No. 1 - Feb 1993
Vol. 41 - pp. 7-11
BALTIC REGION IN POST-COLD WAR EUROPE
Minister of National Defence,
Republic of Lithuania
Usually, all that Europeans, North Americans and
the rest of the world know about Lithuania is that it was occupied, proclaimed
its independence, is seeking the withdrawal of the Russian army and that
it is pursuing a balanced policy with regard to its neighbours. All this
is true, but neither the restoration of an independent state, nor the
withdrawal of a foreign army are our main goals - they are simply preconditions
for the preservation of the way of life of our nation, of the indigenous
inhabitants of this country and for ensuring its welfare. Today, our main
task is to reduce inherited foreign political influences on our territory
along lines beneficial to Lithuania, as well as the direct threats to
Lithuania is at the geographical centre of Europe
which ends at the Urals. At the same time, it lies on the shortest path
between the countries of East and West Europe and at the crossroads between
East, North and Central Europe. Many of its historical and cultural characteristics
are the result of this geopolitical situation.
After the decline of the Roman Empire and with
the spread of Christianity in Europe from the two main centres - Rome
and Byzantium, the old European religion and culture started to concentrate
on the centre. At that time, the old European gods were described as 'devils',
but they were still alive in Lithuania until the end of the 16th century.
This made for significant peculiarities of our culture: the late arrival
of Christianity in the form of Roman Catholicism demanded much more tolerance
than in many other European countries. We had no Inquisition fires, nor
the pogroms of people of another faith.
Situated along the most direct route from West
to East and with good waterways, Lithuania attracted numerous merchants,
manufacturers and scientists. Because of their obvious usefulness, their
rights were protected by law, and tolerance towards different faiths was
encouraged, all this being established in the oldest written East European
legislative document - the Lithuanian Statute. Thus the geopolitical situation
was decisive during times of peace for the rapid development and prosperity
of the country.
However, throughout most of our history, Lithuania
has been devastated by war and crises which were also due to the geopolitical
situation. Up to the 12th century, Lithuania had to resist the Slavonic
tribes advancing to the West, then tatar-mongol incursions and, from the
13th century, German knights coming from the West. The Lithuanian tribes
also had to resist strong Czech-Polish-Hungarian pressure, and later,
with the growth of Swedish power, the Swedish advances to the East.
These attempts to survive and defend our way of
life resulted in rather early development of a centralised Lithuanian
state and the evolution of distinctive Eastern and domestic policies,
the influence of which can still be seen in our attitudes and policies.
Later in history, with the development of the polarization
between East and West, Lithuania (or parts of it) became peripheral territory
to the Russian and German empires. According to the Russian Tsar Peter
the Great, Lithuania was Russia's first window to the West; it was of
prime importance for a Russia which sought to modernize its backward economy
and to become more European. For Germany and other Western countries,
it was the road to the undeveloped Eastern markets and to rich natural
We inherited the status of a peripheral territory
of the Russian and Western 'empires'. The status of an unprotected territory
had resulted in the occupation, Sovietization and intensive militarization
of our country which reduced the possibilities of economic development.
This situation persisted until the end of the Cold War. Now, once again,
whether desirable or not, the real but invisible internal border dividing
Europe into East and West runs through Lithuania, or rather along the
Nemunas (Neman) river. In a way, this has always been a cultural boundary
which still influences our domestic policy. Yet, despite a relatively
high percentage of other nationalities (up to 20 per cent), Lithuania
has no serious problems with its ethnic minorities.
This historic evaluation is important since it
has led us to conclude that now that we have created an independent state
capable of controlling its borders and territory, its geopolitical situation
will, providing we can maintain peace in Europe, ensure rapid political,
social and economic development. But, in the event of a crisis or conflict,
our geopolitical position makes our territory the most vulnerable in Europe.
The loss of political control over our own territory in the event of a
long-term crisis between East and West would block our economic development
and turn the country into the 'front-line of defence', for one side or
the other, just as it used to be described in the USSR's defence doctrine.
Thus, in Lithuania, we have lived under the constant
influence of two power blocs - Eastern and Western. The struggle between
them for dominance was in conflict with our interests as it impeded the
development of our culture and economy. Only the status of an independent
state will enable us to protect the interests of our people. That is why
the main objective of our policy is to seek a balance in our relations
with East and West, preserving a maximum of independence. This is also
true of the economic, cultural and military influences. What possibilities
do we have to realize this goal in the context most relevant to NATO,
that is security policy?
We can divide the possible threats to our state
into three groups.
The first is connected with the growing instability
on the territory of the former Soviet Union: inter-regional, ethno-religious
and territorial conflicts, as well as social conflicts provoked by the
declining economy; we, too, can be drawn into these conflicts if they
involve our neighbours.
The second is related to the growing tendencies
of authoritarianism and nationalism in the territory of the former Soviet
Union, above all in Russia. These issues were considered by Russian Foreign
Affairs Minister Kozyrev in his now famous speech delivered in Stockholm
last December. Instability and a turning-away from democracy in Russia
would not, perhaps, be perceived as directly threatening in Western Europe
and North America but merely as alarming. But to us in Lithuania they
would definitely appear to threaten us in a most direct way.
The third threat, which has evolved because of
the growth of the crime rate and possible disasters at industrial and
energy facilities, includes the smuggling of drugs, guns and radioactive
materials, and the illegal transportation of certain other goods. There
are also many people from the former Soviet Union, with a number of criminals
among them, who are trying to emigrate illegally to Western countries.
Finally, there is the threat posed by the transit of dangerous and radioactive
materials through our territory. This threat is on a massive and growing
scale and has yet to be properly recognized by the West. It constitutes
our most immediate and pressing problem in this sphere.
In our search for ways of neutralizing these threats,
we are seeking to develop our security policy in several directions:
I. International relations
Our main goal is to increase political and economic
stability on the territory of the Baltic states and to achieve a balance
of influences from East and West. We are trying to do this by:
- Participating in the European integration process
- in the economic, political and security spheres. Having been territories
of constant confrontation for so long and latterly playing the role
of the front line, Lithuania and other Baltic states should become territories
of intensive cooperation in the future.
The geopolitical situation, the historical
economic relations, the road network which is oriented East-West,
as well as the industrial infrastructure of the Baltic states, enable
these countries to assist the integration of Russia and other states
of the former Soviet Union into Europe. Reducing the isolation of
the new states emerging on the territory of the former Soviet Union
can help to lower tension and support democratic processes and economic
reforms there. At the same time, the Baltic countries could temporarily
play the role of a buffer-zone - inevitable andindeed necessary at
this stage of international relations - thus minimizing the friction
between the different economic, cultural and security policies.
Of crucial importance to the task of neutralizing
threats to Lithuania are the common European mechanisms designed to
increase security and stability, and the activities of NATO as a transatlantic
organization. Our participation in the North Atlantic Cooperation
Council (NACC) is therefore absolutely essential. I think that Lithuania
would also benefit from associate membership of the WEU. We intend
to be active participants in the CSCE Vienna process, in conflict
prevention and confidence building. We are also planning to participate
in UN peacekeeping actions in the near future.
- Consolidating relations with our neighbours.
Lithuania has established good neighbourly relations with all its bordering
Lithuanian-Polish relations are enshrined in
the Lithuanian-Polish Declaration which proclaimed the principle of
the inviolability of borders. An agreement has been signed on the
functioning of border controls and on customs procedures, and a treaty
between the Defence Ministries of Lithuania and Poland is under preparation.
Both countries have a joint programme on the construction of the Via
Baltica highway which will run from Helsinki to Warsaw and is of international
- Lithuania and Belarus are negotiating the
establishment of diplomatic relations, border demarcation and border
controls. This is our longest border, stretching for 740 kms, and
it has never been properly demarcated. Neither country has any territorial
claim on the other and both share common interests in economic and
- Lithuanian-Russian relations are regulated
by the Lithuanian-Russian State Agreement and a special agreement
on the Kaliningrad region. The withdrawal of the Russian army from
Lithuanian territory is regulated by the agreement of 8 September
1992, which sets a time-table for the withdrawal. Neither country
has territorial claims on the other. At the moment, Russia is proposing
to hold negotiations on the coordination of military transits to
the Kaliningrad region through Lithuanian territory. Our position
is that negotiations on this kind of agreement, as well as on other
documents which determine security policy, are only possible after
the complete withdrawal of the Russian army from all three Baltic
- Lithuanian-Latvian relations are based on
the experience of friendly relations of many years standing; they
are regulated by several treaties and a common policy, which includes
Estonia, coordinated by the Council of the Baltic States. One of
the main joint projects is the construction of the Via Baltica.
The work of the defence Ministries is regulated by the Parnu Treaty
- Strengthening the mechanisms of regional security.
Having assessed our geopolitical situation
and the impact of relations and political influences built up over
many years, I would like to single out several priority directions
to be taken by Lithuania on the way to security and stability:
- The coordination of foreign and economic
policies between Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia; the consolidation
of relations with the Scandinavian countries - members of the Nordic
Council; the search for, and establishment of, mechanisms to increase
stability and security in the Baltic Sea region.
- The expansion of relations between Lithuania
(possibly including Latvia and Estonia) with the countries of Central
Europe, Poland, Hungary, and the Czech and Slovak states, to foster
economic cooperation, coordinate integration into the European structures,
and strengthen stability and security in this region.
- The promotion of economic relations between
Lithuania (and possibly Latvia and Estonia), and Belarus and the
Ukraine, coupled with a search for stability in the regions. Along
with these priorities, of course, should be included the establishment
of stable and peaceful relations with Russia, and the development
of Lithuania as fully part of the Western family of nations.
- Enhancing the prospects for the development
of the former East Prussia - the Kaliningrad region.
The Lithuanian Republic is greatly concerned
about the presence and reinforcement of enormous Russian military
contingents on this territory which surpass defence needs by far and
hinder a peaceful development of this territory. The Lithuanian Republic,
together with other neighbouring countries, is interested in the growth
of economic relations and new possibilities for the promotion of this
II. Defence and security
The direction of our security policy is basic to the
development of the Lithuanian defence system. Historical experience and
the analysis of dangers show that, at the present time, it is crises which
are the most likely to occur in our region rather than conflicts. The preconditions
for these crises lie, first of all, in the instability of Lithuania's domestic
political situation. This is linked to our internal political confrontation,
a long economic depression, a rise in the crime rate, and insufficient control
of our territory. Seeking to minimize these threats, the Lithuanian Republic
is organizing the following:
- Border control personnel - some 5,200 strong
- which at present consist of customs and military border protection
forces. As far as the border with Poland is concerned, this is controlled
by the Lithuanian border guards following a procedure similar to that
which existed on the borders with the former Soviet Union and Poland.
Border crossing procedures in specific locations have been established
by a temporary Lithuanian-Polish agreement. Other Lithuanian borders
are guarded in conformity with a regime established unilaterally which
suits the economic needs of the Lithuanian Republic.
- In order to ensure the protection of key facilities
and reserves in Lithuania, as well as the territory itself, territorial
guard units and groups of volunteers for national defence have been
set up, acting on principles which are similar to those of the Scandinavian
'home guard' groups. The territorial guards are 3,000 strong while the
number of home guards is 12,000.
- The armed forces of the Lithuanian Republic were
re-established by a special Act on 19 November 1992. The armed forces
currently consist of:
- land forces - one rapid reaction brigade, 5,000 strong, formed
on the mixed principle of contract and conscription;
- the coast guard - one flotilla consisting of two light frigates
(recentlypurchased from Russia) and four sea-port security boats;
- the air control force - which is just being formed.
- Civil defence forces are being set up to ensure
the security of Lithuanian citizens in case of disasters and catastrophes
in peace time. They consist of a department for the administrative control
of dangerous facilities and the transportation of dangerous goods; and
special rescue units formed on a territorial basis. The Lithuanian Republic
is striving to integrate into the civil security system of European
countries. At the present time, agreements with Germany and Poland are
being finalized and we are seeking to sign agreements between the Lithuanian
Civil Defence and that of the Scandinavian countries.
- The Ministry of Home Affairs and the National
Security Service are responsible for the control and prevention of crime.
Looking at the current security situation in Lithuania,
one of the main tasks at this stage, if we are to increase stability and
security, is to achieve a complete and orderly withdrawal of the Russian
army, not only from Lithuanian territory, but also from Latvia and Estonia.
The presence of a foreign army hampers the economic development of the
Baltic states and, in particular, hinders good state relations with the
Russian Federation which are so essential not only to our peaceful and
prosperous development, but to East-West stability in general.
It also hinders the region's integration into European
structures. The Lithuanian Republic has been concerned about the attempts
of the Russian government to link the issue of troop withdrawals to the
rights of ethnic minorities and the so-called "violation of human rights"
in Latvia and Estonia. The statements of Russian military authorities
regarding Russian defence interests in the Baltic states, and the tolerant
attitude of the same authorities towards Russian officers' wilful statements
about their possible refusal to obey commands, are also a cause for great
Another problem which is no less important is the
wide scale sale of Russian army materiel (weapons, ammunition, equipment)
to civilians, and the illegal transportation of goods using military vehicles.
Our takeover of facilities left by the Russian army presents yet another
problem since these facilities are handed over in a dreadful state, devastated
and plundered and ecologically dangerous.
Among the former Soviet Union's republics, Lithuania
was the first to proclaim its independence. Many of the democratic reforms
begun in Lithuania later spread to Russia itself. It is not surprising,
therefore, that the results of the recent elections to the Lithuanian
Seimas (Parliament) which were so unexpected for many of us, made many
think about the possibility of the process of decommunization going into
reverse and the return of former Communist leaders and a pro-Moscow policy.
What does the present situation in Lithuania mean? Is it a shift backwards
or, on the contrary, a new stage in democratic development? In my opinion,
we should view this situation in a positive light. The fact that we were
able to live calmly through the period of a change-over of power, to respect
existing legislation, and that we could continue working together, shows
that we have made a great step forward towards political maturity and
therefore towards a permanent democracy.
Thus Lithuania is once again leading the way. Today,
I can say with confidence that our security policy will not change and
will continue with a view to joining the common European or Euro-Atlantic
security and defence systems.
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