The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, abbreviated NATO, was established in 1949. This international organization is made up of European and North American nations united to ensure the freedom and security of all members of the Alliance through political and military means. Although NATO was built primarily to defend itself against the Soviet Union, over the 70 years of its existence, as the security environment has changed and new threats and challenges have emerged, the Alliance has continually adapted and entered world history as the strongest and most sustainable collective defence organization ever.
After Lithuania’s decision on NATO membership, Lithuania has been purposefully seeking to become a member of the Alliance for more than 10 years through reforms and other actions necessary for membership. On 29 March 2004, after Lithuania became a full member of NATO, NATO fighter jets landed at Šiauliai Air Base and continuously protect the airspace of the Baltic States.
Since 2004, Lithuania has come a long way in cooperating with the Allies of the Alliance. As new challenges and opportunities arose, the Alliance, as well as the Lithuanian National Defence System, adapted over time.
After Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and destabilized Eastern Ukraine with military aggression, the Allies realized that the traditional traditional military threats had not disappeared. NATO condemned Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, suspended practical cooperation with Russia and took steps to strengthen deterrence and defence.
For a long time, the West has seen Russia as it would have liked to see it – respectful of international law, democratic, cooperative. However, Russia’s military action in Sakartwell, Ukraine, and elsewhere has led the Allies to change perceptions and return to the origins of collective defence.
Although NATO’s core objectives remain threefold: collective defence, crisis management and security of cooperation, collective defence is of particular importance to Lithuania. Primarily because of Russia’s growing capabilities and threats, as we have a border with Russia (Kaliningrad) and Belarus that is becoming increasingly dependent on Russia. Geography and military imbalances in the region imply that we need to strengthen our national and regional defence capabilities, as well as work to improve the deterrence and defence of the Alliance as a whole, so that Russia is not tempted to take advantage of regional forces or speed up decision-making.
NATO forces in Lithuania
After the Russian aggression in 2014, NATO leaders made a number of important decisions. NATO’s Rapid Reaction Force has been strengthened to include the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF). Exercises have been intensified to improve deterrence in the Eastern Alliance; two additional contingents reinforced NATO air policing in the Baltic States, one air policing contingent each to Romania and Bulgaria; small headquarters of several dozen troops have been established – NATO Force Integration Units (NFIUs) in the countries of NATO’s eastern flank; four frontal battalions have been established in Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Poland. NATO enhanced Forward Presence Battalion Battle Groups, together with national forces, are ready to respond immediately to emerging threats.
While the strengthening of NATO’s eastern flank does not offset the force imbalance created by Russia, NATO’s enhanced presence as allies of the eastern flank demonstrates the Alliance’s determination, unity and unconditional commitment to collective defence.
Lithuania’s priorities in NATO
- The old threats to the security of our region have not disappeared. While the Alliance is strengthening its ability to respond quickly, Russia may make faster opportunistic decisions and redeploy forces within its control area more quickly. This has been demonstrated on several occasions during ZAPAD and other exercises, as well as by mobilizing forces for potential aggression against neighboring states. In the face of current and evolving military threats, we are working with NATO allies to further strengthen collective deterrence and defence.
- By focusing on NATO’s deterrence and defence efforts, we work with Allies to be able to deter more effectively and, if necessary, to defend ourselves with all the means and capabilities needed to do so. It is important for us to ensure that NATO’s rapid response to the maturing crisis. NATO’s timely reinforcement and enhanced air defence are tested and demonstrated in the exercise.
Lithuania’s contribution to NATO
It is important for Lithuania to have a strong, united Alliance that is able to respond to emerging threats. We are making every effort to strengthen it. Lithuania allocates 2.5% of GDP to defence costs, and see this as an important commitment of our country to the allies, from whom we expect the same.
Since joining the Alliance in 2004, we have been actively involved in international NATO-led missions and operations in the Balkans, Afghanistan, where we have led the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Ghowr, Iraq and elsewhere. Lithuania continues to contribute to NATO’s missions and operations.
Lithuanian Land, Naval, Air and Special Forces units are constantly assigned to watch and, as required, to participate in the NATO Response Force and the VJTF, thereby contributing substantially to collective defence, crisis management or international operations.
Lithuania is investing and developing its military capabilities, thereby strengthening national capabilities to respond to threats, while strengthening the collective effectiveness of deterrence and defence in NATO’s geographically fragile eastern flank, and in the Baltic States in particular. We are developing air defence capabilities to defend more effectively, as well as to integrate and protect incoming Allied reinforcements. Lithuania’s better capabilities, developed in accordance with NATO standards, can be used for the Alliance’s collective needs, if necessary.
The NATO Energy Security Competence Center has been operating in Lithuania since 2012, and Lithuania contributes to strengthening energy efficiency and combating unconventional challenges.
By contributing to NATO’s needs, we know that Allied forces will contribute to the defence of Lithuania and the region. Therefore, Lithuania’s priorities remain capacity building and improving its preparedness, the ability to respond quickly and effectively in the event of a maturing crisis or conflict, as well as the timely provision of reinforcement and air defence in the region.