International Internet Magazine. Baltic States news & analytics
Sunday, 26.03.2017, 10:15
Lithuania and Finland: shoulder to shoulder in ensuring security for themselves and the whole region
It is great to state the fact that Lithuania and Finland have truly deep cooperation traditions. Relations with Finland and other Nordic countries are of strategic importance for Lithuania. Last year we celebrated the 25th anniversary of re-established diplomatic relations between Lithuania and Finland after Lithuania restored its independence on March 11, 1990. Finland was the sixth country in the world to renew diplomatic relations with Lithuania. This year Finland and next year Lithuania will celebrate 100-year anniversary of independence, and both countries will commemorate these occasions with many meaningful projects and events. Recent official visit (last October) of the Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė to Finland contributed to the strengthening of bilateral relations. So, Lithuania and Finland are closely related in many areas.
Today, however, the most important link that connects our countries is the closest possible cooperation in security and defense as it’s currently a number one issue. The geopolitical situation remains intense as Russia’s military activity is not decreasing. It is continuously being demonstrated by carrying out large-scale snap exercises, infringing airspace, impeding the movement of ships in the Baltic Sea and occasionally placing Iskander ballistic missile systems in the Kaliningrad region.
Evidently, Russia is continuously testing our solidarity on daily basis. That’s why we, countries of the region, must always demonstrate team spirit in everything we do: NATO countries in implementing Warsaw Summit decisions, EU countries in strengthening EU defense cooperation as well as imposing sanctions on Russia. In that same spirit of unity, we should remain open to meaningful and value-driven dialogue with Russian Federation.
Being an active participant of NATO Enhanced Opportunities Programme, Finland actively contributes to strengthening the security of the Baltic countries. Finnish troops constantly participate in common military exercises, their F-18 fighters, together with NATO air police mission fighters, take part in the Baltic Regional Training Event, and both countries regularly exchange information in monitoring the air and sea space, which undoubtedly contributes to more effective air space surveillance over the Baltic Sea and the neighborhood of NATO countries.
This year Finland leads the NORDEFCO (Nordic Defense Cooperation) and Lithuania is invited to actively join the military projects of the Nordic countries. The Lithuanian Navy is taking over Finland’s experience in creating and improving an integrated sea surveillance system in Lithuania. Another example of our fruitful cooperation is the NATO Energy Security Center of Excellence, operating in Lithuania.
Finland gladly agreed to join the activities of the Center by sending its representative there.
Lithuania has been a member of the world’s most powerful alliance for more than twelve years. Therefore, just like other members of the Alliance, it has both the guarantees of NATO collective defense as well as its responsibilities and obligations. It is great to see that the security and deterrence measures adopted in Warsaw are being rapidly implemented. However, we understand that firstly we, ourselves, are responsible for the defense of our own country. Finland in this respect serves as an excellent example of how to take care of its own security and defense.
All of this became even more relevant after Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, which made both of our countries concerned even more about our security and defense. The concept of territorial defense once again became relevant. Lithuania, following the Finnish example, decided to strengthen its armed forces by reinstating the conscription system. At the same time, this is an effective way to form our military reserve faster. The younger generation in Lithuania was extremely positive about this decision - from the very beginning we had more volunteers ready to serve than we can accept at this moment. The society is also supportive of this decision, which undoubtedly contributes to developing the feelings of patriotism, public spirit, and responsibility of our young people.
The political situation, which recently has become more severe, served as a stimulus for both countries to increase their defense expenditures. In Lithuania during the last two years it has increased by 60%. This year it amounts to 1.8% of the GDP, and will reach 2% in 2018.
Lithuania is also continuously seeking to improve the readiness of its armed forces. The best example of that is the establishing of high readiness forces, which are ready to react to a threat within hours, not days or weeks. In addition, last year we have established one more brigade in our land forces.
Last year Lithuanian State Defense Council approved the new Military Strategy, which also strongly reflects the elements of hybrid warfare, encompassing a variety of areas – the fight against cyber, disinformation, and energy threats and migration challenges. Therefore, Lithuania compliments Finland on its initiative and decision to establish the European Center of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats. Understanding its importance, Lithuania is ready to contribute to the Center’s operation since the very beginning. Moreover, Lithuania also amended the law to allow the use of military force during the peacetime, which is exactly what our Finnish colleagues are now preparing to do.
Seeking to modernize their armed forces, both Finland and Lithuania are planning very solid acquisitions. Finland is thoroughly preparing to implement the projects of replacing the F-18 fighters and acquiring war ships. For Lithuania, the most important projects are the acquisition of self-propelled howitzers, infantry fighting vehicles, medium range anti-tank and medium range air defense weapons. Furthermore, Finland continues to successfully develop national military industry.
So as paradoxical as it may seem, Russia’s targeted policy and the current intense security situation in the region served as a new impulse for a closer Lithuanian and Finnish military cooperation, which, hopefully, will continue successfully in the future and contribute to ensuring security and stability in the whole region.