Whatever US President Donald Trump may have said today at the Warsaw Uprising monument, just the fact that his second trip abroad was to Poland is something we should be happy about.
While much of the POTUS’ speech focused on the history of Poland, we should view D. Trump’s statement not as a statement to just the Polish people, but to all the nations of the region and the entire European Union. In his speech D. Trump sends us several important messages:
First. The story of the Warsaw Uprising will not repeat and neither Poland, nor its neighbours will ever be left alone in terms of either military or energy security. In D. Trump’s words, the countries of the region will never be the hostages of one supplier.
Second. D. Trump reminded about Europe’s commitments to NATO and the commitment of NATO member states to defend every member of the alliance (article V), which is what we have long waited from the new US President. A larger US military presence in Poland not only protects our freedom, but also opens up road to greater involvement of the US in the Baltic States.
Third. The comparison of Nazi German and Soviet Union‘s crimes was very important, if not historical. With Bolshevism celebrating a century in the Kremlin and the danger in the East growing again, such a statement about threats by our chief ally is very important.
It is clear that D. Trump came to Eastern Europe to seek friends because he is viewed more sceptically in old Europe, which, truth be told, isn’t bad for us – proof of this is our entry into NATO during President George Bush’s term in office. Increasingly many experts state that our region is becoming appealing to contemporary America due to its similarities with the US, thus with this visit the US President wishes to send a message to the world that the time to hear out our region’s voice is nigh.
I have said a number of times that upon freeing ourselves of communist oppression we became as if the embodiment of the American Dream in Europe – we still have a value based view of international relations, as do the Americans, we are noted for being hard working and having an excellent work ethic, we increasingly dislike the state’s intrusion on private life, strengthening bureaucracy and tampering with our freedom and traditions. Furthermore we have a completely identical security vision. It is unsurprising that with a change in the US administration, new opportunities opened up in the bilateral relations with the US, however how do we make use of this best in the short term?
Firstly we have to grasp that Washington is almost the most important capital to us today thus we have to dedicate exceptional attention in terms of our diplomacy. The situation where high US officials pass by Lithuania or visit our country more often than our representatives visit the USA cannot continue for long. We have to show initiative in our relations with the US first.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its subordinate institutions must continue increasing the staff of the Lithuanian embassy in the USA in order to increase our visibility and the representation of our interests in the most important US institutions. Finally not everything has to rely on funding – the MOFA should present a vision of relations with the USA and a strategy which would reflect the new administration’s expectations and level of ambition, rather than departing to Washington with nothing to bring forward.
Meanwhile the Seimas has to dedicate more tangible attention and funding toward trips to the US and should appoint a representative to the US congress for visits there, as it has a representative at the currently essentially irrelevant European Parliament. The US President’s visit to Poland was not coincidental. Trump’s decision to appear was based on more than half a year of regular visits to the US and hard work by the highest ranks of Polish diplomats and the head of the Polish presidential cabinet Krzysztof Szczerski.
Secondly we must be visible in the region and individually. On one hand we must continue to participate in regional formats that are currently being assembled by Poland, actively support the spread of democracy in the Eastern neighbourhood and provide expertise regarding Russia. On the other hand we must not forget elementary homework, such as consistent defence spending increases even after 2018. 2% GDP for defence spending must not be the limit at which we allow ourselves to stop. A state at the edge of civilisation must invest more into defence, particularly when the US, who is currently our greatest guarantor of security, finds defence investment particularly important. Only by investing enough into defence ourselves can we expect the support of others. D. Trump reminded of this during his visit yet again.
Thirdly we must be innovative and demonstrate leadership. Another important aspect of the US President’s visit in our region was the strengthening of Eastern European energy independence. Thanks to the Presidential Palace and several cabinets’ consistent work, Lithuania was one of the first in the world to construct a LNG terminal and became a pioneer in the global energy industry revolution. This is why today we can interest the Americans not only by purchasing gas from them, but also by sharing our experience in energy infrastructure with the entire region.
It is a curious coincidence that we even had the opportunity to greet the most powerful man in the world during our Statehood Day. Standing on the old hillfort mounds we must think of not only the glorious past, but also the big strategy for the future. At least for a moment let us distance ourselves from the local soap operas of Seimas and consider what ideas we can offer our people, region, Europe and the world today.
During the coming four years of D. Trump’s term we must establish Lithuanian leadership in not only security and defence, but also energy independence, transport, regional politics, agriculture and innovation. Our partnership with the USA has developed particularly rapidly in certain historical periods. US leadership in the world can strengthen Lithuania’s positions and security. We must unit and instead of delving deeper into sandbox level intrigues, we should take the Polish example of forming a greater vision, which we could accomplish with our old regional friends and new friends in Washington.