When asked, where he would travel for his first official visit as president, General Jonas Žemaitis Lithuanian War Academy Science Centre director dr. N. Statkus answers without hesitation – to Riga and to Warsaw as second. The first visit being to Latvia, the expert believes, would be the most neutral politically and most understandable ethno culturally.
Vytautas Magnus University Political Science and Diplomacy Department dean, professor Šarūnas Liekis would choose Washington because with the world security architecture changing, the USA remains Lithuania’s most important partner. “It isn’t to Riga that you would go for negotiations, such provinciality of ours… If not the USA, then we must try to speak with and convince the Germans – there are no other options,” the professor stated with certainty.
Vilnius University Institute of International Relations and Political Science professor R. Lopata does not hide his disappointment in the state of Lithuanian foreign policy and poses a rhetorical question: “What difference does it make, where you go? Will it change anything?”
Does Lithuania have a foreign policy strategy?
According to R. Lopata, Lithuania has wasted its foreign policy potential over the past decade. Bar protocol diplomatic functions (which also weren’t always implemented), Lithuanian leaders were only commenting on foreign policy, not performing it.
Currently Lithuanian foreign policy is in the state of the country’s football: down to the fourth league, R. Lopata muses. “The national team keeps declining, everyone is disappointed, but celebrate each time when they hear a Lithuanian specialist became the trainer of a fourth division team in Italy. We can only perhaps be glad that someone is knocking from the fifth division – perhaps we will help them enter the fourth, that’s all,” the professor stated.
Similarly, Š. Liekis states that Lithuania still does not have a foreign policy strategy. An ideological, strategic explanation is needed of what our country does, what vision for the country its politicians have, but according to the professor, so far nothing has been heard from the political elite. Thus, Lithuanian foreign policy is reactive and not proactive – we do not form the agenda, we only play in that of others, reacting to news, but not forming news, the professor told lrt.lt.
However, according to N. Statkus, Lithuania had and has successful defence and foreign policy strategies. Our foreign policy was always very active and much more has been done that the status and resources of a small country would normally permit, he believes. Nevertheless, he notes that Lithuania fails to articulate so-called grand strategy – consistent and all-encompassing directions for state development and the focusing of political will to implement it.
Lithuania is small, but is it provincial?
According to R. Lopata, strategies are born in actions, not on paper. “So we’ll sit down, type up a strategy and start implementing it? Sound ridiculous. I understand that we are small, but during the tenure of President Adamkus, we managed to be a factor,” R. Lopata notes.
“What over the past ten years has there been of note, what foreign policy initiatives has Lithuania demonstrated? None!” he complained. Meanwhile, Poland created the Three Seas Initiative (Baltic, Black and Adriatic seas cooperation format), Romania – the Bucharest Nine (format involving the newest EU members from the region). Even if it appeared of little consequence initially, through the efforts of Warsaw and Bucharest, these initiatives are gaining momentum, R. Lopata says.
According to Š. Liekis, being small does not have to mean being provincial. “Our country could be at the centre of everything, just look at Israel, Singapore or Luxembourg; these small states are certainly not provincial, but we are,” the professor says.
N. Statkus reminds that in 2004, the Lithuanian foreign policy strategy was simple and clear – enter NATO and the EU. When this was achieved, the public and politicians actively discussed, what Lithuania’s goals should be next. Two ideas competed: “golden provinces” and “regional cooperation centre”, seeking to Europeanize the EU’s Eastern neighbours and bring them closer to NATO. The latter idea won,” N. Statkus states.
“We were akin to a beacon of freedom and democracy to former USSR republic, showing by example that we succeeded and they can too,” the expert reminds. This strategy was implemented through coordinated actions with Poland, the other Baltic States, the UK and USA.
According to N. Statkus, thanks to massive Lithuanian efforts and cooperation with partners, exceptionally much has been achieved. In 2008, the Bucharest declaration was passed, affirming that Ukraine and Georgia will become NATO members. Association agreements between the EU, Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova were prepared, signed and came into power. “The Maidan started in the Palace of the Grand Dukes in Lithuania, when in 2013, the then Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych did not sign the association agreement with the EU, thus marking the beginning of the end for his regime,” N. Statkus points out.
Do we know where we’re headed?
“When a country has no vision, it’s foreign policy will be confused and this is what we see in Lithuania, for example failing to travel to Tallinn or Riga to commemorate independence centenaries because it is unclear why and whether it is needed,” Š. Liekis tells lrt.lt.
R. Lopata finds the last decade of Lithuanian foreign policy to lack continuity. According to him, the meandering shows that insufficient attention is dedicated to foreign policy in Lithuania or that the main Lithuanian foreign policy actors greatly overestimated their capacities.
“We are only commentators even in regard to Ukraine,” R. Lopata muses. According to him, we do what we can, but we adhere to others, rather than creating coalitions and raising our own initiatives. “It appears that up to the Ukrainian crisis we lost the status of the EU’s Russia expert, today we seem overcome with panic over supposedly inevitable aggression,” he notes.
N. Statkus reminds that the “regional cooperation centre” idea began to lose momentum in 2008, criticism poured on. There was a lack of Western European involvement, the international situation was changing and in Lithuania itself, there was lack of consensus.
According to him, even without notable declarations, over the last term, D. Grybauskaitė‘s foreign policy direction in regard to the East was little different to President Valdas Adamkus’ second term; perhaps due to administrational inertia or perhaps due to a deeply rooted national perception of what Lithuania’s role is. Nevertheless, he adds that unfortunately Lithuania’s abilities both then and now do not match the role we assign ourselves.
What should Lithuanian foreign policy be like?
According to Š. Liekis, firstly we must define a vision of Lithuania itself, of Europe and the world and then see, what countries’ visions match our own, seek allies for each specific question. “We must be flexible, adaptive and support politics that favours us, rather than individual countries. This is the only way we could be proactive and contribute to the formation of politics. Otherwise we are and will continue to be passive consumers of politics,” he explains.
According to R. Lopata, Lithuania should balance axes of power – draw strength from all directions: North, East, the US and Poland.
N. Statkus is convinced that in order to support and maintain the US’ presence in our region and Europe, it is necessary to create closer political and defence cooperation with the USA and UK, one which would involve the Northern Countries, the Visegrad states and Romania. This way, Lithuania would resolve its foreign policy dilemma of where to orient itself – toward Northern Europe or Poland. These directions should not be seen as mutually exclusive, but should be merged, the expert believes.
According to him, the normalisation of relations with Poland should help better support Ukraine, Moldovia and Georgia. “To this end, we must be rid of one key stumbling block – at the very least we must legalise the spelling of names in native languages in the Latin alphabet because this is the person’s right to their identity,” N. Statkus explains, reminding that the key of relations with Poland lies in Lithuanian domestic politics.
Lithuania must dedicate particular attention to security ensured by the US’ guarantees and NATO membership. According to R. Lopata, being NATO members, we cannot doubt in the Alliance’s preparedness to defend Lithuania because this undermines confidence in both NATO and ourselves, only aiding the Kremlin. “Russia must be punished, but not provoked by meaningless words. We must prepare for defence, but should not intimidate with war,” the professor states.
According to him, a real response to Russia would be the implementation of Eastern Partnership Policy in not only Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova, but also aiding the democratization of Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia and later or further – the Central Asian countries. The Ukrainian military must be supplied serious and modern military aid, a rapprochement plan for the EU and Kaliningrad Oblast must be prepared. “We must bring down V. Putin‘s cherished Eurasia, drawing the region’s countries to the EU,” R. Lopata tells lrt.lt.
N. Statkus reminds that Russia is not intent on changing, quite the contrary, it intends to make the West more akin to itself – “save” Europe from the “grip” liberal democracy. Russia’s goals in Europe are to weaken NATO and the EU, push out the USA from Europe. “Three matters are of interest for Russia in Lithuania: free military transit to Kaliningrad Oblast, at least minimal control of the energy sector and passive Lithuanian foreign policy. Foreign and domestic policy, which does not serve these expectations is in Lithuania’s interests,” N. Statkus explains.
According to R. Lopata, the basis of Lithuanian foreign and security policy is not only territorial defence, but the safeguarding of the people and nation. The state must be modernised, the nation’s modernity ensured and its gap to the West decreased.
N. Statkus reminds that foreign policy is very important, but it is only a part of national security policy. Lithuania must strengthen its internal consolidation – institutions, which ensure national security, their cooperation, the involvement of business and nongovernmental organisations. But most importantly – reduce political and social segregation, he says.
According to the expert, we must overcome the gap between foreign and domestic policy, synchronise them strengthen the country’s political system, social harmony, make the economy more competitive, renew infrastructure and make state service more effective through uninteresting, minor, but urgent tasks. This, N. Statkus believes, could only be done by a well operating tandem of president and prime minister.
Similarly, R. Lopata believes that the order of Lithuanian foreign policy is weakened by the fact that its formation and implementation is focused in one location – the institution of president, while the other Lithuanian foreign policy centres – the Seimas and cabinet are strategically passive. This, the professor believes, has dismantled a subtly noted part of the Constitution, which denotes the harmony of foreign and domestic policy. “Lithuania is a unique country, whose prime ministers do not go to Brussels. It could appear to some that Lithuania has become a presidential republic,” R. Lopata says.