Finland’s announcement of its plans comes as a warning: Lithuania needs to rethink its security concept now

Finish soldier at BALTOPS exercise
Finish soldier at BALTOPS exercise AP/Scanpix

On 13 May, Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and Prime Minister Sanna Marin said they support the idea of the country joining NATO. Experts say that the accession of Finland and Sweden to NATO would significantly increase the security of the region, but the Baltic countries should change their security concept from “deterrence by presence” to “deterrence by the defence” now, as deterrence by the mere presence of NATO forces in the region has already failed.

Retired Colonel Vaidotas Malinionis and political analyst Linas Kojala spoke about the significance of Finland and Sweden joining NATO and the security situation in Lithuania in the “Lietuvos rytas” TV programme “Lietuvos Diena”, Ignas Grinevičius writes in lrytas.lt.

V.Malinionis: “Lithuania should change its security plans now”

During the programme, retired colonel V.Malinionis noted that the accession of these countries to NATO would change the security situation in the region.

“It should be noted that Finland made this statement after signing a bilateral military assistance agreement with the United Kingdom, which is very logical, as the UK is a nuclear state. This is a guarantee for Finland that Russia will not terrorise it in the period between its intention and its actual accession to NATO,” Malinionis said.

There is a 100% probability that Sweden will follow Finland’s example and that even two important northern European countries will join NATO, he added.

“Putin had achieved the total opposite of what he was aiming for when he started the war in Ukraine”, Malinionis noted.

According to the retired colonel, Sweden and Finland joining NATO would make it quite difficult for the hostile Russian regime to exert more influence in the region.

“Finland is one of the countries that has changed the least since the Cold War. It maintains a large land force and has over 200,000 organised reserves. The other NATO countries do not have a reserve of this size, which creates a very large and serious picture. By joining NATO, Finland will make a significant contribution to the common security of the Baltic Sea region and the European continent.

Sweden has squandered its Cold War contribution since 1991 – they have one or two brigades out of 30. But they are still an important country – they have the knowledge, and the experience, and if they step up and increase their defence budgets, they will be able to be a valuable partner for NATO. Moreover, as the Baltic Sea becomes fully encircled by NATO, it will be quite difficult for a hostile Russian regime to exert more influence, as a large and strong circle of partners in the region is emerging,” the retired colonel underlined.

However, despite the fact that the expansion of the Alliance considerably enhances the security of the region, Malinionis said that the Baltic States should already be rethinking their security plans now.

“Lithuania and the other Baltic countries need to start putting together concepts now on how we will strengthen our defence with such tools. Perhaps we should start thinking about creating a common Baltic Corps, involving Poland, perhaps Ukraine, our Baltic Sea friends – a common military formation with a common headquarters, with a maritime, air, land component, and air defence.

This would reflect Boris Johnson’s idea that we need to move from the concept of “deterrence by engagement” to “deterrence by the defence”. With a single corps, we could increase our defensibility tenfold.

The concept of ‘deterrence by presence’ has not worked very well – if it had worked, Russia would not be threatening nuclear weapons, and it would not have a migrant crisis. It would be a much more effective deterrent, which is why we need to build a serious, concentrated corps. Now is a very good time for Lithuania to discuss such ideas,” Malinionis said.

L.Kojala: the situation called for change

Linas Kojala, Director of the Centre for East European Studies, pointed out that in 2017, only one-fifth of Finns supported the possibility of NATO membership, but things changed dramatically after the Russian-led war in Ukraine. Now, around 76% of the Finnish population is in favour of joining NATO.

According to Kojala, this late entry of Finns into the Alliance can be explained by looking at the historical context.

“During the Second World War, Finland stood its ground against the Soviet Union, even though it lost some of its territories. They treated their neutrality as a realistic assessment of the situation in order to avoid further confrontation with the Soviet Union, but at the same time not to prevent cooperation with Western countries.

Of course, this cooperation could only intensify after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Shortly afterwards, Finland joined the European Union and made it clear that it was linking its future to the West,” he said.

However, Kojala said, at the time, the importance of NATO membership did not seem as great as it does now.

“NATO membership may not have seemed a necessity because, despite its long border with Russia – more than 1 300 km – Finland’s balancing act in security policy between the desire to maintain a pragmatic relationship with Russia and its ideological, political, economic and other proximity to the West seems to be effective.

Now, with the change of circumstances following the Russian aggression, which is still ongoing, the situation has certainly changed,” Kojala explained.

The Director of the Centre for East European Studies is convinced that the process of Finland’s accession to the Alliance should take place very quickly, as the country is already integrated into certain NATO structures, conducts various military exercises and has participated in various NATO meetings.

It is estimated that all the processes should take only a few months to complete.

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