New government’s vision – wishing to appear progressive, but…

Saulius Skvernelis, Ramūnas Karbauskis
DELFI / Domantas Pipas

Already during the election campaign, the LPGU leader Ramūnas Karbauskis assured that foreign policy will be the sphere where we can expect the fewest changes because there are no major issues in it. This is also somewhat displayed by the decision to leave the post of Minister of Foreign Affairs to the current leader of Lithuanian diplomacy – Linas Linkevičius.

The new government programme is filled with praise for Lithuanian foreign policy, continuity and stability is stressed, as are various successes. That said it is noted that foreign policy has to be based on not short term party or group interests, but long term national interests.

“The continuity of foreign policy has to be ensured despite changes of cabinets and parliaments. Current Lithuanian foreign policy should act in five strategic directions,” states the project.

“On one hand we can breathe a sigh of relief because there are no radical changes in foreign and security policy planned by the new government. This programme section is dominated by current Lithuanian foreign and security policy principles,” stated Vilnius University Institute of International Relations and Political Science (VU TSPMI) lecturer, political scientist Tomas Janeliūnas.

Setting conditions for Moscow and Minsk

It is first highlighted that Lithuania “will remain an active EU, NATO and OSCE member, will seek membership in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), seeking to create a secure and stable international environment for a robust development of the Lithuanian state and public.”

The government programme stresses that Lithuania should be concerned by both Brexit, the UK decision to withdraw from the EU and the “forced EU federalisation”, as well as the rising power of pro-Kremlin anti-European political powers.

The programme also mentions, albeit more laconically, the need to “defend territorial integrity and human rights principles in the United Nations”, as well as the need “to seek further alliance expansion into friendly states, particularly seeking to reinforce Baltic – Nordic defence integration.”

Cooperation between the Baltic States is discussed particularly in terms of defence and energy infrastructure, with a great deal of criticism to the current cabinet, whose “inability to negotiate with the Baltic States regarding questions of strategic and energy infrastructure is inexplicable.”
Furthermore, comparing this project with the 2012-2016 Social Democrat coalition programme, there no longer is a mention of the need to “reboot” relations with Russia and create tighter relations with the state.

For example the new cabinet pledges to “develop good relations with neighbouring countries based on communication on even grounds and democratic values”, however it stresses that “development of neighbourly relations does not mean that we will be lenient toward actions which harm the interests of our allies and the citizens of our country.”

Such a state is unambiguously identified as being Russia, which has been condemned for its aggression against Ukraine. The latter, as Georgia and Moldova is to be supported in their efforts to achieve EU and NATO integration.

Meanwhile the 2012-2016 government’s plans to improve relations with Belarus appear to have been trashed because the cessation of the Astravyets nuclear power plant project is a condition for cooperation for the Alexander Lukashenko regime.

“We will categorically oppose the construction of nuclear power infrastructure at the borders of the state – such poorly thought out and irresponsible activity will be opposed through all legitimate means in all international and bilateral formats,” states the programme project regarding the Belarussian-Russian nuclear power plant construction.

Why Latvia and not Poland?

Questions of Lithuanian strategic partnership are not going through any significant change. That said unlike the previous government, this time China is mentioned, it is pledged to encourage “the development of political and economic links.”

It is interesting that strategic partnership with Germany and especially the US receive separate and detailed sections, which focus on common projects. For example the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is a highlight of the section on relations with the US. It is a project the new Lithuanian government may not want to rush because there could be potential negative consequences due to the agreement.

Nevertheless the most problematic relations with Lithuania’s strategic partner Poland are limited to a brief and streamlined section. Apparently not only “the highest leadership and parliamentary group communication and efforts” are needed, but also the resolution of mutual problems through “a basis of mutual respect and common interests”. What is most peculiar is that the importance of relations with neighbouring Latvia are stressed as one of the key priorities.

“We will dedicate particular attention to relations with the ethnically close Latvia. The Latvian government is dominated by an ideologically similar party – the Latvian Green and Peasants Union, with which we have long been cooperating,” stressed the project, which is dominated by the LPGU.
“Relations with Latvia are for some reason made a priority, though that priority could be based on only party similarities in both states. Meanwhile the relations with Poland that desperately need a review are barely mentioned. Most importantly, there is no clear idea as to how to refresh relations with Poland.

Especially keeping in mind that the LPGU would not want to change much in problems that are symbolically sensitive in Poland, such as the writing of names and location names. Thus just a declaration of improving relations could be fairly hollow,” T. Janeliūnas was critical of the section of the programme.

More responsibility for the President?

In Janeliūnas’ opinion, the superficial attitude to foreign and security policy complexities is particularly eye catching.

“It is as if a massive stained glass window with only a few details of coloured glass. They themselves are correct, but there is no common vision in foreign and security policy. Meanwhile some accents that are focused on distort the potentially coherent state strategy even more,” stated the political scientist.

According to him, the LPGU and Social Democrat government programme project contains a peculiar statement that in seeking to strengthen the role of the OSCE, it is necessary to “find value based points of relation between the Scandinavian and Visegrad groups”, something that is completely unrelated to the OSCE.

“The key flaw of OSCE effectiveness is a massive value and perception gap between democratic states on one hand and post-Soviet Eastern Europe, where non-democratic states dominate, on the other. Bringing the Visegrad and Scandinavian states closer together is pointless because they are not radically different anyway,” the political scientist expressed his confusion.

Doubts also arose due to the foreign policy section containing statements like “Lithuania has to leverage its natural ecological potential” or “exceed the self-created image of an unimportant ecological province, to set clear goals and ambitions in ecological policy.”

“That sounds paradoxical. If they wish to speak of global ecologic goals, then it would be suitable to at least mention how Lithuania intends to involve itself in programmes of halting global warming because this is the greatest global problem.

Meanwhile the programme specifically talks of some sort of autonomous ecological potential which we could be proud of in foreign policy? In other words, they wish to appear progressive, but the handle of a plow still hangs out of the pocket,” stated Janeliūnas.

In his opinion the government will most likely hope that the topics of foreign and defence policy will be more handled by the President, while the ministers themselves will know what to do. This is why at least the preservation of key approaches and the survival of current policy is, according to Janeliūnas, a potentially positive sign.

Doubting 2% for defence

Nevertheless he was critical of the very formal defence distribution into only public security (essentially police work) and defence from external aggression, that is to say military activity.
On one hand the programme project’s formulation should not cause any greater concern since it states that Lithuania “must seek greater involvement of the US and other large alliance members in ensuring the security of Eastern Europe, moving a larger force of permanent NATO forces into the Baltic States and Poland.”

“However contemporary security is a very complex topic. Just external threats can be many – from terrorist attacks, global financial crises, conflicts due to mass migration to cyber-attacks or ecologic catastrophe.

All of this demands a holistic view of the security environment. That said we can see that the defence sector section is based on the SocDem electoral programme, it is more detailed than the LPGU programme. The essential flaw of this section is a lack of ambition and vision,” stated the scientist.

The project notes that Lithuania will dedicate the NATO minimum funding of 2% of GDP for the defence budget by no later than 2018. That said R. Karbauskis himself has hinted that this financing could include extra assignations to the police, despite it being subordinate to the Ministry of Interior, not the Ministry of National Defence.

In such a case real defence funding could be lesser than 2% though T. Janeliūnas notes the two percent are no longer a magical number upon reaching which one can feel safe. It is no longer clear if it will suffice.

That said the programme no longer talks of universal conscription or teaching military basics in higher education institutions, there are pledges of pay raises to soldiers, their average is to rise by an entire 30%. Where the funding will be found and whether all soldiers will be able to enjoy the pay raise is not discussed.

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