Opinion: Vilnius increases defence spending in face of disappointing responses from Western Europe
The Lithuanian parliament on July 10 adopted budget amendments to increase spending on national defense by 37.6 million euros. The decision, which was predicted by Stratfor, passed with the support of the government and the opposition and was praised by the American Embassy in Lithuania. With this measure, Lithuania will take its military spending closer to 1 percent of gross domestic product - a mark still well below NATO’s official target of 2 percent.
The crisis in Ukraine is the backdrop for Lithuania’s decision. A former Soviet republic, Lithuania, along with Poland, is one of the main supporters of the Eastern Partnership Initiative, a program that aims to bring former Soviet states in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus closer to the European Union. Since the beginning of the crisis, Lithuania has pushed for a harder stance against Russia and for greater involvement by the United States and NATO in Central and Eastern Europe. Lithuania is also worried about how Moscow may manipulate Russian minorities in the country; ethnic Russians represent roughly six percent of Lithuania’s population.
The White House recently bolstered NATO’s Baltic air policing mission and reassured Vilnius of its commitment to Lithuania’s security by increasing troop deployments to the Baltics for exercises on a rotational basis. In return, the United States has asked Lithuania to bring its military spending levels closer to NATO requirements. However, some of the largest member states of the European Union - most notably Germany - oppose the permanent presence of NATO troops in the region, arguing that it would increase tensions with Russia.
This sensitive issue will be one of the major topics under discussion at the NATO summit in September. It will also be a permanent source of friction in the European Union: Countries in the former Soviet sphere of influence are increasingly uncomfortable with Western Europe’s tempered reaction to the events in Ukraine.
This article originally appeared on the webpage of Stratfor, a Texas-based thinktank.