aA
Kęstutis Girnius
© DELFI / Karolina Pansevič

On the eve of the independence commemoration, Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis stated that the cabinet is prepared to coordinate the various parties' positions on defence questions in an effort to sign a long-term document over state defence strategy.

He noted that it is not worth to rush signing such an agreement until it is resolved whether universal conscription is implemented or if we will remain with the current mixed military model, improving it.

After all, depending on the chosen military model, financial commitments will change. Skvernelis made this comment after meeting with the opposition Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats, who propose to increase defence spending to 2.5% of GDP by 2020.

It is hard to not agree with Skvernelis' proposal.

The president is increasingly withdrawing from public policy and the model for the future military and its financing are not only inherently important, but will also have a great impact on other areas of life. They cannot be left to their own devices.

This year's budget dedicates 2.06% of GDP to defence spending, a total of 873 million euro. In 2013 national defence spending amounted to only 263 million euro, thus over five years the spending rose by an entire 610 million euro, more than triple the spending this year than in 2013. Such a sum of money would resolve a number of the country's problems.

In the past Lithuania spent embarrassingly little on national defence. Despite commitments to dedicate 2% GDP to defence spending, in 2012 during Conservative rule, Lithuania had approximately 0.95-0.97% GDP in defence spending, even allocating a part of the funds intended for the Public Security Service and State Border Guard Service to national defence. Luxembourg was the only NATO state, which spent proportionately less funds on defence.

The then Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs Radoslaw Sikorski expressed doubt whether Lithuania is truly concerned regarding Moscow if it spends less than half of the NATO standard for defence.

A country, which shares a border with Russia, should not act this way. One must admit that in 2009-2012 Lithuania was faced with economic crisis, funding was lacking in a number of economic spheres, pensions and wages were cut. However, other countries, such as Estonia, survived similarly tough times without breaching their commitments.

The pendulum has swung the other way.

The Conservatives, Minister of National Defence R. Karoblis and many politicians are speaking of the need to dedicate 2.5% of GDP to defence, thus another 200-252 million euro. This is no pocket money. The prime minister opposed the proposal to increase the base wage from 130.5 euro to 137 euro because apparently such a wage increase would cost 100 million euro and funds cannot be found for it.

We must care for national defence. If we are not secure, we will be unable to accomplish our main goals. Nevertheless, one must not forget that Lithuanian citizens view the aging society, emigration and social segregation, not foreign invasion as the main threats.

In a democracy, one must consider the public's opinions and these concerns of theirs are justified.

After a vast spending hike, the time has come for a pause and reflection. As Skvernelis says, we must not rush until we decide whether we establish universal conscription or whether we will continue with the current mixed military model. Both have advantages and disadvantages, thus we should not artificially rush the decision. And until it is made, the budget should not be increased.

The armed forces model and the role to be assigned to conscripts has been under discussion for a time now. Particularly many discussions were held in early 2015. Those emphasising the importance of professional troops opposed the supporters of universal conscription, stating that it is more important to have an excellent starting five than a long bench of substitutes. There were also talks about conscripting women.

There weren't many enthusiasts. Seimas Speaker Loreta Graužinienė did not oppose volunteer service, but did not support universal conscription of women because "the duty of women is to give birth to children, who would become the future volunteers and troops to defend the homeland."

Stances change, mandatory military service is becoming more positively received. In a recent book Who would go to defend LITHUANIA? It is outlined that almost 90% of respondents believe that young men should enter mandatory military service, while only a quarter say the same for women.

It is interesting that around 72% support military training at school and even half of those who do not support mandatory lessons agree to voluntary lessons, thus 85% of respondents view military lessons in one form or another positively.

Our neighbours have advanced further. Already a few years ago around half of youths aged 18-28 served in the Estonian military, with training lasting 8 to 11 months. The children of the elite do not shirk service. When T. Ilves was president, his son was in the military reserve. Finland has long had universal conscription and around 80% of young men perform mandatory military service, which usually lasts half a year. Having abolished it in 2010, Sweden returned mandatory military service this year, calling up both men and women.

Lithuania should follow the Swedish example. Equal rights means equal duties, if men serve, so should women.

At the same time it is necessary to admit that the declared equality is not always implemented, nor in all spheres. The prospects for the futures of men and women are changing. Increasingly more women enter higher education than men, almost half more of them entering Vilnius University. The year spent as a conscript will reduce the number of men entering university. If women do not serve, they will begin and end their studies a year earlier than men, gaining an advantage.

The means of war are changing.

Future wars will be partially hybrid, fought through computers and not machine guns, employing electronic and cyber, not encirclement operations. Most women would be equally effective hybrid war troops as are men.

Writing off half of our youth is too much of a luxury for a small state such as Lithuania. The survey data presented in the book Who would go to defend LITHUANIA? Shows that women are in part less prepared to participate in resistance because they do not know how to, as there are no public discussions of how they could contribute to civil defence.

Military service would remove this lack of knowledge.

Defence spending has already reached, even slightly exceeded the commitment to NATO. We are in the top ten for our defence spending.

According to NATO Secretary General J. Stoltenberg, by to 2024 at least 15 members of the Alliance will be reaching their commitment to dedicate at least 2% of GDP in defence spending, only then catching up.

We can dedicate a year for serious discussions not only between political parties, but also with the entire political community because universal conscription and plans to prepare for armed resistance in case of attack or occupation will impact most citizens.

Their agreement to the plans will significantly impact their effectiveness, thus they must be heard.