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Active and reliable ally since the start: Lithuania’s NATO membership


“The 29th of March is an immensely important date to Lithuania because the membership in a collective defence organisation gave us vital security guarantees, relevant to this day, an Lithuania will continue being an active and reliable ally,” Minister of National Defence Raimundas Karoblis said on Lithuania’s 14th anniversary of NATO membership.


Having become a full-fledged and reliable member of the strongest defence Alliance in the world over its 14 years in it, Lithuania continues contributing to the main NATO tasks – collective defence, crisis management and provision of security through cooperation. Today Lithuania responds to security shifts and develops national defence capabilities, ensures an input to deterrence and defence, and actively contributes to multinational operations.


Membership before and after the Russian aggression in Ukraine


Lithuania was a security provider even before NATO accession – our forces served in NATO-led multinational operations in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Albania. Before the Russian aggression in Ukraine, the main NATO presence in the Baltic states was the NATO Air Policing Mission protecting the Baltic airspace during peacetime. It began on 29 March 2004 with the landing of the Belgian Air Force Detachment with F-16s at Šiauliai Air Base. Since Lithuania’s NATO accession in 2004 to 2014 great attention was paid to multinational operations, Lithuanians deployed to Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan. It gave us invaluable experience and recognition among allies. 


In 2004 – 2013 NATO began focussing on crisis management, discussions on emerging security challenges -energy, cyber security, started. When the need of expertise arose, NATO Energy Security Centre of Excellence was opened in Vilnius 2012 to ensure expert handling of operational energy security issues.


The Russian aggression in Ukraine in spring 2014 changed the situation drastically. NATO responded immediately - deployed augmentation of the Baltic air policing mission in Šiauliai and Amari (Estonia) Air Bases. And it proved wise. Since the aggression, NATO fighter aircraft have been scrambled to intercept Russian military aircraft approaching Baltic air borders much more often and the need to is not diminishing.


NATO leaders agreed on the necessity to have rotational allied units present in the Baltic states in the Wales Summit in 2014. Also, eight countries of Central and Eastern Europe became hosts of NATO Force Integration Unis that would facilitate deployment of NATO forces in case of emergency. First unit like that has been successfully operating in Vilnius since September 2015.


The NATO Summit in Warsaw in July 2016 decided to deploy NATO enhanced Forward Presence in Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Poland - and a multinational German-led over 1,000 strong force was inaugurated in Rukla as soon as 2017 and today it is a part of the Mechanised Infantry Brigade Iron Wolf of the Lithuanian Armed Forces. Aside from Germany, the forward force deployed in Lithuania for deterrence and defence is manned and equipped by the Netherlands, Norway, Belgium, Croatia, Iceland, France, and Luxembourg.


Therefore, today Lithuania has not only security assurances of the Alliance, but also reliable allied forces capable of immediate response alongside Lithuania military.


Lithuania is not a security consumer, it is a reliable NATO ally


From the very beginning, Lithuania not solely consumed security but also contributed to security efforts. Lithuania pays great attention to strengthening national defence capabilities – increases defence budget, modernises and develops its armed forces and infrastructure. Our troops serve in NATO operations and missions and often earn praise and respect for their professionalism and courage. For example, it was a great challenge for Lithuania to lead one of the provincial reconstructions teams of the international security assistance operation of NATO in Afghanistan, province of Ghor, for eight years (2005 – 2013), however, Lithuania faced it with success. On the other hand, multinational operations amidst real military conflict is the best place to hone the craft of soldiership. The experience is invaluable to our soldiers. They acquire practical skills and test the things they have learn in training and exercises.


Transport aircraft of the Lithuanian Air Force used to also take contingents to areas of operations successfully. Ships of the Lithuanian Navy take part in the activities of the NATO Standing Naval Forces – mine countermeasures efforts of SNMCMG1. Capabilities are assigned to the NATO Response Forces. Lithuanian officers serve in different NATO headquarters and commands. Lithuania contributes to a stronger NATO with everything it can and that is exactly why it was and is appreciated.


Also, since the very beginning of NATO membership Lithuania has called for regional security. Lithuania’s military representatives take part actively in political and military debates in NATO. Experience and expertise of Lithuanians have always been appreciated. Besides, we also have best practices to share. Our hands-on knowledge of regional security challenges and threats, as well as experience in ensuring our national security, are valued.


Developing challenges


The Alliance has also been developing over the 14 years of Lithuania’s membership: by facing challenges and adapting to new security environment. However, the most important challenge is the aggressive posture of Russia and its military actions that have destabilised security in the region. It made NATO remember its initial mission – deterrence and collective defence. The aforementioned NATO Summits in Wales (2014) and Warsaw (2016) adopted a number of crucial decisions, including on the NATO enhanced Forward Presence in the Baltic states and Poland. We have to boost the capabilities for responding in a collective defence situation. We are doing that all the time. Moreover, chiefs of defence, ministers of defence meet on a regular basis to discuss security situation, assess implementation of the taken decisions, effectiveness of ongoing efforts, and to take follow-on decisions for deterrence and defence an better response to challenges outside NATO borders.


The Alliance today, just like Lithuania, is facing challenges of unconventional nature. Cyber, information attacks are a great challenge of hybrid warfare. Therefore NATO put together a strategy of response to hybrid threats, member states made a political commitment to strengthen cyber defence capabilities. There is also cooperation with the European Union to ensure member states national resilience to unconventional threats is strengthened through coordination of preparation for hybrid threats.


But the security threats in the region remain, and we have to regularly prepare to counter them. Deterrence is reliable because the message the Alliance will respond to military aggression immediately is clear.


Lithuania became the member of NATO on 29 March 2004 when documents of ratification of the North Atlantic Treaty were deposited in Washington (USA). NATO membership is the foundation of Lithuania’s security policy. Being a member of NATO, Lithuania is a part of the collective defence system which is based on solidarity of allies, guarantees of collective defence, and mutual commitments. Lithuania accessed NATO along with six more countries – Estonia, Latvia, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia.



Photo from MoD archive (credit Antanas Gedrimas)

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