US and Western Europe’s disagreements: whom should Lithuania stand by?

Angela Merkel, Donaldas Trump
Sipa / Scanpix

“Solely Brussels is no good, but solely Washington is also no good. […] It is necessary to manoeuvre between the two positions,” political scientist Virgis Valentinavičius says, commenting on how Lithuania should act in the face of disagreements between Western Europe and the USA. Meanwhile conservative Žygimantas Pavilionis believes that Lithuania should stand by the axis Berlin-Washington, also mediating for the two, writes.

The strategic alliance of the US and Western Europe has been facing a number of challenges in recent times – disagreements over the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, over defence funding and over the Iran nuclear programme agreement, as well as tariffs. LRT Radio show Aktualijų Studija reviewed what Lithuania’s stance should be with these sort of developments.

Former Lithuanian ambassador the US, now member of Seimas Ž. Pavilionis believes that in recent times, serious geopolitical changes have been ongoing: “We are moving into a realpolitik world, where interests and power help come out on top.”

As such, the politician believes, Lithuania should primarily seek how to secure its national interests.

“I believe that we must view the future world based on the lines, which Washington is beginning to draw. […] No doubt for us, there will never be an option to choose a world without America. This is because if we chose such a world, we would simply cease to exist.

We must aid [US President Donald] Trump to grasp – patiently, by visiting – that we must begin defending democracies, these including Ukraine and Georgia, clearly emphasising that Russia is a country, which will seek to destroy democracy in all forms,” the former ambassador stated.

Meanwhile the European Union, according to Ž. Pavilionis, is an assistant in this context and Germany stands by this line as well.

“The Germans are in no rush to criticise the Americans compared to the French or Juncker [European Commission chairman Jean-Claude Juncker] – they calmly, patiently explain. But without active bilateral diplomacy in the United States, Berlin, we will never reach this. Our current foreign policy is minimalist, directed to Brussels and the only modus operandi during conflict is to back Brussels. That is not wise,” Ž. Pavilionis says.

Mykolas Romeris University docent, political scientist V. Valentinavičius says that he would dispute the opinion that Vilnius’ policies are solely pro-Brussels.

“I believe that in reality that is not the case. And what we should pursue is to find the right balance between Brussels and Washington. Solely Brussels is no good, but solely Washington is also no good. Nowadays we were reminded of this by the CIA jail story – how once practically unilateral decisions now have a great cost in prestige and the EU’s critical evaluation.

Regarding the Palestianian representation [in Vilnius] or an embassy to Israel in Jerusalem, we cannot ignore the positions of the EU. We must manoeuvre between the two positions and seek the best variant for each specific situation, but the sum result must be balance,” V. Valentinavičius states.

To this, Ž. Pavilionis agrees that balance must be sought and notes that this is why he proposes to invest in Berlin. “Let us do our all so that this capital would work for us because it is wisely seeking compromise and balance between Washington and Brussels. Because if in Brussels the French anti-American stance will entrench itself, it will not bode well for us. Let us patiently invest so that balance is re-established in Berlin, one that would suit our interests.

For the first time in a decade, the Germans are opening the EU and NATO expansion “box” in the Balkans, which is being opposed by the French. Hence, let us go to Berlin and say that we will offer our undivided support, but that they should be aware that there are problems in the East as well – Ukraine and Georgia have also sought these memberships for a decade. We are with you Germans and the Americans must be retained. These are diplomatic games, where we participate little,” Ž. Pavilionis says.

In his opinion, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė could mediate between Berlin and Washington.

“I believe that our president, who has ideal relations with Chancellor Angela Merkel and decent ones with D. Trump, could obtain an opportunity to mediate. She is greatly respected in Brussels and has now earned respect in Washington – this, I believe, is just the role for our diplomacy. Let us work so that the distance between Berlin and Washington would shrink,” Ž. Pavilionis explained his idea.

Meanwhile, V. Valentinavičius describes how he spoke with an influential member of the German Bundestag several weeks ago, who complained how hard it is to talk to the US now.

“For a year the United States have not appointed an ambassador to Germany, which is the most important European ally. When the appointment was made, for the first month all he did was pressure German companies to no longer trade with Iran and join US sanctions against Iran. Confrontations such as this are increasing,” the political scientist says.

Ž. Pavilionis highlights that for some reason the US announcement of implementing import tariffs coincided with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo‘s statement about dedicating 2% of GDP to defence, clearly specifying that this commitment is fulfilled by the Baltics, Romania, Poland and the UK, but not other NATO countries.

“This is pressure, but why should the Americans spend vast amounts of funds to finance our security, when certain trade disagreements are ongoing?” Ž. Pavilionis asks.

V. Valentinavičius says that no one argues against the need to raise defence budgets, but America Is for the first time demanding to do so insistently and punishing its allies: “Even during the Iraq war when France radically refused to support the United States, it did not happen that the USA factually punished its allies, began ordering as it is now regarding defence budgets.”

According to the political scientist, one of the appealing points of the United States was its generosity and magnanimity.

“Yes, Europe owes America, but once again – why America have so many allies? That’s because it really magnanimously ensured the security of Europe. Now this stance is changing fundamentally. And I fear greatly that a caricature in The New Yorker is becoming very correct: some sort of figures in Washington and the caption “Everybody hates us – THAT’s our foreign policy.”

If the result is one where America through all these processes, through all these punishments of allies, will lose its soft power and will only employ hard power – orders and economic power, then the talk will no longer be of solely the struggles of Euro Atlantic relations, but something more serious,” V. Valentinavičius believes.

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