Jens Stoltenberg, Wikipedia
By Angele Kedaitiene
Last Friday (14 June), the newly elected President of Lithuania Gitanas Nauseda spoke by phone to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and expressed Lithuania’s willingness to host more of NATO air police missions.
Air defence is the Baltic states’ weakest point in military terms. The Baltic states do not have their own air defence capabilities, therefore, the Alliance’s other member countries carry out an air policing mission in the Baltic states on a rotational basis.
Since March 2004, when the Baltic States joined NATO, the 24/7 task of policing the airspace of the Baltic States was started by Belgium and conducted on a three-month rotation from Lithuania’s First Air Force Base in Zokniai/Šiauliai International Airport, near the northern city of Šiauliai, and starting from 2014 – also at the Ämari Air Base in Harju County, Estonia. Starting with the Turkish deployment, rotations changed to a four-month basis. Usual deployments consist of four fighter aircraft with between 50 and 100 support personnel. Since 1 May 2019, air police mission is carried out jointly by Hungary, Spain and UK forces.
The Baltic states want the policing mission to be turned into an air defence mission, which would mean that stationed fighter jets could be involved in combat tasks. Lithuania has short-range air defence systems and is purchasing medium-range air defence systems but cannot afford long-range missiles, like Patriot, capable of downing aircraft and ballistic missiles.
According to Aistis Zabarauskas, the spokesperson of Gitanas Nauseda, the president-elect and the NATO chief also discussed other matters on the NATO agenda, including defence spending, the NATO bolstering strategy, foreign operations, and mission, as well as the upcoming London summit on 3-4 December.
“The NATO secretary general paid attention to the importance of meeting financial commitments for Lithuania to maintained 2% GDP defence spending,” Nauseda’s spokesman said. “The president-elect spoke about bolstering the deterrence policy and our hosting national commitments when hosting allied forces.”
Following the conversation, Nauseda posted on Facebook that Stoltenberg told him that “Lithuania is an important and valued ally with an exemplary implementation of its commitment to the Alliance.”
“I said we understand each other well not only because we are allies but also because we are both economists. It’s another common denominator helping us to understand each other,” the future president said.
Lithuania has joined NATO on 29 March 2004, some months ahead of its EU accession, and considers this membership as strategic in terms of defence. The Russian Federation with its huge armed forces is the neighbour to keep a constant eye on, in terms of military threats. In case of aggression, Lithuania is protected by article 5 of NATO Accession Treaty. The Lithuanian armed forces consist on more than 20,000 well-trained personnel, serving in land, air and navy forces. The country does not host any NATO military base.