Lithuania reintroduces compulsory military service

Lithuania reintroduces compulsory military service

The president of Lithuania, Dalia Grybauskaitė, announced on February 24th that the country plans to reinstate military conscription due to the current geopolitical situation. Although the president did not say it so explicitly, it is clear that this move is a reaction to Russian aggression.

To understand Lithuania’s relationship with Russia, you must go back in history to well before the country joined the EU. Lithuania, just like Latvia and Estonia, was occupied by the Soviet Union for five decades until 1991, when the Baltic countries gained independence. Since then, they have tried to distance themselves from Russia, although a considerable level of dependence, especially in the energy sector remains.

The countries joined the EU and NATO in 2004, which also meant a transformation of their military to match NATO requirements. As it was peacetime, Lithuania decided to abolish military conscription four years after joining NATO. However, serious concerns over the country’s national security resurfaced at the outbreak of the crisis in Ukraine and the Russian annexation of Crimea. The size of the Lithuanian military and defense sector suddenly became an issue.

With the decision to reinstate conscription, Lithuania plans to recruit up to 3500 young men per year to serve a nine month period. The target group is men between the ages of 19 and 26, with the exception of certain groups, including single fathers and university students. Compulsory military service will be reinstated for a five year period this September. The aim is to boost and strengthen the military of Lithuania.

Lithuania currently has about 15,000 troops, but it does not possess any military tanks or aircrafts. The country’s defense spending is only 0,78% of its GDP (2013), well below the 2% NATO requirement. Lithuania’s defense spending currently focuses on the enhancement of national armed capabilities and the fulfillment of international security and defense commitments.

The biggest challenge for the country’s defense is the transformation of armed forces, capable of state defense and expeditionary warfare. The aim is to have modern, capable and motivated forces, able to defend the country and contribute to collective security of the Alliance. But according to the most recent concerns, the army’s size is so small that it endangers the country’s national security.

Low defense spending and a shrinking military is not only characteristic of Lithuania, but is the case for most of the countries in the region. In fact, only a few European countries’ defense spending comes close to the NATO requirement.

However, the location of Lithuania, together with the two other Baltic states creates cause for concern. Part of Lithuania’s border runs along Kaliningrad, the Russian enclave, which is home to important military bases. In December, a Russian military drill featuring 9000 soldiers and more than 55 naval vessels was carried out there.

A number of incidents and issues – including potential spying cases, an increased number of reported airspace violations, NATO’s plan for a new rapid reaction force in the region, and a planned joint military unit to be set up by Poland, Ukraine and Lithuania – could further trigger tensions between the Baltic states and Russia.

The new threats to Lithuania’s national security include the situation in Ukraine, Russian aggression, and cyber warfare. Due to Kaliningrad’s geographical proximity, Russian troops are close to the Lithuanian border and recent military drills in Kaliningrad demonstrate alarming signs for Lithuania.

In light of these concerns, the State Security Council decided to reintroduce conscription. Although in most of the post-Communist EU member states conscription was abolished, recently it has become a topic of discussion again. More than that, conscription is part of national defense and security in a number of European states, including Austria, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland and Greece.

As such, Lithuania’s reintroduction of compulsory military service is not an exception, but a reaction to the current geopolitical climate.

Categories: Europe, Security

About Author

Orsolya Raczova

Orsolya specializes in the Central Eastern European region and European defense issues. She previously worked for the European Central Bank, the Berlin-based Institute for Cultural Diplomacy, and a Hungarian think tank. Orsolya holds an MSc in Politics and Communication from the London School of Economics.