National security enhancement – and the labyrinths: what politicians agree on and what lights the spark

Military exercise
Military exercise DELFI / Kiril Čachovskij

The working groups have finalised the parties’ agreement on strengthening national security. Still, in the event of a divergence of views, the two important benchmarks will be dropped and replaced by more abstract formulations of the objectives to be achieved writer in its editorial Laiko ženklai.

Moreover, even this document, which has already been agreed upon by all parties, may not be signed by the Lithuanian Union of Peasants and Greens, which has stated that it will withdraw from all party agreements in protest against the laws on the Civil Union and on the recognition of Landsbergis as head of the country in 1990-1992, which are to be adopted by the Seimas.

What will all the other parliamentary parties agree on? No universal conscription – limited to the provision of increasing the number of soldiers according to need. This will, however, allow an increase in the number of citizens prepared for defence and a more rapid formation of the active reserve.

The ruling parties, especially the conservatives, sought to include universal conscription in the agreement, and even women’s conscription was considered but failed to convince the opposition that it was necessary.

However, there is no strong grumbling within the right-wing about concessions to the opposition. Even L. Kasčiūnas, one of the most persistent vocalists for the development of the army, the Chairman of the Seimas Committee on National Security and Defence, reassured his peers that the agreement was still important as it would consolidate the increase in the number of conscripts.

The ceiling for compulsory military service for next year is already being raised to 4.4 thousand conscripts, and if conscription of young people after secondary school were to start, the effect of universal conscription would be achieved in 5-7 years.

The promise is to train more officers in the meantime, which will be needed to train more conscripts, and to invest in the necessary infrastructure for them. The principle of the agreement that the increase in the number of initial conscripts will be subject to additional funding is also considered important.

Among other things, the Chairman of the NSGK stated that the Conservatives would include in the programme for the next Seimas elections the goal of universal conscription.

It is difficult to say whether this will help them attract more voters. A large proportion of older right-wing supporters are likely in favour of universal suffrage, but they vote for the party anyway.

At the same time, many young people of draft age do not want to do compulsory military service, and their parents often tend to support them. The parties take this into account.

This sentiment should be more widespread among Social Democrat supporters than among conservative voters.

On the other hand, there are also doubts about the benefits of universal conscription.

In Israel, for example, where girls are also subject to compulsory military service, universal conscription is seen as the basis of the country’s defence capabilities since, in the event of a war, this relatively small country can mobilise a large army.

Since its foundation in 1948, Israel has fought a very successful war against the Arab countries that surround it from all sides, relying primarily on its own strength. Israel’s territory is three times smaller than Lithuania’s, and in the event of an unsuccessful outbreak of war, US aid may be too late.

Several generations of Israelis have grown up with the knowledge that universal conscription is a prerequisite for their survival and that even three years of service will prepare them to be almost professional soldiers.

In Lithuania, the security conditions are different, and we cannot expect such strong public support for universal conscription as in Israel.

If some conscripts were to shun military service, youth emigration could increase again, which would weaken the country’s defence resources.

For example, the US has done away with conscription since the Vietnam War, and the American armed forces are made up entirely of professional soldiers, but there is no doubt that it is the strongest army in the world.

Ukraine’s successful resistance to Russian aggression also shows that, in modern warfare, the weapons and professionalism of the troops may even be more important than the size of the army.

Of course, professional soldiers are more expensive, and more conscripts can be maintained on the same budget. Therefore, the choice of the army model requires a thorough calculation of the country’s financial possibilities and an assessment of the cost-effectiveness in military terms.

Lithuania has been increasing its defence funding in recent years, and this year it will be slightly above 2.5% of GDP. The governing parties intended to include in the agreement, which runs until 2030, an ambition to allocate 3% of GDP to national defence. This is the second key provision on which the parties failed to agree.

The Presidency has already stated that the value of the national agreement is diminished as a result.

But the ruling parties justified the compromises agreed, arguing that the most important thing is to maintain the 2.5% of GDP funding, increasing it in line with defence needs and that there is a commitment to prepare a military infrastructure capable of hosting up to 20,000 allied soldiers.

A more moderate commitment to defence funding seems to have its advantages.

When there are predetermined targets for how much money is to be spent, there can be temptations to spend it, as it were, desperately, without paying attention to how effective it is.

Moreover, no one can now predict with certainty what defence needs will be by 2030.

It is possible that in eight years’ time, the threats to national security may be reduced.
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