Senior Course 132, Regional Approaches and PfP Field Study: Vilnius
On 15 June, SC 132 met in the Seimas Palace, which is the building of the National Parliament of Lithuania.
In Vilnius, the Course Members were welcomed by Mrs Rasa Juknevičiené, member of the Parliamentary Committee on National Security and Defence and former Minister of Defence. After providing some historical background, the main part of her briefing was about Lithuania’s membership of NATO and Enhanced Forward Presence. She talked about Russia and expressed the feelings of the Lithuanian population. She showed the geopolitical situation of Lithuania, explained the military consequences and shared her views on hybrid warfare and strategic communication. She concluded by underlining the importance of NATO for Lithuania and the strong commitment of her country to the Alliance.
After a tour of the parliament building, SC 132 moved to the Lithuanian MoD. Mr Saulius Gasiūnas, Director of the Defence Policy and Euro-Atlantic Cooperation Department, took the floor first to talk about defence policy. He described the different priorities related to the situation of the country: the importance of NATO, the development of national defence, and cooperation at regional and international level. He also spoke about the situation in the Southern part of the Mediterranean and in the Middle East and showed great will to support and contribute to NATO efforts in this regard. He was followed by Sgt. Tomas Čeponis from the Lithuanian Armed Forces STRATCOM Department, who spoke about the need to deal with propaganda and disinformation. He showed some cases of hostile information operations and so-called “fake news” related to propaganda published in Lithuania in 2018, and explained the countermeasures adopted. Following this very interesting presentation, LtCol Miguel Simoes from Portugal, Communication Adviser and spokesperson of the NFIU (NATO Force Integration Unit) in Lithuania, took the floor to explain the mission and tasks of the Lithuanian part of the Multinational Division Northeast, which is part of the Enhanced Forward Presence (EFP) framework. After explaining the network that the unit has built in Lithuania and abroad and showing how Host Nation support works, he spoke about exercises and the main lines of effort in strategic communication.
After a short coffee break, Dr Atūras Petkus, Head of the Strategic Analysis Division at the NATO Energy Security Centre of Excellence (NATO ENSEC COE) in Vilnius, explained the three main activities of the COE: to enhance awareness in the domains related to energy security, develop capacity to support critical infrastructure resilience, and improve the energy efficiency of the military. He was followed by Mr Eitvydas Bajarūnas, Ambassador-at-Large for Hybrid Threats in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania, who spoke about the role and activities of the EU and NATO in countering hybrid threats. He described hybrid threats as composed of a still dominant conventional military dimension, along with political rhetoric and related aspects to be addressed by strategic communication (e.g., conspiracy theories, fake news, alternative truths), exploitation of cyber vulnerabilities, disruptive activities, use of criminal groups and organized crime, and other elements. Regarding the role of NATO, he spoke of innovations such as the establishment of the Joint Intelligence and Security Division and the NATO Hybrid Analysis Branch, together with other activities related to deterrence. On the EU side, he commented on the April 2016 Joint Framework on Countering Hybrid Threats and the cooperation with NATO.
Last but not least, Ms Kristina Šapkinaitiė, Head of the Defence Policy Section in the MoD’s Defence Policy and Euro-Atlantic Cooperation Department, gave the final briefing of the day. She described the security environment of Lithuania and the A2/AD capabilities deployed on its south-western flank, as well as the national defence concept developed after the events of 2014 in Ukraine. She also mentioned that Lithuania had fulfilled the 2% of GDP defence expenditure pledge this year and described specific ongoing investments to enhance the defence capabilities of the Lithuanian Armed Forces up to 2024. She also talked about the organization of national resilience and cyber protection developments since 2015.
All the briefings were directly or indirectly related to decisions taken by the Allies during the Warsaw Summit. It was very impressive for the Course Members to see the concrete implementation of these decisions. This was again an excellent complement to the lectures delivered in Rome and a very good example of how strategies are translated into concepts and concrete actions. The whole delegation is thankful to the Lithuanian authorities for the warm welcome and the high quality briefings it received in Vilnius.