Opinion: Lithuania does not invest into its most important ally

DELFI / Šarūnas Mažeika

Yet this visit, I dare say, is no less important than, for example, the upcoming Vilnius trip of the US Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Richard Stengel. Moreover, Volker’s visit, I believe, puts into focus an issue I have raised on numerous occasions: are we investing enough into our own security in the face of Russia‘s aggression?

I will not be speaking about military spending this time, though I still believe that the multi-party declaration to raise it to 2 percent of GDP by 2020 is too little too late.

Equally important is diplomatic investment. Volker’s visit is an example of the latter. I think it can be seen as both a genuine success of the Lithuanian diplomacy and a symptom. Let me explain.

Mr. Volker, who is an old friend of our country, has told me that his visit to Lithuania was very educational. He learned new things about Lithuania’s position on the Russian threat and ways to avert it – and also about our arguments to defend this position. The former ambassador to NATO said he would certainly make use of them in undertaking very concrete tasks.

This means that even Lithuania’s friends in the United States are not sufficiently informed about Lithuania’s arguments. In other words, even among friends Lithuania’s voice is not heard well enough in the US – this is what I mean by saying that Volker’s remarks were symptomatic.

Naturally, Vilnius is but a very tiny (albeit important) point in the map of Washington’s interests and challenges.

But this is precisely why Lithuania should invest much more into presenting its position and arguments in the US, a country that is essentially the foundation of Lithuania’s security.

I must quote here what the Lithuanian Ambassador in Wahsington, Žygimantas Pavilionis, said twice in 2014.

“I have asked the members of the Seimas (parliament) to work more actively with [US] Congress. It costs money, each trip, each project, it’s not that easy to fly to America or invite people here, but this dialogue is very important now, as threats to the democratic world, at least in our region, are growing. Congresspeople have enormous influence on the administration,” Pavilionis told the press in March last year.

At the end of last year, the diplomat summarized the extent to which his words had been heard: “I am not very happy with the statistics of our political dialogue. Eighteen congresspeople visited Lithuania this year, while the Seimas members coming to America can be counted on the fingers of one hand. MPs’ trips to America are often not funded [by parliament]. They need to pay from their personal funds, provided we talk them into coming. That’s absurd. This country [the US] protects us, we won’t survive without it, so it would be great to see both the left and the right invest into this relationship.”

Some might think that Ambassador Pavilionis’ words, that approach institutional criticism, apply only to sluggish relations between our Seimas and US Congress. I think, however, that the problem is bigger than that. Although one must grant that the Lithuanian Embassy in the US, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Lithuania’s entire diplomatic corps do everything they can to keep in touch with Barack Obama‘s administration and US diplomats, there are many more centres of power in America that exist outside the White House, Congress and official diplomacy.

Mr. Volker’s visit is a great illustration of this point. It is no secret that Senator John McCain is one of the best and most consistent spokespeople of the Russian threat, one whose “instincts” have been very close to Lithuania’s own position on Russia. And it must be obvious that the head of an institute named after the senator, who is also a friend of Lithuania, can be instrumental in shaping Senator McCain’s positions that are favourable to Lithuania.

Moreover, it is no secret that Mr. Volker himself might be actively involved in the Republican presidential campaign, so even if he does not have any official position now, he might become a very influential US government official.

There are many like him in the United States. Their career paths are easily predictable and well known to Lithuanian diplomats. Therefore consistent work with such people should be part of Lithuania’s long-term strategy. I am not implying that it is not already – but it is obvious that Lithuania should invest much more into such ties.

Even more importantly, policies that eventually get adopted by the administration of US presidents are first articulated in think tanks like the McCain Institute. It was the case with Lithuania’s accession to NATO and the notorious Russian “reset” strategy.

It is clear that right now the Americans are putting efforts into drafting a long-term strategy to counter Russia’s aggression and general guidelines for relations with Moscow. Shouldn’t Lithuania seriously invest into making sure that its voice gets heard in the process?

Mr. Volker’s visit could be a successful step in that direction. It is not, however, sufficient – there are many more friends of Lithuania who need to be acquainted with our position and convinced that our arguments are sound. Not to mention those who are yet to be made Lithuania’s friends.

The efforts alone of the Lithuanian Embassy in Washington, which is doing more than it can, are not and will never be enough. At the same time, a question begs itself: in the face of present dangers and growing importance of the US for our security, shouldn’t Lithuania have strengthened (both in terms of financial and human resources) its embassy in the Washington? Even if that can only be done at the expense of other diplomatic directions.

There seems to be much inertia in this area. For instance, I myself and even some Lithuanian diplomats still wonder how come the Ministry of Foreign Affairs conducts its Kiev and Moscow policies with largely the same human and financial resources as before Russia’s actions in Ukraine.

The explanation often given by Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius – that the entire ministry is now working on these issues and so there is no need to beef up separate departments that deal with Ukraine and Russia – does not convince me.

Finally, what about other ministries? Are they active enough in working with the US (even the Ministry of National Defence, not to mention others that might not seem so important)? Are their efforts in this respect even adequate? I would say, no.

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