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Lithuania seeks political parties’ accord on long-term defence policies

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Linas Jegelevičius for the BNN

The Lithuanian government has proposed political parties to sign a comprehensive agreement on the country’s defence policy for the next decade.

However, some analysts, like Vaidas Saldžiūnas, a Delfi.lt journalist specialising in the field of defence, believes that such document comes too late and, importantly, the commitment to spend 2.5 of GDP for defence ought to be fulfilled by 2020, not by 2030 as the draft envisions.

«Yet it is a good sign that we have such a document drawn up. I believe our parties will sign it, however the final draft can be quite amended, taking into consideration parties’ remarks and proposals,» Saldžiūnas told BNN. «I also miss a clear vision where money for defence spending will come from».

Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis now wants to discuss the agreement with all the leaders of Lithuanian political parties.

«Party leaders have been acquainted with the draft agreement on defence priorities to ensure continuity (of the defence policy) as governments change. Prime Minister now wants to hear everybody‘s opinion in detail,» PM adviser Arnoldas Pikžirnis said.

The leaders of the Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union, the conservative Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats, the Social Democratic Party of Lithuania, the Social Democratic Labour Party of Lithuania, the Order and Justice party and the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania – Christian Families Alliance are invited to sign this agreement.

According to the draft, political parties would pledge to gradually increase defence spending to 2.5 per cent GDP by 2030, which is 0.5 percentage point more than planned this year.

The document also lays out principles on how to strengthen different types of army. It does not, however, contain a provision on universal conscription and only states that decisions on the introduction of universal conscription would be made in 2022.

The agreement will also commit leaders to ensure proper funding for intelligence services and cyber security capabilities.

«This national agreement is in force until 2030 and will be implemented through constant activity of state institutions and the adoption of legal acts, irrespective of election cycles, campaigns, results and changes in the political government,» the document reads.

Political parties signed the latest agreement on defence and security policy in 2014 soon after the annexation of Crimea by Russia, and its key provision to increase defence spending to 2 per cent GDP is set to be implemented this year.

There were attempts early this year to sign a new agreement but they failed due disagreements on further increase in defence spending.

However, some of the parties did not embrace the idea, calling the proposed commitments «inadequate».

Some of the leaders, like Gintautas Paluckas, the chairman of the Lithuanian Social Democratic Party, says they remain such in the new document.

«The expected commitments are inadequate, considering that the composition of future governments and legislature is subject to change over the course. The second thing we all understand well that the economic cycle will change (sooner or later). We will not see a situation where everything keeps growing,» Paluckas said.

According to him, the Social Democrats would support the idea of allotting a higher share of GDP to alternative military service in social sphere.

«We always look for agreements, but the proposal the way it is now will not receive our support,» Paluckas accentuated.

Representatives of other parties maintained that, albeit supporting the draft in general, they had remarks and their own ideas as to how to improve it.

Rasa Juknevičienė, a Conservative MP, called the draft «very little ambitious».

«As a party, we are not against it, however we believe that the defence budget ought to be increased a lot more rapidly…Nevertheless it is better that than the previous proposals,» Juknevičienė said.

According to here, there should be more understanding (of the issue of defence), more discussions. She also wishes that the parliamentarians were briefed on defence issues by the military chiefs, the Defence minister himself.

«If were saw this happening, then all the party leaders would understand the threats. Now we see that some of them do not (understand them),» the MP accentuated.

The leader of the party Order and Justice, Remigijus Žemaitaitis, said he did not have enough time to get acquainted with the proposal «thoroughly», but promised to sign it if the party‘s proposals are considered.

He wants a bigger attention to the needs of reserve troops and better integrate education and defence.

«That a discussion of the kind is taking place is very good though,» he noted.

Meanwhile, Valdemaras Tomaševskis, the leader of the Electoral Action of Poles- the Union of Christian Families, maintained that the party would support such an agreement if 2.5 per cent of the military spending go for Lithuanian military industry.

«If we invest the money in Lithuania, then we have one story. But if we buy weapons from other countries, thus contributing to their economies, then such agreement raises doubts,» the Poles‘ leader said.

He also admitted he needed more time to review the proposals.

Eugenijus Gentvilas, the leader of Lithuanian Liberals (Lithuania’s Liberal Movement), also was in favour of the agreement.

«As a matter of fact, we were among the first to support a similar document rolled out last year. Now we are again ready to sign it, however, I’d ask all to give us a little bit more time to review it,» he is quoted as saying.

Gediminas Kirkilas, the chairman of Lithuania’s Social Democratic Labour Party, also was positive of the document.

«It is very important politically to sign it now,» he said.

Ramūnas Karbauskis, the leader of the ruling Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union, also supports the draft agreement.

«We believe that investments in defence should grow along with the ensuring of our citizens’ social needs. This is necessary to make our people safe economically and security-wise,» Karbauskis said.

Saldžiūnas, of Delfi.lt, told BNN that security challenges come not only from primary military threats, but also from a spectrum of social challenges.

«Speaking of non-military threats, social-economic situation may be under threat due to many factors, like social injustice, still massive numbers of emigration, that creates many social-mines for both present (skilled workforce, military-age men) and future (aging population would rely more on social security, that creates a burden for present day working age population and future generation, that would have to pay higher taxes), this in the end may impair defensive potential of a state,» he said.

Saldžiūnas again reiterated the factor of Belarus.

«If we talk military threats only, that could potentially involve Belarus, since the military of this country is at least partially either integrated, air defence, intelligence for example, into Russian military structure. Lithuania has the largest border with Belarus, since it cannot be ignored,» he said.


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