Address by the Lithuanian Minister of National defence at the meeting of the Subcommittee on Security and Defence of the European Parliament

16 October 2013, Last updated at, 10:59 EEST
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author: European Parliament/Audiovisual Services for Media

Mr Chair,
Honourable Members of the European Parliament,
Esteemed guests,

It is a great pleasure to be here with you today, at the European Parliament, and to address the Subcommittee on Security and Defence. This is the first time I have had the opportunity to do so and I am very grateful to you, Mr Chair, for your kind invitation and for giving me the opportunity to share my thoughts about the security and defence situation in Europe. I have worked for many years and indeed continue to work at the Lithuanian national parliament, the Seimas, and on the Committee on National Security and Defence, and so I feel I am among close colleagues.

I had the opportunity to meet with some of you in Vilnius at the beginning of September, at the Inter-Parliamentary Conference on Security and Defence. Our high-level discussions were meaningful and very substantial. I hope the organisers gave all participants the opportunity not only for serious discussions but also to discover Vilnius, and perhaps even visit some of our other cities. I would be delighted if you found it a positive experience, and I hope you will make many more trips to Lithuania.

The latter half of this year has been extraordinarily important to Lithuania – and not just to our Government, but to all our citizens. In fact, the importance of the Presidency of the European Union is one of the issues on which we can agree 100 per cent with our parliamentary opposition – and, as you can imagine, such issues are few and far between.

The Presidency is also a major challenge for our civil service. It has to be said that our state institutions have spared no effort in preparing for this important period. Their hard work would appear to have paid off – we are already half way through a presidency which has gone without a major hitch. I would even go so far as to say we are starting to enjoy it!

I have no doubt that the Presidency of the Council of the European Union will have a strong and lasting impact as regards modernising Lithuanian state bodies, bringing a deeper understanding of the European Union to Lithuanian society, and strengthening European values and the European identity.

By the same token, I hope that, by the end of these six months, Europe will have got to know Lithuania a little better and have a clearer understanding of our history. Being an optimist, I also hope that, by the end of the Lithuanian Presidency, Lithuania will less frequently be mistaken for Latvia, and vice versa.

My main goal today is to outline the aims of the Lithuanian Presidency in the field of security and defence, and give a rundown of Lithuania's efforts to frame and implement the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP).

During the first months of the Presidency, we held a series of high-level events in Vilnius and a highly successful joint seminar with France, in Paris. Immediately after today's meeting, I will go to London, to take part in a joint Lithuania-UK seminar on the future of the EU Battle Groups. All of these Lithuanian Presidency events in the field of the CSDP are in one way or another connected with the December European Council.

I would also mention the fact that Lithuania not only holds the Presidency, but is also more active than ever participant in the CSDP activities. There are currently as many as 120 Lithuanian soldiers in the EU Battle Group, together with troops from the United Kingdom, Latvia, the Netherlands and Sweden. Lithuanian military instructors have joined from the outset the EU's training mission in Mali; we are also currently providing a vessel protection detachment to Operation Atalanta, ensuring United Nations humanitarian access. Thus, we see the Presidency of the Council of the European Union not just as an opportunity to shape EU policy priorities, but also as an obligation to participate actively in the implementation of previously agreed policies.

It's always great to talk about achievements. However, you know as well as I do that in recent times European security and defence issues have generally been discussed in a spirit of pessimism. – Europe faces an increasing number of security challenges. – Defence expenditure in most EU countries is decreasing. – Meanwhile, the widening gap between the resources required and the resources available is filled with rhetoric and initiatives, which are often symbolic in nature, and cannot substantially improve the situation.

The defence sectors of most European countries have borne the brunt of the economic crisis and ongoing austerity. Even in a recovering economy, the opportunities to increase defence budgets are limited by strict EU-mandated budget-deficit limits.

Defence funding

I believe that reinforcing our military capabilities and bringing about the associated recovery of the European defence industry in practice will be possible only when we reverse the decline in defence spending.

According to European Defence Agency data, defence spending dropped by 10 % from 2005 to 2010 and by as much again from 2010 to 2013. In other words, in recent years the decline in defence spending has not only been maintained, but has actually picked up speed. Left unfettered, this process will have profound and far-reaching consequences not just for the European defence industry, but also for Europe's position in the world. There is no getting away from the fact that the December European Council will have to pay considerable attention to defence funding issues.

These days, when European countries (Lithuania including) refer to the "development of military capabilities", we are actually talking not so much about development, but rather about the management of decline. Therefore, any talk of, and calls for, the December meeting of EU national leaders to announce new, ambitious projects and initiatives cannot be really taken seriously. This is precisely what I had in mind earlier, when I said that in Europe there has been a practice of using lofty rhetoric and exaggeration of the possible impact of new initiatives to hide the growing gap between the defence resources required and those allocated.

Countering the decline in actual defence spending could be an ambitious enough objective for national leaders to set themselves for the moment. If that aim were to be achieved, the December European Council would already have made history.

This is not to say that further efficiencies and savings cannot be achieved through smart policies. For example, the European Defence Agency analysis shows that the Armed Forces remain one of the largest energy consumers in our countries. There is significant potential for reduction of energy costs through the introduction of more efficient technologies and processes. Savings made in the more efficient running of military barracks, using less fuel-thirsty vehicles or renewable resources could be invested into the required military capabilities.

Reviewing the European Security Strategy (ESS)

Another significant task for the European Council meeting (once it has reversed the decline in the defence budget) could be to launch a review of the European Security Strategy.

This December, we will be celebrating the tenth anniversary of the European Security Strategy. Very often, such landmarks provide a timely opportunity to initiate reconsiderations and reviews. However, it is not the milestone itself that matters here.

I would like to quote the first two sentences of the current European Security Strategy, which goes like this:

"Europe has never been so prosperous, so secure nor so free. The violence of the first half of the 20th Century has given way to a period of peace and stability".

Could anyone argue that this is still a valid strategic assumption? Or that it provides an appropriate basis for today's European security strategy? – I don't think so. Over the past ten years, the world outside Europe has become more unsafe, more volatile and more radical. Meanwhile, Europe itself has become more introverted, politically less ambitious and militarily less able to deal with emerging security challenges, even in neighbouring territories.

In the review of the strategy, Europeans will need to think well beyond the problems in our vicinity. We cannot ignore the fact that the US, which over decades was deploying considerable forces in Western Europe will, in future, focus increasingly on other parts of the world. Therefore, Europe will need to rethink its global role, including the role of military force within its strategy.

I will also mention that the emerging threats – cyber and energy security – are conspicuous by their absence in the current strategy. However, they are the ones, which are currently the most pressing for Lithuania and a number of other European countries. You may have heard about the recently established NATO’s Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence in Tallinn and Energy Security Centre, which has been opened in Vilnius this year. The establishment of these centres is a reflection of the growing security threats in our region and beyond.
 
I will revert to the issue of emerging challenges later in my speech. My main message is that in the light of the fundamental changes that have taken place over the last ten years, the European Council should now take the lead and set in motion the process of updating this key European Union security strategy document.

Security partnerships

The third topic – after defence funding and the Security Strategy review – which, we think, needs to be examined in greater depth at the December European Council is EU Partnerships in the field of security and defence.

As you know, one of the most important priorities of the Lithuanian Presidency of the Council of the European Union is the strengthening of the Eastern Partnership. We hope that the Eastern Partnership Summit next month in Vilnius will see the signing of an extremely important Association Agreement with Ukraine and the initialling of such agreements with Georgia and Moldova.

It is very important that active supporters of strengthening the Eastern Partnership are well represented in the European Parliament. Although these agreements do not address security and defence directly, their long-term and comprehensive nature means that they will also have significant implications for European security. It is especially important to bring Ukraine into the European integration process. This represents a geopolitical shift that will fundamentally change the face of the EU's Eastern neighbourhood.

On the other hand, the European Union does not fully exploit the potential of security and defence cooperation with its partners. There is no regular security dialogue between the European Union and its neighbours, let alone military cooperation programmes. Active efforts to include partners in EU operations are also sadly lacking. For example, EU Member States could include representatives of partner countries into their forces deploying to an operation at little or no extra cost. This is a practice, which is widely used within NATO and has proven its value.

Generally speaking, defence cooperation and the involvement of partners in European Union military activities are felt to be of little intrinsic value and, hence, they are not part of EU’s neighbourhood policies. More often than not, such cooperation happens on an ad hoc basis, and partners are valued only insofar as they plug a hole in EU capability.

By way of illustration, I'll give you a couple of examples of what we see as untapped opportunities:

– Where a partner country and an EU Member State offer similar forces for deployment on an EU operation, it is the EU country that is invariably given priority. As a result, our partners are really only ever given the chance to take part in operations for which the 28 EU countries cannot supply forces. And let's face it: the very fact that 28 countries cannot provide the required capability suggests that this capability is either very expensive or very rare. Is it realistic to expect countries such as Georgia or Moldova, which would actually like to participate in EU operations, to provide such capability? Of course not. That is why we think the EU should apply the principle of "positive discrimination" in this field. Where our partners offer to support EU activities by providing the necessary capabilities, they should be given priority.

– Another deeply flawed practice in EU operations is the use of the paid services of private companies to compensate for capability shortfalls without turning to partners first. Thus, the European Union Training Mission in Mali recently hired medical evacuation (MEDEVAC) helicopters, at a cost of EUR 2.5 million, for six months. Next year, we are likely to pay over EUR 5 million for this service. And yet, the European Union has not once approached its partners who have such capabilities and who might be able to provide them on much better terms.

So, throughout our Presidency, we have stressed the importance of security and defence cooperation with our partners, and especially with our neighbours. Such cooperation should be seen as an end in itself enabling the European Union to shape its security environment purposefully. In other words, investment in strengthening defence cooperation is good investment, even at the times of austerity.

Emerging challenges

The last topic, which I would like the European Council to discuss in greater depth and to which I have already referred in the context of the European Security Strategy review, is what are known as "emerging security challenges".

It is probably time we stopped calling them "emerging", given that we have been discussing them now for at least a decade. However, it would seem that we have yet to find a better description. (Then again, Lithuania and the other countries that joined the Union in 2004 are still known as "new Member States" despite the fact that the EU has expanded twice since then.)

When we speak about emerging security challenges, we are generally referring to cyber and energy security issues. Their distinguishing feature is complexity. This means that the response to threats of this nature must also be complex – ranging from regulation, standard-setting and targeted investments, to active diplomacy, deterrents and responses.

The European Union, with its expertise, political and economic leverages, and with its institutions - is currently better placed than anyone to take the lead in dealing with such non-military issues as cyber threats and energy insecurity. Naturally, problems of this kind can only be solved in close cooperation with other countries and organisations, not least NATO, which has already established the aforementioned centres of excellence in Vilnius and Tallinn. I would like to hope that also in this area the December European Council will set ambitious guidelines for the European Union.

I would like to conclude on a positive note. It goes as follows:

"In the area of security and defence, Europe is capable of doing more than it thinks it can." I will try to explain what I mean.

Pessimism is contagious, and it is easy to forget that, until very recently, as many as 50 000 troops from EU Member States were deployed in Afghanistan. From 2005 until the autumn of this year, little Lithuania led the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Afghanistan, where Special Operations Forces were also deployed. During 2011, European countries were responsible for carrying out the vast majority of combat missions during NATO's operation in Libya. This year, during Operation Serval in Mali, France alone was able to send a military contingent that was several times greater than the EU Battle Groups.

It is no secret that in the European Union we often fail to agree on joint action. This is often ascribed to a lack of "political will". Tomorrow, as it happens, we are due to discuss one of such issues in London. Our debate will centre around the EU Battle Groups: we fail to fill their full roster; we fail to deploy those BGs we have trained; should we keep investing into them? The Battle Groups have even been compared drily with Moscow’s Tsar Cannon, which, for all its formidable appearance, has never actually been fired.

However, as is clear from the examples I have already cited, I am convinced that, when the situation is critical, the EU's Member States and armed forces are capable of acting quickly and effectively. – Still capable, I should say.

They might, however, lose this capacity. It is therefore very important that the December European Council give fresh impetus and set positive trends. I have tried to outline some of those trends for you here today.

The Lithuanian Presidency team will continue its efforts to put them into practice. I am confident, Mr Chair, that your Subcommittee on Security and Defence will actively support the Member States (and in particular their defence ministers) at this difficult time.

I would like to thank you all for your attention and for your patience. As far as our time will allow, I will take some questions. We have to catch the train to London, and unfortunately, time and tide – and train – wait for no man – not even a Minister for Defence!
 

Brussels, 14 October 2013

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