Minister of Defence: NATO 11 – more relevant than ever

At the  Runway Run 2015 in Zuokniai airport (Šiauliai), marking the 11th anniversary of Lithuania’s NATO accession
I.Budzeikaitės nuotr.

We care to commemorate each anniversary of Lithuania’s membership of the Alliance. We held formal events and intellectual discussions and launched publications to celebrate our first decade in NATO a year ago. Although we will have a smaller commemoration this year, marking such an anniversary is a must. Not only because we have a tradition, but rather because the 11th Lithuania’s year in the Alliance has revealed the true NATO’s importance for Lithuania, Minister Olekas said.

The environment we live in today is turbulent. We are not appalled by Russia’s military drills in Kaliningrad or somewhere else anymore, while flights of Russian military aircraft over the Baltic Sea have nearly become a daily routine. Ukraine, a country important and close to Lithuania, has fallen victim to Russia’s armed aggression – a part of its territory has been annexed, the other is bossed around by separatists equipped and supported by Russia in every way possible.

Russia’s propaganda machine of lies is rolling unhindered. It barely has a precedent as shameless worldwide. However, the truth always surfaces sooner or later. At times it becomes too hard to conceal, at times – its key agents decide to admit to the facts and cut the guessing and speculations, Lithuania’s Ministry of National Defence said.

Take, in a documentary released on the first anniversary of the annexation of Crimea the Russian president himself told openly and without hedging that the occupation and annexation of Crimea had been a pre-planned military operation where he had made the key decisions personally. He spiced up the story with juicy details of the operation telling how communications of the Ukrainian Armed Forces were jammed; and confirmed that the notorious “polite men” were none other than the Russian Special Operations Forces. Moreover, we have learnt that a higher alert level of the Russian nuclear weaponry was also a part of this operation, probably, on a presumption that it might be put to use under particular circumstances.

And this way an official version has emerged which is exactly what mouthpieces of Russia’s propaganda machine were fiercely disclaiming and replacing with incredible stories referring to “violations of Russian-speakers’ rights”, “rampaging fascists of Ukraine”, or compliance with the international law while annexing a part of another state. Now it is admitted that Russian soldiers have involved throughout receiving some of the directions straight from the Commander-in-Chief in Kremlin.

Dutch experts are expected to present their official findings about the MH-17 crash by July – that should shed even more light and bring in more truth.

I really anticipate official confessions from participants and witnesses as well as narratives revealing more about the role the Russian Armed Forces have played in the hostilities in Southeastern Ukraine. They have left a footprint there that is way bloodier and intense than in Crimea, the Ministry quotes Defence Minister Juozas Olekas.

Those interested can find more than enough information on the matter on their own. Even the Minsk ceasefire agreements that involved negotiations and approbation from Russia’s side direct to withdraw such artillery systems (the Tornado S, for example) that are only possessed by the Russian Armed Forces. Moscow’s explanations about Russian paratroopers accidentally lost in Donbass and tank crews with equipment “on vacation” do look grotesque in this context. All those who care to find out the truth if just a little bit should take a closer look – there is plenty of information in various accessible sources. While those who do not, may continue following the news on Kremlin TV.

Assessing the level of threat to national security is not an easy thing to do. Such assessments are always partly subjective which has its roots with the historical experience of a country and its estimation of the capacity and intentions of its potential adversary. This is why the concerns the Baltic States and Poland voiced over the threat coming from Russia were seen as exaggerated by some of our allies quite often, i.e. as a relic of historical experience. However, the whole of Europe is concerned today.

The developments in Ukraine are closely followed by experts from Lithuania and other members of the Alliance. As early as last September the NATO Summit in Wales adopted vital decisions regarding strengthening security of members of the Alliance. The Baltic States, Poland, Bulgaria and Romania are in their focus.

As it is known, additional allied forces have already been deployed to Lithuania, the NATO Baltic Air Policing Mission has been augmented, and the NATO Force Integration Units are about to be established. A focussed schedule for combined training has already been drawn and is being put into practice. NATO allies have responded to the threat speedily, responsibly and with one accord. The aforementioned security measures demonstrate the solidarity of NATO members and NATO leadership with the most vulnerable allies. The measures will stay in place for as long as it takes for the Russian policy in the Baltic region and elsewhere to become less aggressive and more predictable.

For this reason we will be seeing permanently rotating NATO troops and warships coming to Lithuania and other Baltic States this and next year. Members of the allied forces will be living and training side by side with Lithuanian military. They will be honing military interoperability and training to act shoulder to shoulder in combined exercises.

The United States of America is paying particular attention to our region, its contribution to the security of the Baltic States will be really weighty. Many of you must have already had the opportunity to see U.S. soldiers serving in Lithuania, or military vehicles or helicopters going by. Currently, we are coordinating quite a number of other projects for building defence cooperation with the United States.

We must do our homework too. One of our priority tasks is to man units of the Lithuanian Armed Forces and to provide them with modern equipment and weaponry. The growing defence budget and the support from our allies’ are expected to enable us to accomplish this task within the coming year.

As it is known, the State Defence Council and the Seimas have approved the reintroduction of mandatory military service in Lithuania as of this year. Clearly, that is an important and a right move in the present situation. It will not only enable us to man Lithuanian units within the shortest time possible but will also facilitate a speedier and more efficient training of reserve.

At present we are engaged in intense discussions on how to develop the conscription procedure that is as transparent and fairly applied as possible. We will also seek to provide every support possible to those young people on whom the honour and duty to conduct the 9-month service in the Lithuanian Armed Forces will fall. Building on the experience of foreign countries, we are considering including the basics of military training into educational programs.

Currently, we can hear the term of hybrid warfare being mentioned increasing more often. No standard definition has been developed for it so far. However, it is universally agreed that hybrid warfare is one of the forms of war between states. It is called hybrid because it excludes an armed attack of another state’s territory (which is the standard definition of war), or even declaration of war.

The concept of hybrid warfare is closely related to the method of destabilising the situation in Ukraine by using information, diversion, intimidation of society, and others measures. Excellently-organised groups of activists would pop up there out of a sudden as if out of nowhere. Intervention of law enforcement institutions would reveal that the groups were better equipped than local police. Local collaborators would join in and help to capture administrative buildings and take over control of vital infrastructure of a city and a region through targeted and coordinated action.

And this is only one of the examples. Diverse scenarios and a particularly broad arsenal of combat measures fit into the concept of hybrid warfare. So response to such hostile actions will be different each time. Therefore, there are two things that are always key: the speed of response, and involvement of all the state authorities.

As a consequence, already today we have a rapid response force formed in the Lithuanian Armed Forces which is capable of giving an immediate response to destabilising actions within our country. We are also cooperating closely with the police, the State Security Department, border control and other services that we will be able to turn to for assistance in cases of emergencies. Naturally, other institutions, public organisations and volunteers will be involved in case of necessity too.

It is crucial to define the procedures of responding to non-standard situations clearly. There will not always be sufficient time for asking the minister, the president or NATO leadership what decision is the right one to take. We need to revise laws and other legal acts to define responsibilities of institutions, procedures of response, and mechanisms of interinstitutional cooperation as clearly as possible.

We are also enhancing capabilities for strategic communication and cyber defence in the national defence system. The National Centre of Cyber Security that was opened in January will also coordinate readiness and action in this area countrywide.

Defence capabilities are being adapted in NATO in a very similar way: the NATO Summit in Wales 2014 agreed to establish the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force. It would act as a spearhead force deploying into a hotspot in case of a crisis. The force will include Lithuanian units too. The Alliance is also increasing its focus on cyber and energy security and other non-military issues.

Considering a revision of Article 5 of the Washington Treaty is probably worthwhile too in the context of the discussions on the emerging security challenges for the Alliance. The Article says that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all. Is the word “armed” still relevant in the times of hybrid and cyber warfare?

Probably it is not sound to expect that someone else will defend us more than we do ourselves. So my top priority task today is to strengthen national defence capabilities.

However, the developments of the 11th Lithuania’s year in NATO have also proved that if Lithuania is ever to defend itself against external aggression – be it conventional, hybrid, or of any other kind – we will not stand alone.

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