MEP Auštrevičius on Trump, the Eurpean Army and 2% on defence

Petras Auštrevičius
DELFI / Domantas Pipas

The US President Elect has said that Europe can no longer hide under the American security umbrella. According to Donald Trump, US assistance will be provided under the condition that European states will adequately invest in their security. Furthermore Trump is known to have praised Russian President Vladimir Putin a number of times, describing him as a better leader than Barack Obama. Lithuania cannot fail to notice this, but it appears there is a lack of both vision and strategy, how to work with the President Elect and his administration. LRT spoke to MEP Petras Auštrevičius on the matter.

– Have our politicians reacted correctly to D. Trump during the electoral campaign?

We did not believe that he could win the elections. We did not believe that D. Trump’s standard – he established a certain standard of political discourse in the American public sphere – could be decisive. Furthermore I think that we overslept a shift in public and political opinion in the USA. We overslept talks of Europe being a dependent in security matters, how it benefits economically, but invests inadequately into its own security.

We will have to return to the Americans and offer them, I would say, an interesting and involving partnership, without a doubt. Thus our discourse with the Americans will have to be such that we would interest them in being engaged with European security, with our partnership, the creation of our common economic sphere through free trade. But this needs to be done anew and we need to find the words and proposals right now.

– And one of those proposals is probably related to our defence, something the President Elect has spoken on. But he has changed his position many times, so can we expect that he will change his position once again? Could we have such hopes?

No, there will be no cardinal shift. Donald Trump’s foreign policy doctrine is based on three things and the so-called “security dependents in Europe” factor is core. I have no doubt it will be the approach used. Already now there are talks that the US wants to reduce its contribution to the NATO budget from 45 to 37-38%. 8% is a great amount that we will need to compensate if we wish to maintain the transatlantic partnership in the shape we wish.

But of course without greater European contribution, without greater commitment, there will most likely be no talks. Another thing is that Europeans need to come to a realisation that this needs to be done not to encourage the US, but for them themselves to realise that they have to take care of security better. We invest inadequately into European security and defence, we have done too little to create a defence and security union in the EU. Only initiative leads to this, but in the end it remains misunderstood in Lithuania. I do not understand why Lithuania opposes the creation of an EU defence and security union. This is perhaps one of the solutions in facing the changing American position. I have no cause to believe we can expect a good future otherwise.

Lithuania also has to encourage regional cooperation. We need to develop defensive capacities, develop cooperation based on mutual trust with our closest neighbours and those we can come to terms with. Thinking that we have done all we could is unjustified.

Prior to World War II, the Baltic States also failed to make a defensive union, which was one of the reasons for their loss. Are we going to await another such situation? We have to take the first step, we have to demonstrate initiative. Then, seeing the shifting responsibility and real progress, investment in the EU, the United States will not be able to ignore it.

– Talking of investment, typically 2% of the GDP comes up. Next year’s budget is approaching 1.8% of the GDP. Do you think we should hurry and aim for 2% already next year?

Current investment is insufficient. We see that we lack defensive weaponry, experience, professionals, thus investment needs to continue. Currently Poland is investing more than 2%. Are the Poles being irresponsible? Currently 71% of the Polish citizenry are prepared to defend Lithuania. So they will defend Lithuania at their own expense, but we won’t defend ourselves? It would be completely justified if Lithuania spent no less than 1 billion euro on its security and an assured future over the coming year.

– Currently 700 million is earmarked?

It is planned that we will spend 700 million for defence next year. Symbolic numbers sometimes also work. Israel invests 10 billion, thus it is “relaxed” and knows that it has sufficient defensive potential to not only deter potential adversaries, but also to defend if need be. Let us take an example.

– Under such circumstances, how do you view plans to decrease intelligence funding next year?

It is very odd to hear such proposals. I think that it shows a certain confusion or an attempt at political number juggling – subtracting from one, adding to another. State security is a whole, you cannot destroy the tree in parts, hoping that it will survive.

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