Lithuanian new Minister of Defence: several thousand professionals will not avert dangers
Since the new government was sworn everyone were talking about the anti crisis management plan. However, some of the other interesting developments are also taking place. First of all, for the first time in Lithuanian history we have a female minister of Defence.
The new defence minister, Rasa Juknevičienė, says that Lithuania should not limit itself to the defence guaranteed by NATO, and that the national army should be ready to defend Lithuanian territory. According to the minister, the decision to cancel conscription was premature and several thousands of professionals are not enough to fight the dangers Lithuania might face.
“Only the naive can believe that several thousands of professionals are capable of fighting against the dangers Lithuania might face,” Juknevičienė said in her interview with Lrt.lt.
[LTV] The Social Democrats (LSDP) were in charge of the Defence Ministry for eight years. What changes can we expect after the ministry was taken over by the Conservatives? What will be your first and foremost task?
[Juknevičienė] The changes are presented in our programme. If you compare our programme with that of the LSDP, you can see the differences. However, the national defence system is one of the areas where we need policy continuity, and we support this idea. The areas in which the national security system was being strengthened will continue to be strengthened, and changes will be carried out in the areas we feel that changes are needed.
The system has never been too open. This is why even when I was working on the parliamentary National Security and Defence Committee (NSGK) I did not have information about certain ongoing processes; I could only assume something was happening. This is why my first and most important task is to analyse the problems and evaluate the system. I will dedicate more of my attention to that. I will try to visit all the units after the New Year, so that I can personally see things and the situation.
For now I can say that our priority will be to bring back the balance to what we had signed before we joined NATO. [as published] I have in mind Articles 3 and 5 of the NATO Agreement. In my opinion, there has been a certain disproportion as far as these articles are concerned. There has been a lot of talk that NATO will protect us and that we do not need anything else. However, I am more concerned with how well the Lithuanian Armed Forces is prepared for defending its territory.
I already have a feeling that a lot will have to be done here. Of course, we will need much more resources to deal with this problem, and, unfortunately, we cannot do that now because of the financial crisis. However, we should use this period to get ready and analyse the situation, to create a theoretic groundwork, so that, when the economic situation gets better, we know where to allocate the necessary funds, so that these funds indeed bring us benefits and help us strengthen our country’s security.
Another important thing is, of course, transparency. After all, the government allocates over 1 billion litas [LTL] to national defence and to the national defence system, and society has the right to know whether the funds are being used transparently and whether they are being used for proper and important purposes. For the time being, I cannot answer the question whether there are very serious problems in this area, but what I can say is that I will be paying attention to that and that this is important to me. Honest and qualified people who perform the functions that suit their qualifications create transparency. I will be able to give you a better answer to these questions after I become acquainted with the situation and with the people working in the system.
The first task I had to come to terms with right away was the budget. One thing I discovered was unpaid bills amounting to 150 million [LTL]. I found this out on 10 December. A week later, we managed to reduce the debt by 50 million, and I hope that we will manage to reduce it even more. Another important thing is the 2009 budget, which, unfortunately, had to be reduced compared with the draft budget proposed by the previous government. But this was an unavoidable and necessary step. And this is why the Defence Ministry, just like any other institution, had to do that.
[LTV] Lithuania’s commitment to NATO is to allocate 2 per cent of GDP to national defence on a yearly basis. However, it has not managed to fulfil the commitment, and Lithuania remains one of the NATO countries that allocated the least to national defence. How much funds have you planned for national defence in the 2009 budget? Will the prestige of Lithuania, an international partner, not suffer because of the reduced funding? Will Lithuania manage to implement all the international commitments properly?
[Juknevičienė] Unfortunately, we will only allocate 1.01 per cent of GDP next year. Perhaps we will manage to achieve 1.03 per cent, because nobody knows what the real GDP will be, various experts give various estimates.
Of course, it is not good for Lithuania’s prestige, but it is even worse when not enough funds are being allocated during the period when the economic situation is good. Our economy had been growing over the past five years, but Lithuania, however, was far behind Latvia and Estonia in allocating funds to national defence. This is a certain indicator. Everybody understands what the situation is when there is a crisis. This is why I hope the new government’s actions will be appreciated.
However, we will certainly start increasing our budget and financial commitments after we overcome the economic difficulties. This is incorporated in the government programme.
We are shaken and stirred by the crisis, but we also can find solutions. This is why if we manage to purify ourselves during the crisis, to reduce the operations that are not typical national defence operations; to reduce funding of less important things, to concentrate on just the priorities, perhaps then the financial shake-up will bring some kind of benefit. However, we first of all need to carry out a very thorough revision of our priorities.
[LTV] What would these priorities be? And in which areas are you going to reduce funding?
[Juknevičienė] The priorities are set out in the government programme. Speaking about the cuts in spending, we should allocate fewer funds to public relations and to various additional sponsorship programmes. Everybody has become accustomed to asking the Defence Ministry for support and money. We will take a very close look at that, and we will allocate the defence budget to defence, and not to the things related to prestige and publicity.
[LTV] What will happen to the projects not directly related to defence? For example, with the project the Defence Ministry has been implementing to restore ancient armour and armaments.
[Juknevičienė] I am not saying that we do not need all that. Armed forces usually invest in historic artefacts and things that are related to the armed forces. Our lives without the roots would be absolutely meaningless. However, I think we will need to have a closer look at advertising, publicity, and some other things.
I think that the period of partisan movement in national defence history deserves to be given more attention. I will try to pay more attention to that and will encourage others to take interest in this period. [Passage omitted on the importance of this period for the patriotic education of the youth]
[LTV] What is the future of the international missions in which Lithuanian troops are participating at present? Are you going to participate in other missions?
[Juknevičienė] Lithuania is a NATO member and its participation in the NATO missions is obligatory and should be seen as a priority. We will try to balance this with the objectives of Articles 3 and 5. Our first and foremost duty is to be prepared to protect our own territory. Article 3 says the same, that each NATO member is responsible for its own territory. This is the priority. According to the situation we have now, I find it difficult to imagine that we could expand the missions. We would be lucky to carry out the tasks we have already undertaken.
[LTV] In your opinion, what are the main military and security dangers Lithuania might face? Is Lithuania capable of properly reacting and responding to these dangers?
[Juknevičienė] I cannot give you a proper answer to the question of whether Lithuania has the needed capacity. I hope that, with NATO assistance, it is capable of responding to the dangers. However, the fact that other countries, such as neighbouring Poland, are speaking about a revision of their defence plans, the fact that Denmark and other Scandinavian countries have started reviewing some of their current plans, shows that the dangers Lithuania might face are preconditioned by its geopolitical situation. We can look at the example of the Russian-Georgian conflict and have an answer to the question.
[LTV] As part of the military reform carried out by the LSDP-led government, it decided to cancel conscription and to build up a professional army. The Conservatives were against the decision. In what direction will the current government take the military reform? Will you come back to the conscription system? What kind of army does Lithuania need?
[Juknevičienė] When this issue was discussed in the Seimas [parliament], the Homeland Union [TS, Conservatives] was against the method of carrying out the reforms. Presently I am even more convinced that they [the previous government] chose the wrong method and everything was done in a hurry. The previous [defence] minister, Juozas Olekas, issued an order to cancel conscription, this was the only document cancelling conscription and this was done when the election campaign was about to start. The NSGK was not informed about the decision.
The law states that conscription will be cancelled by 2013, whereas they already cancelled it this year, when the country is facing a crisis and when no additional budget has been allocated. This is a big problem now, and this is why I think that this was a big mistake.
How to correct it? It looks like we have gone too far, but we will try to find a solution to this problem. By the middle of next year we will demobilize about 1,000 of the conscripts currently serving in the army, and we will have to hire professionals instead, but we do not have sufficient financial resources to do that.
Can you imagine how much it will cost? And the LSDP did not allocate the money for that. This was a very irresponsible step. It was taken to attract more voters, and now we have to deal with the problems.
[LTV] How are you going to correct this mistake?
[Juknevičienė] By reducing the budget we are trying to preserve the budget line for salaries, so that we can invite people to work as private soldiers for the salary that has been agreed on, the salary that has been promised, and the salary that is appropriate considering present competitive market conditions. Otherwise the situation will be such that there will be many officers in the army, but there will be no soldiers. And an army without soldiers is not an army.
Moreover, because we are not properly prepared for that step, the volunteer national defence system has incurred some losses. New people are not as active in joining the volunteer system. Previously their motivation was not to serve in the army and to join the volunteer forces instead, so that they could be closer to their homes. [passage omitted on how to motivate people to join the volunteer forces]
We should create a system that would replace the conscription system and allow us to have reserves. We are working on that and will continue working on this. The naive imagine that a professional army of a few thousand can deal with the dangers Lithuania might face.
A well-prepared professional army can defend the country only when it can do it together with well-prepared reserve soldiers whose training is up to date, who are prepared and know what to do in times of danger. This is the most important thing. And attempts to have a primitive discussion on which army is better – professional or conscription – is useless. A professional army together with the reserves and conscription army could be well prepared. [passage omitted on the options for training the reserves]
[LTV] Previously you claimed that the Lithuanian Armed Forces were affected by erosion. In what area does this erosion appear and how does it manifest itself?
[Juknevičienė] I will not take my words back, but I do not want to speak about that in more detail. I think that holding this office means carrying out specific tasks and not speaking much.
[LTV] Does it mean that you would also prefer not to speak in more detail about problems in the army?
[Juknevičienė] I can only mention one problem. I feel worried because young people who received their military education in the West still do not have the possibility of holding high-ranking posts in the army. I will do my best to deal with all the other problems.
[LTV] The new government has included in its programme plans to improve the work of the State Security Department (VSD) and to define the scope of its accountability. Are you seeking to make the VSD accountable to the government?
[Juknevičienė] I think that sooner or later we will have to discuss this issue. The VSD is a constituent part of the Lithuanian security system and is one of the most important organizations carrying out counterintelligence tasks. Its activities are very closely related to the processes going on in the economic, energy, and transport sectors. According to the constitution and according to the Law on Government and other laws, the government is responsible for the aforementioned sectors, and this is why the VSD should maintain a particularly close contact with the government.
I do not know how we will do that. We could have the same system they have in Western countries – NATO and EU members – where such structures are a constituent part of the government, or we could find another mechanism, because we have also the presidential institution included in our system. The NSGK is going to set up a special working group for this purpose. Probably, the Security Sub-committee will undertake this initiative, the parties will express their opinion, projects will be created, and the Seimas will approve or reject them.
My suggestion to the VSD management is not to react in such a sensitive manner and not to escalate some deliberate tension here. Instead, they should look at the core of the problem and deal with it. Presently, the quality of the contact actually depends on whether the relations between the government and the VSD director are good or bad. This is not how it should be. There should be certain laws that establish what this contact with the government should be like, when the VSD should provide the government with information, and how it is supposed to do that.
And finally, there is another issue – the formulation of tasks. The government should participate when tasks for this structure are being formulated, it should not formulate its own tasks.
[LTV] Not long ago, the Russian President spoke about the plans to deploy short-range missiles at Iskander in Kaliningrad, something Russia also mentioned in the past. In your opinion, are these plans serious and will they be implemented? What influence will the missiles deployed close to the Lithuanian border have on Lithuania’s security? What should Lithuania’s response be?
[Juknevičienė] I hope the missiles will not be deployed there. I do not see any reason why this should be done. I think that common sense will prevail. Russia needs NATO-Russia cooperation more than anybody else. And such a step would not contribute to mutual cooperation. Lithuania is in favour of good neighbourly relations with Russia and has always declared that. However, not everything depends on us.
[LTV] The government programme says that the government will try to encourage NATO to pay more attention to the defence of the Baltic region. What specific steps should the Alliance take? Perhaps you have in mind the possibility of deploying elements of the US European anti-missile shield in Lithuania?
[Juknevičienė] This issue has already been solved. The anti-missile shield will be deployed in the Czech Republic and Poland. This is why the question is not on the agenda anymore.
However, the question how NATO together with Lithuania and the other Baltic countries would protect its territory has always been important. All the plans should be constantly revised as the circumstances are changing. I think that they are being revised. For the time being, NATO preparedness to defend its territory will always be on the agenda.
[LTV] Warfare and national defence are usually perceived as something men do. You are the first woman who has become Lithuanian Defence Minister. Are you not afraid of the difficulties you might face?
[Juknevičienė] It seems to me that it is very difficult to sweep the streets at 0600; nobody has asked the women doing that whether it is hard for them. I think that any job is difficult if you are working hard. However, when I accepted this post I certainly did not think about the fact that I would be the first or the second woman. I have been working in this field for many years. Perhaps this was why the party and Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius decided to offer me this post.
Some may find it unusual. I have met some people who do not have a thorough knowledge of the system. Many do not know that an armed forces commander is in charge of the armed forces and that all warfare issues are his prerogative. According to our law, the defence minister has to be a civilian. This is an obligatory requirement in democratic countries. Whether it is a man or a woman is irrelevant.
When I was appointed to the post, many people asked me what kind of uniform I would now wear. I thought this was strange. I would like to use this opportunity and say that not a single defence minister of a NATO country wears a uniform. These are civilians. They shape policy and manage the system. The military personnel obey the system; they are responsible for the army’s combat readiness and other things for which they need special knowledge.
Source BBC Monitoring