Is the pop­u­la­tion ready?

The Baltic Times - - FRONT PAGE - Li­nas Jegele­vi­cius

Imag­ine a for­eign in­truder sets foot on Baltic soil in the most hor­ri­ble sce­nario. Will the boots be firm in the re­gion that, over the last 27 years, has re­dis­cov­ered the joys of in­de­pen­dence? Vaidas Saldz­iun as, a Lithua­nian de­fense ex­pert and De­fence Editor at Delfi.lt, agreed to share his in­sights with The Baltic Times read­ers.

What do you be­lieve are the great­est threats to Lithua­nian de­fense be­sides the threat from Rus­sia?

If we talk mil­i­tary threats only, that could po­ten­tially in­volve Be­larus, since the mil­i­tary of this coun­try is at least par­tially ei­ther in­te­grated (e.g. air de­fence, in­tel­li­gence) into the Rus­sian mil­i­tary struc­ture or over­lapped. Lithua­nia has the largest bor­der with Be­larus, so it can not be ig­nored.

Speak­ing of non-mil­i­tary threats, the so­cio-eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion may be un­der threat due to many fac­tors, like: so­cial in­jus­tice, mas­sive em­i­gra­tion that cre­ates many so­cial-mines for both present (skilled work­force, mil­i­tary aged men) and fu­ture (ag­ing pop­u­la­tion re­ly­ing more on so­cial se­cu­rity hence cre­at­ing a bur­den for the present day work­ing age pop­u­la­tion and fu­ture gen­er­a­tion). This in the end may im­pair the de­fen­sive po­ten­tial of a state.

In Lithua­nia, we never speak of mil­i­tary threats from Be­larus. Un­der what cir­cum­stances can Be­larus turn into a de­fense fac­tor for Lithua­nia?

As I ex­plained, it is al­ready a fac­tor, how­ever it would be a di­rect threat if it is pressed by Rus­sia or vol­un­tar­ily de­cides to get in­volved into hos­til­i­ties against Lithua­nia.

Lithua­nia's air de­fense is vul­ner­a­ble due to the lack of a mis­sile shield. Do you see the de­fense gap get­ting patched up with Don­ald Trump in of­fice?

Yes, but that de­pends. Lithua­nia lacks air de­fence in gen­eral (only SHORAD is in place and Medium range sys­tems are planned, but for those to reach full op­er­a­tional sta­tus, a num­ber of years would have to pass), let alone mis­sile de­fence. The gap may be patched by the mis­sile de­fence ca­pa­bil­i­ties (US naval and sur­face de­ploy­ment) in the re­gion and that looks promis­ing, since Don­ald Trump hasn’t sig­naled any­thing, that would bac­track from the cur­rent de­vel­op­ments of US (and NATO) in­te­grated mis­sile de­fence. On the con­trary – Ex­er­cise To­bruk Legacy in July shows, that the US un­der the cur­rent ad­min­is­tra­tion plans to tackle that spe­cific threat of mis­siles in the re­gion.

Do you be­lieve former US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama has erred shelling the plans of the mis­sile de­fense sys­tem for Eastern Europe?

First of all, he has shelved the ground based in­ter­cep­tor plans, which weren’t very suc­cess­ful in the first place. Se­condly, those plans never con­cerned the Baltic States. Thirdly, the SM3 based mis­sile de­fence has been de­vel­oped and par­tially is in place. Fourthly, Obama’s ad­min­is­tra­tion has done it in a wrong fash­ion from a strate­gic and PR point of view, in fact, the worst way pos­si­ble for Poland, dur­ing 17th of Septem­ber. That said, the end re­sult isn’t wrong, but the sig­nals sent were in­deed wrong.

How sus­cep­ti­ble, de­fense-wise, are we at the Baltic Sea?

Let’s say, we are in a bet­ter po­si­tion than we were at the be­gin­ning of 2014. We are still vul­ner­a­ble, and there are many gaps (air de­fence, ad­e­quate ISR, ad­vanced warn­ing, ca­pa­bil­i­ties to stop de­ter­mined at­tack), but the di­rec­tion is pos­i­tive and means of de­ter­rence are more vis­i­ble.

Yet if a hos­tile for­eign force in­vaded the Baltics, how long do you be­lieve they could with­stand ag­gres­sion?

It would de­pend greatly on many fac­tors, such as what kind of force, how big and which coun­try would it in­vade. Also, what re­gion, at what time of year, with what kind of ca­pa­bil­i­ties and with what kind of ad­vanced warn­ing. The most ba­sic, gen­eral and ab­stract idea is to hold off at least part of the ter­ri­tory for weeks, per­haps a month or so. But then again, per­haps the tar­get of an in­va­sion would be only part of a ter­ri­tory, to cre­ate an­other frozen con­flict, hence the cal­cu­la­tions would dif­fer greatly.

How long will it be be­fore NATO rushes in to help us in an emer­gency?

That also de­pends on the fac­tors men­tioned. There is one im­por­tant thing to un­der­stand. It’s not us and them – NATO. It is US, since the Baltic States are part of NATO, and say Lithua­nia could be that NATO ally that would rush to de­fend Latvia or vice versa. Also, an­other im­por­tant fac­tor is the role of multi­na­tional NATO bat­tal­ions that are al­ready in place. The idea is, that they would fight from H+1, let alone US spe­cial forces, de­ployed in each Baltic State. If the talk is about re­in­force­ments, that could be also prepo­si­tioned given ad­vanced warn­ing or rushed in, in a mat­ter of hours. One thing is clear – the Amer­i­cans (and fol­low­ing al­lies) wouldn’t go blindly with­out air cover, that has air su­pe­ri­or­ity or air supremacy – and with an ad­ver­sary such as Rus­sia, it could take weeks or even months. But then again, the tac­ti­cal sit­u­a­tion may dic­tate un­ortho­dox so­lu­tions.

Although the anti-rus­sian sen­ti­ment is pretty strong in the coun­try, yet, judg­ing from the pub­lic do­main, there is still much sup­port for Rus­sia what­ever it does? How do you ex­plain the phe­nom­ena?

One would need to de­fine “pretty strong sen­ti­ment” whether in num­bers or other spe­cific mea­sure­ments. I per­son­ally be­lieve there would be col­lab­o­ra­tors, since the rea­sons are ob­vi­ous – old nos­tal­gia, Rus­sian (dis) in­for­ma­tion cam­paigns, busi­ness in­ter­ests, or ide­o­log­i­cal rea­sons. How­ever, what Rus­sia does is it tries to cre­ate an il­lu­sion that this sen­ti­ment is greater than it ac­tu­ally is. It takes a small group of peo­ple to do big and aw­ful things, yet it may not rep­re­sent any sub­stan­tial num­bers.

With­out any doubt, it would be ur­gent for or­di­nary peo­ple to stand up and re­sist col­lec­tively against an ag­gres­sor. What part of the pop­u­la­tion do you be­lieve would en­gage in a col­lec­tive re­sis­tance ef­fort? Is there any "se­cret" as­sess­ment of such things?

Re­cent (May) re­search con­ducted by Vil­nius Univer­sity has shown that 88 per cent of re­spon­dents be­lieve that de­fence of Lithua­nia is a duty of ev­ery cit­i­zen. 78 per cent be­lieve it should be de­fended with weapons if a state is at­tacked. 71 per cent be­lieve in NATO de­fence. 35 per cent be­lieve we could de­fend our­selves in­de­pen­dently be­fore NATO help ar­rived. 63% be­lieve Lithua­nia could or­ga­nize an ef­fec­tive re­sis­tance, and more than half of adult Lithua­ni­ans would join the fight. 42 per cent would per­son­ally de­fend (25 per cent wouldn’t, the rest don’t know). From mil­i­tary age 1929 year olds, 66 per cent would de­fend the coun­try, 87 per cent sup­port con­scrip­tion for men, 25 per cent - for women also, 72 per cent be­lieve in the ne­ces­sity of mil­i­tary train­ing in schools. I hope that an­swers the ques­tion.

Yet, you have to agree that part of the pop­u­la­tion would col­lab­o­rate with the in­truder. Do you think such col­lab­o­ra­tors could garner even­tu­ally a crit­i­cal mass and be able to take over and run state in­sti­tu­tions and, lo­cally, mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties? Most im­por­tantly, have the peo­ple obey­ing their com­mands?

I do not be­lieve there would be a crit­i­cal mass of col­lab­o­ra­tors, yet ex­pe­ri­ence shows, that it doesn’t have to be crit­i­cal mass in gen­eral, all it takes is in­de­ci­sive gov­ern­ment, smart hy­brid tac­tics, il­lu­sion of a crit­i­cal mass (with help of provo­ca­tors, SOF in­fil­tra­tors, etc.) could cre­ate a po­ten­tially dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tion. The ques­tion of loy­alty of armed forces is also de­bat­able, but there would hardly be many col­lab­o­ra­tors in the ranks.

Do you see a lo­cal po­lit­i­cal force or in­di­vid­u­als now that would act sim­i­larly as in the 1940s, on be­half

of the na­tion for the cause of the in­truder?

Yes, although those are marginals or in­di­vid­u­als who have no in­flu­ence, ca­pa­bil­ity, re­sources or enough brains to con­duct such an ac­tion in an ef­fec­tive way.

How strong do you be­lieve Lithua­nian civic so­ci­ety is in pre­vent­ing it from hap­pen­ing?

It’s not as strong as it could be, but like men­tioned pre­vi­ously, things have been mov­ing in a pos­i­tive di­rec­tion since 2014 – peo­ple are more ac­tive, more at­ten­tive se­cu­rity-wise (de­pends on re­gions as well), but they still lack knowl­edge in what to do in case “it” hap­pens and may even be afraid/dis­cour­aged to take ac­tion due to im­per­fect le­gal is­sues (like shoot­ing lit­tle green men first and ask­ing ques­tions later).

What's your take on Lithua­nia's con­scrip­tion and the con­script-based na­tional forces?

It’s a pos­i­tive one. It was re­turned due to the need to fill the ranks of bat­tal­ions (to train and op­er­ate ef­fec­tively bat­tal­ions and larger for­ma­tions there must enough per­son­nel), as well as cre­ate ca­pa­ble-to-fight re­serve forces that could be ac­ti­vated. It has dis­ad­van­tages, as more train­ing should be given to them, and con­scripts uti­lize a lot of re­sources (in­fra­struc­ture, NCOS, Lts, other train­ers need to be pre­pared in ad­e­quate num­bers), it takes more time to ob­tain knowl­edge of so­phis­ti­cated sys­tems, but in the end, it was a log­i­cal and nec­es­sary so­lu­tion that has a place in the 21st cen­tury, not just be­ing a can­non fod­der, but a use­ful task ori­en­tated tool for the job.

Can it be a force against a well-trained reg­i­men of hos­tile for­eign troops?

Yes it can. The art of war is to achieve goals (like vic­tory) with a lesser trained and smaller force against a big­ger and bet­ter trained one. His­tory has shown it is pos­si­ble given the right con­di­tions – first of all: men­tal­ity, ef­fec­tive com­mand and con­trol, and good in­tel­li­gence.

What do you make of the re­cent de­fense drill in the Sal­cininkai district in Eastern Lithua­nia?

It was a risky wake up call, and it showed a lot of mis­takes or short­com­ings in C2, com­mu­ni­ca­tions and train­ing. It was also used for Rus­sian in­fowar means. The pos­i­tive side is, that all of those short­com­ings have been found in ex­er­cises and not dur­ing a real sit­u­a­tion. There­fore, hope­fully peo­ple will learn from mis­takes and that in turn would in­crease the re­silience and de­ter­rence.

Vaidas Saldz­i­u­nas is a Lithua­nian de­fense ex­pert and De­fence Editor at Delfi.lt

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