The 29th of March marks 19 years since Lithuania’s accession to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the world’s largest military alliance. By joining NATO in 2004, Lithuania became a staunch and important ally that continuously strengthens its own defence capabilities while actively contributing to Allied, European, and global security.
In 2004, Lithuania, along with six other candidate states, completed the legal accession procedures and presented the US Secretary of State Colin Powell with the instruments of ratification of the North Atlantic Treaty in Washington. Today, Lithuania is one of the 30 NATO member states with 88% residents proud to be part of the Alliance.
Lithuanians are staunch supporters of NATO
Since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, Lithuanians have demonstrated even stronger trust in their country’s armed forces, membership in NATO, and the presence of allied forces in Lithuania.
According to a recent survey conducted by the Ministry of National Defence, as many as 78% of respondents (4% more than a year ago) trust the Lithuanian Armed Forces. This is the highest public rating since 2013.
Additionally, 68% of respondents are in favour of maintaining or increasing the current 2.5% of GDP funding for defence.
The positive attitude towards the presence of NATO allied forces in Lithuania is gaining stronger as well, with 90% of respondents expressing support for it. Overall, 89% of respondents support Lithuania’s NATO membership.
In the wake of the war in Ukraine, the number of people who believe that Lithuania should provide military support to Ukraine has increased significantly. 79% of respondents support providing military support to Ukraine, which is 15% more than in 2021.
NATO presence in Lithuania
Lithuania’s membership in NATO ensures safety and security of the country despite the ongoing war in Ukraine imposed by Russia. Russia’s war in Ukraine highlights the strategic importance of the Allied presence on NATO’s eastern flank.
In 2017, the Alliance stationed a multinational Enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) battalion-sized battle group in Lithuania, which unambiguously demonstrated NATO’s solidarity, determination, and ability to act by triggering an immediate Allied response to any aggression.
The eFP battalion in Lithuania is led by Germany. More than 17,000 Allied troops from nine NATO countries have already trained in Lithuania in biannual rotations. Along with the eFP battle groups in Estonia, Latvia, and Poland, led by the United Kingdom, Canada, and the US respectively, the eFP battalion in Lithuania forms a robust and combat-ready military presence that demonstrates the strength of the transatlantic bond.
Lithuanian skies are protected by NATO’s Baltic Air Policing Mission. It involves continuous presence – 24 hours a day, 365 days a year – of fighter aircraft and crews, which are ready to react quickly to possible airspace violations. Since the start of the mission in 2004, 14 NATO member states have provided 34 rotations of air capabilities to patrol the Baltic airspace. In turn, Lithuania is fully prepared to provide all the necessary host nation support for the deployed air contingents to maintain permanent readiness and deter trespassers.
The NATO Force Integration Unit in Lithuania is responsible for the deployment of NATO troops in Lithuania, and representatives of 13 NATO states currently work in the Unit.
Since 2019, the United States, the world’s strongest military power, has been stationing battalion-size army units in Lithuania. American troops rotate every 9 months in Lithuania. The seventh consecutive heel-to-toe rotation of U.S. forces to Lithuania started in February 2023. The US battalion, which has been rotating in Lithuania continuously since Autumn 2019, will remain stationed in the country for the upcoming years. This is a clear signal that the United States is fully committed to the NATO allies.
Lithuania’s contribution to NATO
Lithuania is responsible not only for its own defence but also for the security and stability of the Euro-Atlantic region.
Since joining the Alliance in 2004, Lithuania has been actively involved in international NATO-led missions and operations in the Balkans, Afghanistan (where it has led the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Ghowr), Iraq, and elsewhere. Lithuanian troops are currently participating in 12 international operations and European Union training missions.
Additionally, Lithuania hosts the NATO Energy Security Centre of Excellence, which aims to provide qualified expert advice on issues related to operational energy security.
We are making every effort to strengthen the Alliance. In 2023, Lithuania’s national defence budget will reach 2.52% of GDP. And if the need arises to further increase defence spending up to 3% of GDP due to implementation of military infrastructure projects to ensure speedy Host Nation Support to NATO Allies in Lithuania, more funds will be allocated. “We aim to ensure that Allied commitment to a consistent increase in defence spending is renewed at Vilnius. The 2014 commitment to 2% of GDP needs to be stepped up in the current security environment: 2% of GDP should be the floor, not the ceiling. We already present a role model for the Alliance with our own defence spending, which significantly exceeds the required amount,” said Arvydas Anušauskas, Minister of National Defence.
Military support to Ukraine
Today, we stand in solidarity with Ukraine in its struggle for freedom and democracy against the brutal aggression imposed by Russia.
Over the past year, Lithuania has provided military aid to Ukraine worth over 450 million euros. Fifteen days before the war, Lithuania donated 500 armoured vests to Ukraine. A few days later, it handed over a Stinger air defence system with 24 missiles to Kyiv. Lithuania was the first country to provide Ukraine with such weapons.
After the outbreak of the war, Lithuania sent 50 of its M113 armoured personnel carriers to Ukraine. Moreover, Lithuania handed over some howitzers and a third of its 120-millimetre mortars to Kyiv. In addition to providing direct military support, Lithuania also contributes to joint arms procurement and training of Ukrainian troops.
Lithuanian society and businesses have repeatedly joined together to help Ukraine. In June 2022, Lithuanian broadcaster Laisves TV initially crowdfunded 6 million euros to buy an aircraft from Turkish manufacturer Baykar, who later decided to donate the drone for free. The latest campaign, RADAROM, raised 14 million euros for high-tech radars to protect Ukraine’s skies. And it seems that the Lithuanian people’s willingness to help Ukraine is inexhaustible.
NATO Summit in Vilnius
The NATO summit, which will take place on 11—12 July 2023 in Vilnius, will focus on strengthening the Alliance’s collective defence and deterrence as well as increasing support for Ukraine. Lithuania will seek the real implementation of the Madrid Summit decisions on strengthening the defence of the Alliance’s eastern flank.
“We are entering the year of the 20th anniversary of NATO membership in intense preparations for the NATO Summit in Vilnius in July. It is undoubtedly the most important international event to take place in Lithuania since the re-establishment of independence. But it is significant not only because the global attention will be attracted to a capital 30 km away from the eastern border of NATO. Decisions will be taken in Vilnius to further build on the reorientation to collective defence, something more than symbolic, but rather critical for the security of our region,” highlights Arvydas Anušauskas, Minister of National Defence.
A proud and reliable member of NATO, Lithuania actively contributes to the Alliance’s goals of improving stability and security in the region and throughout Europe. For 19 years, Lithuania, as a NATO nation, has worked and trained together with its Allies to keep its citizens safe. Whether in the air, at sea, on land, or in cyberspace, we are much stronger together than we are alone.