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Lithuania - NATO Membership

The Lithuanian political elite put more effort into NATO integration aspirations can be attributed to a rather objective cause: fading albeit perisistent fear of resurgence of Russian expansionist claims and search for long term hard security guarantees that the EU would not be able to provide.

Since 1992, the United States has committed more than $100 million in Lithuania to economic and political transformation and to humanitarian needs. In 1998, the United States signed a "Charter of Partnership" with Lithuania and the other Baltic countries establishing bilateral working groups focused on improving regional security, defense, and economic issues. Since 2004, the United States deals with Lithuania on regional security and defense matters primarily through NATO fora.

Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia were all forcibly incorporated into the Soviet Union. After regaining full independence, they pushed heavily for membership in NATO. That invitation finally came on 22 November 2002, at the NATO summit in Prague. Lithuanians savored their entry into NATO, something few thought possible during the years of Soviet occupation. The headline of one of Lithuania's leading newspapers, Lithuanian Morning, reads "Historic Justice." At Lithuania's military headquarters, Brigadier General Valdas Tutkus, says the day the NATO invitation was announced ranks second only to March 11 1990, the day Lithuania voted for independence. "We return back to Europe," he said. "We return back to the secure environment, and we're really, really proud and happy with this. "

Lithuanian officials diplomatically said NATO membership is not designed as protection against any particular country. But many Lithuanians who suffered under the Soviet occupation, say differently. Young people and people who were against NATO say that Lithuania must be for neutrality. But others remember from history, between second and first World War, Lithuania was neutral country, but in the 1940s, Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet army and neutrality didn't help.

The majority of Lithuanians supported NATO membership, but many do not. Some said NATO membership means more money spent on defense, money they thought could be better spent elsewhere. In 2002, Lithuania increased its defense spending to two percent of GDP, in order to meet NATO requirements. But the majority of Lithuanians appeared ready to pay the price, and also to absorb the costs of what could be the country's next step toward western integration - membership in the European Union.

NATO and the European Union acquired a common border with Russia as they admitted three former Soviet Republics on the Baltic coast: Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. One of the border issues that troubled Moscow concerned the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad on the Baltic coast. It will soon be separated from the rest of Russia by two NATO and EU members, Poland and Lithuania. The NATO expansion to Russian borders was a tectonic change in global security architecture, which would take Russians some time to adjust to.

In April 2005 NATO foreign ministers gathered in Lithuania for their first-ever meeting on territory once occupied by the Soviet Union. The meeting focused on issues of East-West concern. The Vilnius conference of NATO foreign ministers came just a year after the Baltic nation joined the trans-Atlantic military alliance with several other countries once controlled by the Soviet bloc. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice represented the United States at the talks. She used a news conference in Vilnius to emphasize U.S. ties with Lithuania. "The United States and Lithuania of course share common values, said Ms. Rice. We share a history that was a history of defending freedom, even in the darkest of times."

Lithuania fully endorses the concept of collective defense. National policy recognizes the role of NATO as the guarantor of security in Europe. The goal of Lithuania's defense policy is to create a military that can provide for limited Lithuanian national defense and contribute to international missions through NATO, the UN, and other groups, and to continue to integrate Lithuania into Western defense structures.

Lithuania cooperates with Estonia and Latvia in exercise Sabre Strike, a multinational air and land forces training event; the joint naval squadron BALTRON; and the three established a trilateral Baltic infantry battalion for the NATO Response Force in 2010. Lithuania has deployed troops to Iraq and Afghanistan for combat and training missions. There are Acquisition and Cross-Servicing and Operation Enduring Freedom Lift and Sustain agreements in place with Lithuania.





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