We can be also very proud that Lithuania was the first country to summon troops from Luxembourg – the Iron Sword is the first military exercise for them in a foreign country.
I do acknowledge importance of military exercise, but what does it mean for us in the broader context? Major General Jonas Vytautas Žukas, Commander in Chief of the Lithuanian Armed Forces, says that the exercise was not planed in advance and the allies had no planned intentions to take part.
However, the fact that eight countries have responded to the unplanned invitation is an excellent result. The army is not the dormitory of students. Such kind of “parties” like international military exercises is usually organised accurately and pretty early in advance. The fact that so many countries have decided to act in a way slightly at odds with customary procedures suggests that security of NATO’s eastern borders is of high importance to them.
Recently there were a lot of discussions on the Article 5 of the NATO treaty. We have heard a lot on this topic. But let’s put the talks aside and look further ahead.
At the beginning of the military attacks in the territory of Ukraine, the supplementary forces of fighter planes were summoned to secure the air space of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. The American troops and tanks were invited to take part in the exercise in Lithuania. Now, we hold a military exercise of major scale that was not planed in advance.
Representatives of our army and allies say that these actions are the instrument of deterrence. Could we rephrase these actions as the implementation of Article 5 in advance?
The American troops have settled in our grounds for more than one exercise. It was announced that the troops of Hungary would stay here for several months. Maybe such a longer stay of our allies could not be equated to a permanent NATO base, but we should acknowledge it looks like a kind of a firm guarantee for our country in such disturbing times.
Maybe we shall see some particular kind of rotation of our allies’ troops soon like it is in the case of our air defence? As a citizen of Lithuania, I would be very pleased with such a scenario. I would also support the idea that our troops could contribute more to NATO’s rapid reaction forces.
We should be concerned about the security of our neighbours’ border just like our own security. That is the guarantee of our security. Not one for all, but all for all.
The exercise has highlighted one more important issue. Representatives of the army have informed that the exercise is taking place in two polygons as we do not have one polygon that could be large enough to host the exercise of such scale.
Here comes the question – are we prepared enough to welcome more solid troops of our allies? Amidst more strained international situation and increased threats to security, we could expect to receive more troops, but shall we be able to accommodate them?
Maybe it’s just the right time to think about that. Moreover, in that case it would be the direct implementation of Article 3 of NATO’s treaty which proclaims that the country itself should take care of its own security.
Besides that, the question of air missile defence should not be forgotten. Vast amounts of short-range missiles have been deployed in the district of Kaliningrad. These missiles can reach almost any possible target in the territory of Lithuania. Taking into account that we do not have anti-missile defence, it would be dangerous to concentrate troops at the polygons, as they would be the first potential target in case of war.
Maybe it’s just the right time to renew discussions on the anti-missile defence system in Eastern Europe? These discussions should also take into account the efficiency and reliability of such a defence system. Maybe there are cheaper and more effective ways to strengthen our anti-missile defence?
Peace-keeping missions of EU joint military forces are of great importance, but taking into account the current threats for EU member states, the need to reinforce the EU joint forces should be reconsidered too.
I do realise that our army has a lot of needs after the years of regular cuts in expenditure for national defence. Therefore I do hope that increase in financing will be like a refreshing breath of air. It’s very important to ensure that these investments are used as effectively as possible and that we get exactly what we need. That is the task of the utmost importance for the Ministry of National Defence and our Government. Poor implementation of this task would be unjustifiable.
General Philip Breedlove, NATO Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, has warned about the persistent activities of Russian military air forces and increased military groupings that choose more and more provocative manoeuvres. According to general Breedlove, “they’re messaging us that they are a great power”.
Taking into account the situation, every exercise and every step of NATO is necessary. Our task is to achieve that these steps are serious and the deterrence measures are consistent.
Valentinas Mazuronis is a member of the European Parliament and former minister of environment of Lithuania.