Evidence of meeting #41 for National Defence in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was nato.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Rasa Jukneviciene  Minister of National Defence, Government of the Republic of Lithuania
  • David Perry  Defence Analyst, Conference of Defence Associations Institute

11:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair James Bezan

Good morning, everyone.

We're having a special televised meeting of the national defence committee.

In the first hour we are joined by a delegation from the Government of the Republic of Lithuania. Presenting today is the Minister of National Defence, Rasa Jukneviciene. She's accompanied by Her Excellency Ginte Damusis, ambassador of the Republic of Lithuania to Canada, and a large delegation. I want to welcome both of you here and your entire delegation.

To give you a little background, the minister was first elected back in 1988 as a member of a Lithuanian district council. She became a deputy of the Supreme Council in 1990. Before politics, she was a children's physician in the central hospital of Pasvalys. From 1992 to 1996, she was spokesperson for the official opposition. In 2000, she became a member of the National Security Committee, later the National Security and Defence Committee.

In 1996, she was the deputy chair of the Lithuanian Community of the Atlantic Treaty. In 1999, she was the chair of the delegation of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly and chair of the NATO Affairs Commission of the Seimas. From 2004 to 2006, she was the deputy head of the Seimas delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, and she has been head of that delegation since 2006. She has been very active on the NATO file, and of course, this fits in perfectly with our study on NATO's strategic concept and Canada's role in international defence cooperation.

I understand, Madam Minister, that you're on your way to Chicago for the meetings there.

With that, I turn it over to you for your opening comments. If you can take around 10 minutes or so, that would be great. Thank you.

11:15 a.m.

Rasa Jukneviciene Minister of National Defence, Government of the Republic of Lithuania

Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, colleagues, and members of Parliament. I have been a member of the National Security and Defence Committee in my parliament since 1996, so for me, your discussions are very familiar.

First of all, I would like to say thank you very much to Canada for your support of my country before independence, before 1990. For us, it was so important, your not recognizing our occupation. I was born and grew up in occupied Lithuania, so it's very important for me to underline this particular issue and this particular part of our history.

As already mentioned, I've been in parliament since 1990. It's my first term in government as the Minister of National Defence. It's the first time for a woman to be in this position in Lithuania, but I think not the last.

Turning to the main issue I have to discuss with you today, I would like to start by saying that in Lithuania—and I have to speak on behalf of other Baltic nations—we have never felt more secure than today, despite the problems and despite the regional specificity. Of course, last year was the 20th year of our independence. For a small nation that for most of the 20th century was under occupation, it already looks like a long-time success.

Today, Lithuania and other Baltic states are members of the Euro-Atlantic community, which shares common values and concerns. Of course, I think that for the rest of NATO, the rest of our partners, it's very important to have our states independent, to keep going, and to have this particular part of the region—the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea—with the developments that we have now.

The Chicago decisions will be based on the decisions taken in Lisbon, where NATO approved a new strategic concept. We were very happy to participate. It was the first time in our history as a NATO member to have the opportunity to be reactive, to have this NATO new strategic concept.

The new concept includes many elements that are critical to our security and defence policies. As I understand this strategic concept, it was very interesting that all 28 members approved it, having in mind that it's their own national strategic concept of NATO. It's very important for everybody to feel that it's their own—not NATO's, not somebody's, but their own. We have the same feeling.

First of all, why? For us, NATO means a strong transatlantic link. A strong NATO is in our interests. It is in the very deep interests of Lithuania to have a strong, capable NATO. It's the foundation of our Lithuanian defence policy.

Second, the new strategic concept draws a balance between collective defence and crisis management, and between security at home and in distant places. NATO remains a collective defence alliance. This is what is most important for us—to keep the alliance as a defence alliance and our own territory's defence alliance.

Finally, in Lisbon there was a breakthrough on NATO's role in energy security.

Why are these three key principles so important for my country? We are concerned about recent developments in our regional security environment. There is no doubt that we have concerns.

I would like not to speak about Russia at all, but my job and my reality is that I have to. I have no other choice.

Of course, our main concern is Russia's intention to dominate the region and the Baltic states. Some 22 years ago, I thought it would be a totally different situation with our neighbours. Unfortunately, since 2000, when the Yeltsin era ended and the new regime came to the Kremlin, we've been facing very similar threats, or maybe it is better to say challenges. We unfortunately have them now.

Russia still regards the Baltic states as an area of its privileged interests, and it is not hiding this. They are increasing Russia's military presence and activities close to the Baltic borders. It has become a little bit of a different situation since 2007, when the Russian Federation started its military reform, and mainly its military reform westward.

The military exercises are offensive, anti-NATO scenarios, with bomber flights, etc. Everyone's country has military exercises, but the NATO military exercises held in our region are defensive. The Russian Federation is having military exercises with offensive scenarios. That is the main difference and is the main concern we have.

Nuclear weapons and tactical nuclear weapon installations still exist around our countries. It's a reality.

Belarus, next to us, has quite good-quality military armed forces. Our main concern is that they're very much integrated with the Russian Federation, and they are becoming more and more integrated with the Russian Federation every year.

Russia has intensively modernized its military forces in the Kaliningrad enclave. Instead of being a pilot region for Russia's cooperation with NATO and the EU, as we expected some 10 years ago, today Russia's behaviour is the opposite. We expected a benefit from this cooperation with the Kaliningrad region, but unfortunately, it didn't happen, and it's not in our interest. We have to keep in mind that this very much militarized area is in the very centre of Europe.

NATO summits, in general, offer a good opportunity to reaffirm the transatlantic link and to reassert our commitment to each other's security. The Chicago summit will not be different.

I would like to say something about Afghanistan. You know that we faced a very heavy period when our economy was in crisis. The recession was at about minus 15 of GDP a few years ago. We had to do a lot to overcome this crisis. My government, of course, did this. I am proud of that. We cut salaries, wages, and pensions even, but we didn't cut anything from our participation in the mission in Afghanistan. It was not an easy job, but we did it, understanding how important this solidarity with NATO is and how important this mission is for NATO and for our security also. Afghanistan was at the top of the agenda for my ministry, and Afghanistan will be on the top of the agenda in Chicago.

Together with Canada, Lithuania remains firmly committed to security in Afghanistan. We are planning to provide trainers and advisers in support of NATO's training and mentoring role post-2014. Also, Lithuania will financially support the development and sustainment of Afghan national security forces. We must, together with you, stay committed to Afghanistan in the post-2014 period. This is a clear message from my government; we already made this decision about our commitment a few weeks ago.

However, we also have to focus on military activities at home. Here are the main areas.

On NATO visibility, we very much await the NATO Response Force's exercise Steadfast Jazz, to be held next year in the Baltic states and Poland, together. It will be the first partial live exercise of the NATO Response Force in the last five years.

Regarding smart defence, Lithuania is a strong supporter of the smart defence concept, which requires more cooperation in developing capabilities. My country applies the same idea in regional cooperation, Baltic defence integration, and Nordic-Baltic defence cooperation. We think it will be good for NATO and that NATO will be stronger, if regions are strong enough and cooperate among themselves.

In NATO, one of the most prominent examples of smart defence is the NATO air policing mission. For my country, this is the very symbol of our NATO membership. It is also a practical example of NATO's presence in the Baltic region, especially because last year, and not only last year but during the last years, we have seen the increasing activity of the Russian Federation in the Baltic Sea Region, with their heavy bombers and with their military fighters. It is very practical to have this mission in this region.

NATO missile defence also falls under the umbrella of smart defence. Unfortunately, Russia responded with a proposal to divide NATO into sectors. That is totally unacceptable for the alliance, and us especially. We don't want to be separated from NATO, according to a Russian Federation proposal on a sectoral approach.

On energy security, having it start in Lisbon is among our priorities in Chicago. A Lithuanian-established national energy security centre, we expect, will become a NATO centre of excellence this year. Meeting with your minister of defence, I invited Canada to be a very active partner in this centre of excellence. I think it will be a very good example of a win-win situation for member countries.

Finally, regarding partnerships, Lithuania supports NATO attention to North Africa and the Middle East. At the same time, there is a need to send a strong signal of reassurance to aspirant countries, especially to Georgia, as this is an important incentive to continue the reform process.

The recent developments in Ukraine are disappointing. We have to do our best to persuade the Ukraine to follow the westernization path. The isolation of the Ukraine would not offer a credible way ahead.

I had a meeting with my Polish colleague, Tomasz Siemoniak, on Monday. We spoke a lot about Ukraine, because we have a common project, the Lithuanian-Polish-Ukrainian brigade. Today they have a meeting of the Ukrainian and Polish ministers of defence in Warsaw. I will be waiting for information about that. We would like to go forward with this particular project, keeping in mind that Canada has the Maple Arch military exercises, and it could be very useful to have this brigade project and those exercises develop together.

In summary, the Chicago summit offers my country a good opportunity to address our security concerns as well as to share the concerns of our allies. We are strong supporters of smart defence. It requires closer cooperation between allies as a response to austerity and the challenges ahead.

Thank you for your attention.

11:30 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair James Bezan

Thank you, Madam Minister. We appreciate those opening comments. In the interests of time, we're going to do rounds of five minutes.

Mr. Harris, you have the first question.

11:30 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

Thank you, Mr. Chair. Welcome, minister and ambassador and others from Lithuania. We're very pleased to have you with us. Your presentation of course was somewhat detailed, and in five minutes it's difficult to delve into the details.

First of all I want to reflect on your comment that Lithuania now feels more secure than it ever has. Given your very negative history of occupation, going back decades, it's obviously very important for you to be within the umbrella of NATO.

I know you've only been a member of NATO for five years. Do you see yourselves simply as a beneficiary of NATO or as a contributor? Obviously you're a small country; you're not going to be a huge contributor financially to NATO. But in terms of smart defence, how does Lithuania, with forces limited as they are and with other activity that is not necessarily military, see itself contributing to the overall activities of NATO, either within or outside your borders?

11:30 a.m.

Minister of National Defence, Government of the Republic of Lithuania

Rasa Jukneviciene

Thank you very much for your question.

On smart defence related to the air policing mission, we decided to increase our host nation support, keeping in mind that this mission has to be smart for everybody—smart for us, in getting partnership from our partners, and for our partners to come and have a win-win situation for training, for understanding this region, for interoperability, and so on.

I think we have a balanced approach as to what we get from NATO by way of benefit, and as to our contribution. I already mentioned Afghanistan, and I would like to quote the Danish minister of defence, who spoke during the last defence ministerial in Brussels. He mentioned that for Denmark it is very beneficial to participate in this air policing mission, and spending, over the mission, about one million euros—keeping in mind that, together, about 500 personnel from three Baltic countries are deployed every day in Afghanistan. It means that it's win-win. We can be in Afghanistan, and NATO members can defend our space or do air policing in our space.

11:35 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

Thank you.

Here is one other question. You obviously express your concerns about Russia, and in particular, about its activities near your country. NATO and Russia of course have some work that they're doing together. In that work, there's the NATO-Russia Council and there are activities attempting to make some progress and engagement with Russia. What would you say, if you had to decide what the priorities would be for NATO-Russia engagement? What would you suggest as the top priorities?

11:35 a.m.

Minister of National Defence, Government of the Republic of Lithuania

Rasa Jukneviciene

Of course we have a lot in common—anti-piracy activities, for example. We even made several proposals ourselves to Russia for military corporation—

11:35 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

I mean, to diminish your concerns.

11:35 a.m.

Minister of National Defence, Government of the Republic of Lithuania

Rasa Jukneviciene

I'm sorry...?

11:35 a.m.

NDP

Jack Harris St. John's East, NL

You expressed your concerns about the Russian Federation; you called them threats and then stepped back from that. To diminish your concerns about Russia, what would you suggest as the priorities for NATO-Russia engagement, we'll call it?

11:35 a.m.

Minister of National Defence, Government of the Republic of Lithuania

Rasa Jukneviciene

We need mutual understanding, of course, among NATO and Russia, first of all. We have to have the common will to cooperate. It's very difficult to answer your question if one partner has no such will for cooperation.

So I don't think that we have to “bargain”—how to say—with Russia trying to diminish what we have now around our borders. I mentioned already about NATO visibility in Baltic states, about common military exercises, and about common defence planning. Everything helps us to stop Russia, because Russians, unfortunately, they usually respect strong people, strong power, big power.

That's why we think keeping NATO strong and engaged in this region is the only way to cooperate with Russia. Only then, I think, are they able to rethink and to have some kind of cooperation among themselves.

11:35 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair James Bezan

Thank you.

Mr. Harris, your time has expired, so we'll move on.

Mr. Norlock, you have the floor.

May 17th, 2012 / 11:35 a.m.

Conservative

Rick Norlock Northumberland—Quinte West, ON

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

Through you to the witnesses, thank you for appearing today. Some of my questions have been asked, but I'm going to ask them in a different context.

First, what is the greatest threat to Lithuania and her peace and security? I think you've indicated very well already what and who that is. I would ask you to be more fulsome in your response to how NATO helps in the solving of some of the issues with regard to that threat.

As well, how does that threat manifest itself in Lithuanian society? In other words, how is it affecting your economy? How is it affecting the psyche of your citizens, their feelings of security, and so on? I'd like to know how you're dealing with that in the context of your relationship with NATO, and how your government is handling that.

Before you respond to that, Minister, I do think it's necessary to say one thing. Your commitment to Afghanistan has not gone unnoticed by the world, in particular by this country. We want to thank you for your nation's sacrifice. We know how difficult that has been for you.

11:35 a.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear.

11:40 a.m.

Minister of National Defence, Government of the Republic of Lithuania

Rasa Jukneviciene

Thank you very much. Thank you for those good words.

On the threats, I would like to name them maybe more as challenges, not threats. We don't say that we have today direct military threats. I just spoke about increasing militarization in an environment that has been changing during the last years. But the main security challenges for Lithuania today are energy and security.

Today, when I am here, my Parliament voted in the first reading for very important laws on energy security issues, on an LNG terminal, and the special law on a nuclear plant we would like to build together with the Japanese company, Hitachi, and General Electric. We still have the former Soviet Union infrastructure on energy and on railways also. We need to do a lot to change this, and this is the main challenge for my government. We are finalizing now what we already were doing for the last three years, and this is challenge number one, because the Russian Federation thinks that it has the right to use energy resources as a tool to influence neighbouring countries, and this is what we feel every day.

The second one is the information environment. I have a lot of examples of how Russia is trying to influence Baltic states via media, via TV, and they are even spending special funding, special money. We know that they are spending $8 billion a year especially for spreading information around. So it's something. We call it propaganda, but it's our reality, and still we have to fight this to convince people. You ask the question, what do people think about that? There is still some kind of battle every day in every country.

The last example is the Latvian referendum on language. It was a real battle, and it was funded from outside, not only from inside the country but from outside the country. If we are able to fight these challenges, to overcome these challenges, especially on energy security, we will be much safer in the future, and these threats or militarization that is going around will not be so dangerous for us if we are more secure inside the country, not having any tool and instrument to intervene in our region, as there is up to now.

I am very much optimistic on that, because of what I mentioned already: Baltic cooperation, Baltic-Nordic cooperation, our membership in EU. We are solving these problems together with the EU. We're not left alone. What we are doing today on energy security is very common for the rest of Europe and in NATO also.

So I don't know if I answered your question, but NATO also helps a lot. I already mentioned common planning, planning on possible contingencies in our region. It's very important, this breakthrough during our membership, and what we are doing now together with NATO. I mentioned military exercises. I mentioned missile defence, which is very important for Europe and us, too, because we are like a sandwich. The Russian Federation is doing their installations on their Cosmos system, so that's why for us it's so important that the European part of NATO could cover it by missile defence installations.