Juozas Olekas : Closer defence cooperation in Europe is a natural and inevitable process which strengthens NATO

Exclusive interview of the Minister of National Defence Republic of Lithuania Mr. Juozas Olekas.


1. Which are the main provisions of the concepts of the national defense of the Republic of Lithuania? 


There are several basic principles of the national defence policy of Lithuania which are defined in our strategic documents (national security strategy, military strategy). First of all principles is total and unconditional defence of Lithuania. This principle means that in case of attack all national resources are focused on national defence and that the entire nation will use all means of resistance defined as legitimate by international law. The second principle states that Lithuanian security is based on individual and collective defence. Lithuania is an active NATO member and therefore develops not only national but also collective defence capabilities which could be used to defend the country itself or the Allies. Our membership also ensures the help of Allies in case of attack. According to the third principle Lithuanian defence policy is non-confrontational and transparent. This means that our country’s defence policy is not aggressive or provoking and is developed by contributing to the efforts of the international community to create a more safe global security environment. And the last (fourth) principle declares that the Lithuanian armed forces are under democratic command and control. This maintains that all the main decisions about the development and deployment of the armed forces are made a democratically elected civilian government.


According to these main principles, Lithuania is an active and responsible member of NATO and EU, develops bilateral and multilateral defence cooperation with allies and partners and contributes to the international peace and security. Lithuania is also actively strengthening national defence capabilities.


2.  To Your mind, which is the role of Lithuania in defense policy of Baltic States?


The defence policy of Baltic States has deep and strong historical roots. Despite the differences in the development of armed forces, equipment and military readiness, starting from the mid-1990 Lithuania has put all efforts in developing joint and interoperable Baltic capabilities what would add to the defensive abilities of the region as well as to allow participation of the Baltic States in international operations. 


The military cooperation dates back to the 1994 when Baltic Battalion – BALTBAT – was formed in order to develop our capability to contribute to international peacekeeping operations. Later on, our close dialogue, as well as understanding of the common destiny and security needs determined the establishment of other trilateral projects, such as a naval squadron – BALTRON, a common air surveillance network – BALTNET– with its coordination centre in Karmėlava, Lithuania and a joint staff college – BALTDEFCOL, located in Tartu, Estonia.


These projects were an excellent tool generating tangible military capabilities using assistance both in terms of material support as well as education of our partner countries that have later became our Allies. It was also a very good way to build regional network of cooperation thus improving stability and security of the Baltic region. 


Baltic projects require each country to contribute equally. As a result of this requirement, all three countries have adopted the mentality that the strength of one country depends on the strength of other countries in the region. 


Of course, the ambition to join the NATO was another important factor that has significantly accelerated the evolution of Baltic States’ national capabilities and cooperation in defence field. The logic of close cooperation and positive interdependence has become a part of our policies in the Alliance as well. These were the reasons behind the decisions of joining various projects such as C-17, AGS etc. 


The concepts of smart defence initiated in NATO or pooling and sharing initiated within the EU are based very much on the same ideas we have constructed our Baltic cooperation. I do believe this is the way to follow. Interoperability, positive interdependence are important building blocks keeping NATO and EU strong and viable. 


Thus, to sum up, close regional cooperation growing into sort of integration as well as building a wider network of interdependence is the idea defining our policies and actions in defence policy of the Baltic States. 


3. Is there a need to establish the EU armed forces considering there is NATO?


First, we should not consider EU defence integration in competition to NATO. NATO is and will stay a corner stone of European defence and a very important element of transatlantic solidarity. Closer defence cooperation in Europe is a natural and inevitable process which strengthens NATO. Current transatlantic discussion on more equal burden sharing is not only a debate on how to increase European share in NATO it also about the EU level of ambition. If the EU wants to become a real security provider in the neighbourhood and beyond, it needs a full spectrum of instruments, including military capabilities. Second, any time soon we will not be speaking about EU armed forces, EU political integration is not there yet. Our collective concern is member states’ defence capabilities, how to close European capability gaps, by working more together and investing more wisely. Member states have a single set of force which could be used for different international engagements, including under EU or NATO leadership. 


4. Lithuanian diplomacy is famous for its activity in the regions of Central Asia and South Caucasus. But which are the tasks of development of military cooperation of Lithuania with the states of these regions?


Lithuania develops defence and military cooperation not only with South Caucasus or Central Asia states, but also with other partner countries of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. However primary attention is paid to the Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, and South Caucasus states, which all together also are partners in European Union Eastern Partnership Initiative. One of Lithuania’s Presidency of European Council is development of practical CSDP cooperation with Eastern partners. 


The Eastern Partnership states follow different foreign, security, defence, and economic policies, have different culture and traditions. Some partner countries are located at a close distance from Lithuania, others are geographically remote, therefore, defence cooperation with our partner countries is multiple from the point of view of subject-matter, number of events, and dynamism of cooperation development.


Lithuania actively supports Georgia‘s efforts towards the Euro-Atlantic and European integration, supports Ukraine‘s aspiration to become a member of the European Union and contributes to continued development of NATO-Ukraine partnership. We seek closer Armenia’s, Azerbaijan’s, and Moldova’s cooperation with the Alliance and its members. Practical cooperation initiatives with Belarus are valued positively; Lithuania successfully implements security and confidence-building measures with Belarus, regularly holds expert consultations. 


Lithuania seeks stability and openness in bilateral relations with neighbour states. Internal instability of neighbouring states, non-democratic regimes, conflicts with third states may have a negative impact on security situation in Lithuania and the region. We are interested that actions of neighbour states, especially in the area of security and defence policy, were transparent and predictable.


The expansion of the Euro-Atlantic area, strengthening of NATO and the EU partnership ties, and, thus, promotion of democracy, good governance, human rights and freedoms are in Lithuania’s interest.


By ensuring peace and stability in remote non-NATO states we aim to prevent threats and instabilities in places where they originate.


5. To Your mind Mr. Minister which is the role of Lithuania in the EU energy security policy?


Energy security is one of the key challenges today for Europe and the rest of the world. It is a fact that Europe imports more than a half of the energy (oil and gas) it uses. It is also evident that global demand for energy will rise significantly, so Europe will find itself in increasing competition with other regions and states for energy imports. Why this should worry defence sector? This has to, because armed forces are one of the largest consumers among the governmental agencies in the EU Member states. This was the one of the main reasons why Lithuania identified the promotion of energy security agenda in the EU CSDP as its EU Presidency priority in the security and defence policy field. To achieve such goal we have to develop a comprehensive energy efficiency strategy for armed forces. Also, we need to promote energy security as a perspective area for pooling and sharing (Go Green project is a perfect example) and support RT projects aimed at improving military energy efficiency.