Seimas parties sign defense policy agreement (Updated)

Lithuania's parliamentary parties signed on Monday an agreement on the country's defense policy for the next decade.

Updates throughout.

The agreement calls for increasing defense spending to 2.5 percent of GDP by 2030, up by 0.5 percentage points from this year's target of 2 percent, and for decisions on introducing universal military conscription to be made in 2022.

The document was signed by leaders of the Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union (LVŽS), the Homeland Union–Lithuanian Christian Democrats, the Liberal Movement, the Lithuanian Social Democratic Labor Party (LSDDP) and the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania–Christian Families Alliance (LLRA-KŠS).

Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis said that the agreement "will strengthen our state" and "shows that our key political parties can find consensus on the most important issues".

Defense Minister Raimundas Karoblis described the 2.5 percent of GDP defense spending target as realistic.

"The 2 percent of GDP (defense budget) allowed the armed forces to recover somewhat. 2.5-percent funding would be a real development of our deterrence and defense capabilities," he said.

Some parties regard the deal as a compromise.

The conservative Homeland Union, for example, thinks that the proposed defense spending target is not ambitious enough.

"We have also announced our separate opinion, saying that if the Homeland Union takes part in the formation of the government in 2020, defense funding will be more ambitious and we'll seek to achieve the goals set in the agreement by 2025," Gabrielius Landsbergis, the party's leader, said.

Gintautas Paluckas' Lithuanian Social Democratic Party (LSDP) refused to sign the deal, saying that they do not back a rapid increase in defense spending and are opposed to universal conscription.

Compared with the initial version of the document, several points were added to include commitments to adopt a law on national minorities and draw up a national strategy for the protection of democracy against hybrid threats.

Landsbergis said that the latter point had been included at his party's initiative.

"Hybrid threats, threats to democracy, fake news, election problems caused by our aggressive neighbors to the East. To counter these threats, we need to have a common vision of how we will do so and we need to provide adequate money and to have a strategy for doing so," he said.

LLRA-KŠS leader Valdemar Tomaševski said he expected a law on national minorities to be adopted by 2020.

The agreement also calls for "seeking a permanent and substantial military presence of the US and NATO in the region".

The parties also committed to seek long-term solutions to allow the Air Force to switch to a Western helicopter platform.

The document calls for joint efforts to resist "irresponsible speculation that sets defense funding in opposition to other sensitive areas".

The initiators of the new deal say it would help ensure a consistent defense policy that will not be influenced by election cycles and changes in the political government.

The last time the country's political parties signed an agreement on defense and security policy was in 2014, shortly after the annexation of Crimea by Russia.

Its key provision of increasing defense spending to 2 percent of GDP is set to be implemented this year.

Source: BNS
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