As mentioned earlier, Lithuania has yet to develop a clear framework for strengthening the integration, coordination and effectiveness of foreign, security and developmental policies, or what might be called a coherent WGA framework. However, there are several policy-coordination instruments and mechanisms to ensure policy coherence on the strategic level as well as some systems in place on the tactical level. First, there is the State Defence Council, a constitutional body for debating and making decisions about the most important national security matters. Second, there are two legally binding national security documents that are updated frequently and define the main focus areas of national security efforts. Third, there is a generally strong consensus in Lithuania on the most important foreign policy questions, which obviates the need to discuss which external crises the country should focus on and on which level. In what follows, I will provide more details about these three points.
As noted above, the State Defence Council (SDC) is a special body devoted to coordinating national security issues on the national level. This entity is mentioned in Article 140 of the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania (adopted in 1992), which states that the main issues of national defence are considered and coordinated by the State Defence Council. The council consists of the president, the prime minister, the speaker of the Seimas (parliament), the minister of national defence, and the commander of the armed forces. The SDC is convened and headed by the president. The Law on the State Defence Council (adopted in 1997) (Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania 1997) adds that the council deliberates on foreign and domestic policy questions related to national security and territorial integrity as well as to the main principles of security policy, supplies recommendations on international treaties and defence agreements, coordinates the activities of state institutions working on national security, provides guidelines on strategic crisis management and the defence budget, and coordinates the activities of the intelligence agencies. According to the law, the chairperson of the Seimas National Defence Committee, the director of the State Security Department, and the minister of the interior are to be invited to SCD meetings. As a rule, the minister of foreign affairs has also been invited.
Although neither the constitution nor the law designates the SCD as the main body for strategic planning and guidance, in practice the body is also used to debate and decide on any challenges related to national security and/or foreign policy. Thus, it can be viewed as the main national body devoted to WGA on the national strategic level. However, it should also be noted that the council does not meet very often. In fact, the president usually convenes the council when he or she wants to reach or demonstrate institutional/governmental consensus on some national security question. For example, such a demonstration of consensus agreement was needed when the first debates on the Lithuanian international military missions started (in 2005/2006) as well as when the decision was made to reintroduce military conscription in response to the crisis in Ukraine (in 2014). In the context of external crises and conflict prevention, the SCD would convene and hold debates if there were a military crises close to Lithuanian borders. But, in all likelihood, other external crisies would be tackled by other instruments and/or institutions (as is further discussed below).
Regarding documents related to national security and foreign policy, Lithuania has two legal documents that systematically define its foreign and national security policies on a strategic level (e.g. the main goals, objectives, threats, risks and responsible institutions), and that provide some ideas about a system for managing and coordinating crises. The first one is the Law on the Basics of the National Security (originally adopted in 1996, but amended 28 times between then and 2018) (Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania 1996). The law indicates that the government must create and develop a crisis-management system to monitor, prevent, foresee and react to threats, and it stipulates that the Crisis Management Committee headed by the prime minister should be the main coordinating body in this. According to the law, a ‘joint coordination centre’ is to be set up for each crisis, if needed, to coordinate and manage the response. The law also talks about the integral crisis-management plans that each ministry and other governmental institutions should have (on the actual functioning of these institutions, see below).
The second strategic policy document is the National Security Strategy adopted in 2017 (Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania 2017). This is the fourth such strategy, following previous versions adopted in 2002, 2005 and 2012. It defines national security interests, threats, risks, and both long- and short-term objectives.
In addition to these two documents, Lithuania’s foreign policy community has a long, informal tradition of seeking and reaching consensus on strategic foreign and security matters and positions among the main political parties of Lithuania by publicly signing the agreement on strategic foreign, security and defence policy commitments. Such agreements – which are considered binding, though legally they are not – were made in 2004 and 2008. These two documents are the Strategic Guidelines for the Foreign, Security and Defence Policy of the Republic of Lithuania for 2014–2020 (signed in 2014) (Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania 2014) as well as the Lithuanian Defence Policy Guidelines (signed in 2018) (Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania 2018). Finally, from time to time, the Seimas also adopts resolutions on foreign policy directions, most recently in 2016 (Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania 2016).
Such agreements and resolutions seek to demonstrate strategic consensus on the main questions and directions of foreign and security policy. These policies, in turn, are supposed to provide guidelines for the day-to-day activities related to making and implementing foreign policy decisions, including ones related to responding to external crises. Such guidelines also specifically indicate which external crises should be considered important and why.
Finally, in order to understand the (currently) minimal need to have a coordinated system in Lithuania for responding to external crises, it is useful to keep in mind the main foreign policy priorities of the country. Lithuania is strongly focused on its own security and on maintaining a secure environment around its borders, i.e. in its ‘neighbourhood’. Thus, all thinking about external conflicts and crises is dominated by self-interest and regional interests. At present, Russia is the main security threat and adversary – and Lithuanians generally consider this not only to apply to themselves, but also to Europe as a whole. Indeed, Russia is viewed as an expansionist state that seeks to control its own neighbourhood as well as one that destabilises the region whenever these goals are not achieved, as has happened in Georgia and then Ukraine. In fact, Russia is not only a military threat, but also militarily threatening. In other words, in addition to being prepared and ready to use force, it is also willing to do so. And this also includes via non-military means, such as through energy policy, false information campaigns and cyberattacks. Although neighbouring Belarus is not directly mentioned often in security and foreign policy discussions and documents, perceived threats do arise from the fact that it is viewed as somewhat of a Russia satellite. However, Belarus’ new nuclear plant in the border city of Astravyets, which is scheduled to enter into operation in 2020, has led it to be viewed in recent years as a threat due to safety concerns.
Given these concerns about its neighbours, all strategic documents and papers emphasise the vital importance of Lithuania’s memberships in the EU and NATO, which are both considered the primary guarantors of the country’s security. Accordingly, the viability and unity of NATO and the EU, as well as the degree of solidarity within both organisations, are of paramount interest to the country. Regarding NATO, the main focus is on collective defence commitments and the importance of maintaining strong transatlantic ties (i.e. on keeping American forces in Europe and keeping Americans interested in the continent). In order to counter Russia’s efforts to destabilise and exert influence in Eastern Europe, Lithuania strongly supports more closely integrating Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine into to the EU (and eventually offering them membership) and having a strong Eastern Partnership (EaP) in addition to inviting these countries to join NATO.
Instability in other parts of the world is acknowledged, and the negative consequences for the international community of problems in regions further away are recognised. However, unless some EU instrument is activated and there is a need for a national position, little more is done in terms of strategic deliberations on the national level. Thus, in Lithuania, there is not much in terms of systematic and comprehensive thinking on external crisis management, conflict prevention or conflict resolution if these are not taking place in nearby regions (e.g. Belarus, Georgia or Ukraine). In such cases, general remarks about solidarity and strengthening international security and stability are usually made. Furthermore, Lithuania acknowledges that its security depends on countering challenges to the south of Europe, where prolonged conflicts, unstable states and security vacuums are creating conditions for terrorism, uncontrolled migration, organised crime and humanitarian crises – all of which present a huge challenge to EU unity. But the country’s focus and urgency to react is usually only reserved to a limited number of external security threats.