Laurynas Kasčiūnas, Deputy Chair of the Seimas Committee on National Security and Defence, addressed Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius and National Defence Minister Raimundas Karoblis, proposing to establish a strategic partnership with the United States in the field of defence and to seek Lithuania’s status of the main US ally in the region.
It is very important for Lithuania to have the largest possible presence of the US military forces in the region. The leadership of the US is crucial in ensuring regional air defence and joint solutions to fend off the military forces pooled in the Kaliningrad Region that may restrict the freedom of manoeuvre for the NATO forces. This is an important factor in the realm of security and defence not only for Lithuania but also for the entire transatlantic community. The strategic partnership with the United States and enhanced bilateral defence cooperation would complement NATO’s security guarantees and ensure effective deterrence and security for Lithuania.
It is, therefore, necessary to actively support the deployment of US troops in Poland and seek to exploit the momentum when the US troops are being regrouped in Europe. The withdrawal of US troops from Germany should not be labelled as the ‘weakening of NATO’ or ‘reduction in US engagement in Europe’. Instead, this regrouping of forces should be seen as an opportunity to move some US forces closer to the eastern flank and thus strengthen overall security across Europe. Also, Lithuania must implement, without delay, the promises regarding the improvement of the conditions for the training and exercise of the ally forces on its soil. If the infrastructure is not adequately prepared, for example, if the training ranges are not expanded, it is unrealistic to expect any permanent deployment of US troops,’ Mr Kasčiūnas claims.
In his words, in order to achieve this goal, Lithuania should do the following: allocate the largest share of GDP in the region for defence; contribute more actively to US-led international operations by increasing the number of troops deployed; develop strategic defence acquisitions in cooperation with the United States; support, where necessary, the US position on security and defence issues; and ensure that 5G infrastructure in Lithuania is developed only with those manufacturers who meet the criteria of European and transatlantic integration, which will enable the unhindered exchange of defence information with the US in the future.
A population survey conducted in Lithuania this year revealed the following trend: the estimations on the friendliness of the USA as a key partner and NATO ally of Lithuania are on the decrease. Although 74 % of the country’s population still see the United States as a friendly nation, this indicator had decreased by 12 % in comparison to a similar survey four years ago.
This trend has also influenced the population’s assessment of the countries posing a threat to Lithuania. Although more than two-thirds of those surveyed have singled out Russia among such countries in the past four years, the assessment of a threat posed by the US has grown significantly. As many as 22 % of Lithuanian residents consider the US to be a threat, while the figure stood at 7 % in 2016.
‘Such changes in the assessment of the US can be attributed to the negative attitude of Lithuanians to the USA President Donald Trump. Another factor is the rethinking by the US of its role in addressing global problems by focusing more on China, whose growing global power poses new challenges, while Europe has started to be seen as a collection of individual states, rather than a region in its entirety,’ Mr Kasčiūnas states.
In addition to the observations on the weakening of the transatlantic link on account of insufficient defence funding and burden-sharing by European allies, some are voicing the idea of creating a European defence force operating autonomously from the United States and reflecting the difference in strategic cultures of the United States, on the one part, and major Western European countries, on the other.
‘Indeed, China and the Middle East will continue to be the main focus of US foreign and security policy strategists in the near future. Therefore, the attitude of European countries towards China, Chinese investment and the associated risks will be an important factor for the US in assessing the credibility of its allies and partners. This is a challenge, but also an opportunity that Lithuania can take advantage of,’ Deputy Chair of the Committee on National Defence claims.