Certain changes are expected to appear in defence policy and transformation of the Armed Forces along with the change of the National Defence System authorities. Recession of economy entailed decrease in defence budget. Advisor to the Minister of National Defence and former Chief of Defence Maj. Gen. (R) Jonas Kronkaitis comments on future prospects and changes likely to take place.
It has been quite long since Lithuanian Armed Forces and National Defence System in general took up the road of changes. What turn will the transformation take after leading officials of the National Defence System have changed?
My scope is no more than advising and it is not my decision that will turn transformation of the Lithuanian Armed Forces. I will employ my experience to advice the Minister to find the best solutions from my point of view, and she will take the responsibility of decision making.
Armed Forces are almost all the time in the state of transformation: the process is a natural adjustment to changing circumstances. Armed Forces must progress together with technologies, character of threats, resources in possession or when the latter do not satisfy the needs to attain the purposes and consequently new solutions must be found. Those are the decisive factors in the progress of the armed forces' development.
Certain transformations have been implemented in the Lithuanian Armed Forces seeking integration into the Euro-Atlantic structures: professional military service was introduced, some of the territorial defence principles were abandoned, and the number of personnel of the armed forces was cut down. Will the mentioned tendencies be continued or will the reforms take some other kind of turn in the future?
I uphold that the transition to professional military service was implemented ineffectively: inefficient planning of the reform cost damage to the national armed forces. NATO standards do not require member state to base its national military service on professionals only therefore the reform was not directly determined by efforts to meet NATO requirements. The decision was implemented hastily and because of political calculations only. Professional war service is neither better nor worse than obligatory and professional military duty combined. Any type of armed forces is partly professional because everyone are professionals of their field. It is customary that officers, part of soldiers and specialists of certain fields are professionals in any country and any type of armed forces.
It would not be correct to claim that Lithuania has abandoned the principle of territorial defence: because it is the basis of national defence. Even NATO's Secretary General maintains that territorial defence is the basis of security, and capabilities designed for deployment where threats may arise are additional. That is precisely what Lithuania's participation in international operations should be interpreted as - we march to where the threats originate and this way conduct "indirect" defence of Lithuania. It would be impossible to efficiently defend Lithuania, its constitutional order and people, without defending its territory. The thought of territorial defence usually invokes people to think about World War I, trench defence principle; however, nowadays territorial defence is completely different. Lithuania is the territory we are to defend by destroying the enemy wherever he might be. That is the essence of the principle. We have the same central task as any other NATO member - to defend our home country. And our joining together for collective defence was inspired by the effort to conduct defence more easily and efficiently. The support NATO sends to Lithuania makes national defence easier; however, it can not replace national capabilities capable of providing territorial defence in case of necessity. Likewise, we have to have capabilities to fulfil commitments to NATO. So our objective is to maintain balance without overdoing on any side. We should not state that we will only take up NATO operations because that would be an irresponsible thing to do.
Please, comment on your statement that transition to professional armed forces was not conducted efficiently. Did you mean that the reform made quality level of the armed forces decline, or infringed the integrity between society and the armed forces and opened a gap between them?
All of the armed forces that transition to professional service face the problem of alienation from society but this is not the major harm done. The greatest harm was done to the process of combat training that became more complicated because of the hasty and poor planning of the reform. Lithuanian Armed Forces lack personnel to sustain its normal functioning, to ensure security of strategic objects, and to maintain and use equipment in possession. Economic crisis prevents us from employing enough personnel as professionals. The reform was undertaken and carried on with despite the warnings about the approaching economic slowdown.
What did you mean by stating that smaller armed forces do not necessarily coincide with more flexible, modern, mobile, and better armed forces?
Two very good men could not provide defence of Lithuania no matter how well equipped and dressed and modern they would be. Therefore small armed forces are not necessarily efficient. You can use the best building materials to throw a bridge across a river but it will not be a real bridge if it does not span shores of the river and does not perform its main function. The sign of efficient armed forces' functioning is its ability to implement the main task - to defend its home land. And now we have to restore vital capabilities from professional military, not political, point of view. At the moment many processes have been interrupted and that prevents us from continuing the transformation effectively. The Government is forced to ensure only the fundamental functions of state, social security and such, because of economical difficulties. However, defence potential of a country is also a priority of the state. I do not mean to say that someone might attack us in a short while but the situation makes us work to maintain the crucial capabilities, to preserve at least what we have. It is upsetting to fire personnel that will probably be needed in the future but present armed forces must be trained and we are already short of funding in all the sectors.
We must save the best things that are still there in the armed forces and implement what does not require much funding without delay. We also have to conduct planning of measures to be taken once the situation has improved, arrange the significantly diminished active reserve, organise mobile reserve, and develop its structure.
Did Lithuania abandon recruit system for good?
If the Constitutional Court rules that laws were violated while resigning the system, we will have to revert to it. But it would be a costly process because recruit system was already partly deranged. In any case we will be searching for means based on voluntarism and additional motivation. There is a possibility that in the future young people will be encouraged to join armed forces by supporting them in their consequent studies: such solution would be beneficial for the state, for the armed forces, and for the individual. Today university education is provided for people who have not brought profit to the state yet. Besides, young people who have not graduated from prestigious schools or do not have money for higher education would be given the chance to acquire it on state funding. Armed Forces will be supplemented with educated and motivated members, and high quality rotation would be ensured in the lowest link. Let us not forget that professional armed forces not only digress from the society - they also grow old.
How could future changes influence individual subdivisions? What future would your forecast for the National Defence Volunteer Force?
Further process of transformation covers certain changes in the Ministry of National Defence, and staffs of the Armed Forces' branches that proliferated recently contrary to their scope of functions. All of that will require revision. We do not plan to deactivate any units despite the fact that almost no more soldiers are left in some of battalions. We will be looking for balance and more efficient ways to perform our functions employing resources in possession to reach our goals.
Volunteer force is an important part of the Armed Forces because it is the active reserve. If we have a small regular force at the moment and there is a need for numerous capabilities to defend homeland, increasing active reserve is the cheapest way to ensure it. Many countries of the world employ this method. In the latter years active reserve of the national armed forces was significantly reduced and we have to revise it to find out if the balance ensuring vital capabilities of national defence has not been violated.
Are there any particular challenges civilian and military personnel of the National Defence System may have to face during the slowdown? Are there specialists lacking or excess of any in the Armed Forces and the system in general?
Presently there are too many officers, NCOs and sergeants in the Armed Forces because not enough divisions, platoons or companies exist to fall under their command. And more - national armed forces needs more soldiers. A certain number of officers, NCOs and sergeants gradually retire but there is still excess. Contracts of the military are revised and extended every five years; regarding present conditions some of the contracts are not extended. However, even in the present situation we prefer to keep experienced personnel and try to find ways avoiding dismissal in big numbers: Minister of National Defence recommended all the military and civilian employees of the National Defence System to voluntarily take a week of holidays without pay per year. Pay of senior officers also fell subject to curtailment. We hope that the mentioned methods will help us save money and retain people in the system and the armed forces. We were glad to find that officers sustained the Minister's proposal and are ready to relieve financial burden of the Armed Forces at the expense of their personal income. When the crisis gets milder, staffing a necessary number of the lowest link soldiers (of private and corporal rank) will be our most important task. Presently we must retain commanding officers and specialists who would be able to train, educate and lead the new personnel in the future. Let us take the example of a constructions company: it needs qualified specialists of various spheres - engineers, bricklayers, etc. Constructions would be interrupted if the company had lost specialists of the lowest chain for any reason. When economic situation has improved the company may re-staff the bottom chain, but the constructions could not proceed if all the engineers had been fired till then and there had been no one left to head the works. High qualification engineers would not be as easy to find as auxiliary workers and instructions of the new ones would take time as well. Therefore we can not afford losing high qualification and experienced officers. Preparation of a battalion commander takes from 16 to 18 years. Society and the armed forces have already made an investment into such people so retaining them is an important task.
How does economical crisis influence procurements in the Lithuanian Armed Forces?
To adjust to conditions of recession we have to plan procurements of the Armed Forces with particular attention and responsibility, to set priorities with more care, to surrender or delay some plans. In my view, recently mistakes have been made in setting those priorities. Although signs of approaching crisis were evident, procurement t documents for obviously non-priority goods were signed: I am referring to mine clearance boats and SISU vehicles that we could have managed without for several years more but which now costs us great money. The mentioned equipment is necessary of course but present situation is not right for such decission: we can not even exploit what is in our possession because of lacking maintenance personnel. The rush in re-arming Lithuanian forces with new light riflemen's arms was not necessary too. If a soldier is trained to use one type of a gun, it will be quite easy and quick to teach him handle any other, more cutting-edge gun in the future. A wiser decision would be purchasing big amounts of weapons that require longer training. For example, servicemen need to train for a longer period to handle modern aircraft and antitank defence systems like „Stinger" and „Javelin" properly, therefore we should have bought as many trainers as possible as early as it could have been possible. Antitank and missile defence is a priority in providing defence for our country.
A law came into force on July 1 according to which status of ministerial authorities was changed: positions of ministerial secretaries were abolished. How will it influence management of the system?
Outgoing secretaries were invited to occupy new positions within the system so their experience was not lost. Activity of ministerial departments will be revised to increase efficiency of their work. Some sections of the system have excess human resources, some may lack them. I hope we will manage to avoid discharge in big numbers: capabilities may be reallocated, some part of personnel may be asked to change character of their work. Curtailment of human resources should be implemented at least partly by natural course: retirement or voluntary resignation. The Minister directed to apply means as sensitive as possible of personnel reduction to honest employees of the system. However, we must accept the fact that some of positions will inevitably have to be abandoned together with obligatory military service.
Lithuania has cut down on its participation in international operations in Iraq and the Balkans to the minimum to prioritise operation in Afghanistan recently. What are the perspectives of Lithuania's participation in international operations in the future? Will Afghanistan mission remain a priority, maybe there are plans of joining some other international operations in the future?
To my knowledge we do not consider joining any other international operations in the nearest future. We will continue with the operation in Afghanistan and fulfil our commitments to NATO unless political leadership would come up with another decision. The Minister works to involve other countries in the development projects coordinated by civilian sector of reconstruction team in Ghowr. We will make major effort that security of our troops in the operation would be ensured to the maximum.
Lithuania is taking an active part in NATO's activities; what are the prospects of our participation in defence structures of the EU?
Majority of the EU members are also NATO allies therefore needless duplication of NATO and the EU defence structures' functions is avoided. Presently I notice no need for intensified participation in defence structures of the EU, so participation in NATO's activities remains a priority. Of course, if Lithuanian Government had made other political decisions, we would have to react by expanding participation in the EU defence structures as well.
Is there a difference between the Lithuanian Armed Forces you were leading before several years and the present one?
It is much smaller today: we had 11 thousand volunteers in 2000, and 11 thousand of regular forces. Now there are only 4 thousand of volunteers and 8 thousand of regular force members. The number of staffs and staff personnel has increased. As I have already mentioned, numbers of officers and NCOs and ordinary soldiers make negative disproportion. It reduces quality of combat readiness because majority of them do not have conditions of forming permanent units - platoons or companies. We will have to revise it. Officers of today's armed forces have fewer activities, they lack personnel to work with and gain experience, which hits their morale, of course. These are not the best times ever that we are going through as a result of economical crisis and prior planning mistakes. However, the economy will recover in a year or two, defence capabilities will be restored, and today our task is to overcome the difficulties with as little loss as possible.