation of our parents and grandparents who have lived through horrible World Wars that have brought huge suffering and destruction in Europe and elsewhere.
zdjęcie - “Words Without Real Actions… Are Useless”
Photo by Alfredas Pliadis (Lithuanian MoD)

Generations sought to stabilize the world by building security organizations and developing international law with the hope that these principles could guide humans into a safe and prosperous future with wars and conflicts remaining only as part of history.

We managed to break out of the totalitarian system and get rid of more than a 50-year occupation period and join NATO and the EU—families of the countries bound by mutual trust and adhering to and fighting for the same values, the values that are close to our hearts and minds.

For more than a decade after the Cold War, many people believed that peace on the old continent could be eternal focusing more on the prosperity of nations. But that proved to be a false sense of security. The partner we started to trust proved to have different ideas on partnership and coexistence. At the same time, (just like the West) we were looking for win-win situations. Russia started to view things from a zero-sum perspective. The war in Georgia made us very much worried; unfortunately, that war was not enough to make everyone in our family realize that the security environment has really changed. Being considered as a threat by Russia, NATO continued to talk about partnership and this has resulted in the annexation of Crimea and the war in eastern Ukraine that was quite a shock to many Allies.

At the NATO Summit in Wales, the Allies were unanimous on the need of reassurance measures and these were very important, but just first steps. Sudden changes require adaptation, including the mental one, which sometimes is the most difficult thing to do. We used to downgrade our militaries and focus more on business opportunities rather than credible defense. But now we do not have the luxury to sit, do nothing and simply observe whether Russia would really dare to test the Alliance’s determination. Any uncertainty and any doubt on the part of the West are seen as its weakness and an invitation to act. We’ve seen it in Georgia and Ukraine. We cannot let it happen again. Words without real actions on the ground are useless.

Any conflict in our region would be disastrous, thus our primary aim has to be credible deterrence. We are extremely grateful to the US who was first to land on our soil with planes and a bit later put boots on the ground and to other Allies who followed the US by sending their rotational forces. But we need to agree on a clear and permanent mechanism that would assure persistent and militarily meaningful deterrence. We need to agree on the enhanced NATO forward presence and rapid reinforcement in case of crisis. This includes realistic planning, pre-positioning of equipment, further development of the required enablers, streamlining procedures as well as ensuring NATO’s ability to counter Russian capabilities. Military exercises and training are also very important in testing the deployment of VJTF, verifying plans, training logistics and building proper HNS.

Although in Warsaw our biggest attention will be placed on defense and deterrence in our region, we cannot ignore the situation in the South. Only in Europe can our safety and security be guaranteed. We are looking into the possible solutions of the current migrant crisis as well as ways to further contribute to the war against terrorism.

Our Major Concern is Russia

Our major concern is Russia, but it is a multidimensional challenge. While dealing with the military threat emanating from our eastern neighbors, we need both national as well as Allied efforts. I’ve mentioned the need of NATO’s adaptation above. Unity of the Allies is of key importance and we have to do everything possible to maintain it.

Nationally, we have substantially increased our military budget, renewed conscription, launched modernization and made many important steps including legislative changes to tackle possible threats.

Equally important is regional cooperation. Poland and Lithuania are bound not only by extensive common history, but also by today’s common challenges and opportunities that require our joint efforts. Poland is our strategic partner that plays a key role in our security and defense. We have a very good history of military cooperation and are ready to extend it with mid-range air defense, new role MNC NE and LITPOLUKRBRIG, being just a couple of examples of extended cooperation.

In addition to military factors, there are other aspects we need to take into consideration while talking about our national security. Just some time ago, we were completely dependent on energy resources from Russia. The LNG terminal in Lithuania and gas export from Western countries have changed the situation and were very important steps towards greater independence.

Russia continues heavy militarization of Kaliningrad and other regions in the Western military district. It conducts large scale military exercises of an offensive nature just some kilometers away from our borders and even uses nuclear rhetoric for deliberate intimidation of the West. We see a propaganda war being waged against the West and we witness continuous Russian involvement in the war in eastern Ukraine. Moreover, Belarus has been integrated in Russia’s military posture: they have unified defense space, a joint anti-aircraft systems, common combat training and big scale military exercises with offensive scenarios oriented against NATO. Hence, the military threat posed by Russia is real, as they have capabilities and the political will to use them.

The priorities in strengthening the military in Lithuania are as follows:

  • Implementing the new Land Forces’ structure by reforming the existing mechanical infantry brigade and establishing a new motorized brigade;
  • Speeding up the modernization of the Armed Forces by launching new major acquisition projects, such as self-propelled artillery, IFVs, additional anti-air, anti-tank equipment, individual soldier equipment, etc.;
  • Ensuring full manning of the Armed Forces’ units. The decision was made to renew mandatory call-up to the military service, calling up 4,000 conscripts annually;
  • Increasing readiness and responsiveness of the Armed Forces. Lithuania established a national rapid reaction force, able to respond in 2-24 hours. The main task of this force is to react to illegal armed groups, border violations or any other armed provocation, including violation of military transit rules. The legal system was improved as well. We have changed our national legislation to allow the employment of armed force units in specified areas without declaration of martial law.

Numerous changes in the security environment have led to a strong political consensus to do more for national defense. In 2015, Lithuania’s political parties committed to increase defense spending and reach 2% GDP by 2020 or as early as 2018. Decisions have been made to immediately start implementing this political commitment—as a result, during the last two years, the defense budget has grown more than 50%.

Juozas Olekas
Minister of National Defence of the Republic of Lithuania

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