Foreign dignitaries from across the world met in Washington D.C. this week to celebrate NATO’s 70th anniversary. One of them made his way to Columbus.
Linas Linkevičius, Lithuania’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, visited the Ohio State campus for a moderated Q&A with professor Jeff Trimble, and during his time on campus sat down for an exclusive interview with The Lantern.
“Usually we are trying to go somewhere else but this somewhere else is usually Chicago or New York,” Linkevicius said. “Now it’s possibility to visit Ohio, first time being here.”
Linkevicius covered many topics in the conversation, one of which was a cooperation roadmap signed by Lithuania and the United States this week.
Linkevicius said he had seen many similar agreements signed between the two countries, but that this was the best one yet.
“This agreement is for five years, quite comprehensive. Very concrete agreement that illustrates the status of our relationship these days,” he said. “Excellent cooperation not only in Lithuania, not only elsewhere, but also in our missions.”
More broadly, Linkevicius spoke about the ever-changing nature of security in today’s world and what that means for NATO.
Linkevicius said that security looks a lot different now than it did when NATO was founded, something he has seen firsthand serving as Lithuania’s defense minister in the early 1990s when its armed forces were being formed — the country gained independence in 1990 —to now serving as foreign minister.
“The meaning and understanding of security has expanded enormously,” he said. “In Cold War times we talk about and naval capabilities, now it’s more and more discussed as hybrid threats.”
These hybrid threats — namely cyber and energy security — have largely taken the place of conventional warfare in today’s world, and Linkevicius said it is something Lithuania feels more sensitively on Europe’s eastern flank as neighbors of Russia.
He said that it took time to catch up, but addressing hybrid threats is now just part of business as usual.
“Energy security was not even considered by NATO. Before 2006 it was a no-go almost,” he said. “Since 2006, at a summit in Riga, we included into the summit’s communique main points and taskings to military authorities [an energy security segment].”
But what Americans will be more familiar with and what Linkevicius has seen firsthand is cyber security threats.
“Cyber security, few doubt that this is a problem, it’s growing, it’s increasing, it has to do with meddling in the political affairs, elections, you can undermine banking systems, you can undermine strategic communications,” Linkevicius said. “I can say, you can even activate Article 5 if necessary.”
Article 5 is part of the NATO treaty which states that if one member of NATO is attacked that all members are obligated to respond to the threat. Linkevicius pointed out that Article 5 stretches far past conventional war, the only time it was invoked was after 9/11 which was not an act of conventional war.
Many Americans were made aware of Article 5 when President Donald Trump made news for questioning whether the United States should be beholden to the clause, but Linkevicius said this is not something he worries about because actions speak louder than words.
“We have contact with all branches of administration, often meeting, Congress people, senators, State Department, Pentagon; I see no trace of doubts,” he said. “Let’s always judge on the ground. U.S. engagement in Europe, in particular in my region, it’s very visible and tangible.”
His faith in Article 5 and U.S. support, and NATO more broadly, is why he said Lithuanians feel secure, even if they’re not relaxed.
“Resilience means, for me, an awareness, you should understand that something can come up. You should be vigilant, so to speak, you shouldn’t take things for granted,” he said. “When you have this attitude it is easier to counter this threats. I am happy to say our society is becoming more resilient and ready.”
Linkevicius also had a firsthand experience with another news item Americans are familiar with: Russian disinformation. He said that Lithuania experienced it before anyone else, dating back to declaring independence.
“Conventionally, we are already affected. In terms of energy we were blackmailed till the end of 2014, 100 percent dependence for our supplies,” he said. “In the early stages of our independence they cut all supplies. I remember it was winter time, empty streets because there was no gas and cold flats because it was negative-twenty outside.”
Linkevicius said that the billions of euros spent by the Russian state on “brainwashing” was something that NATO allies were not ready for. Sophisticated Russian disinformation is something that took time to identify and respond to.
He said that one of the biggest threats is passive manipulation, that people who are not tuned in to politics are getting news from one source, and that when it comes from a Russian channel spreading lies, it can be a problem.
“Media is weaponized,” he said. “A lie is not an alternative point of view, a lie is something else. When our friends and neighbors, Russians, are saying ‘this is our alternative point of view,’ we say ‘no,no,’ if you are deliberately spreading lie it is not an alternative point of view.”
Finally, Linkevicius spoke about why Americans should support NATO and why it is still important for troops and money to go to the organization that for the most part operates an ocean away.
Ultimately, he said it comes down to the nature of NATO and unity. Americans may not necessarily understand why U.S. troops are in Lithuania, but Lithuanians did not necessarily understand why their special forces went to Afghanistan and Iraq on behalf of NATO.
It’s the nature of collective organization,” he said. “I was Defense Minister when we sent first platoon for peacekeeping mission within Danish battalion to Bosnia-Herzegovina. I came to Parliament to explain what happened, it’s always not very popular.”
Linkevicius said that it is also important to realize that Lithuania does not expect its security to be given to them and that playing its own part is extremely important. In light of this, he understands questions that Americans may have about NATO.
“This is also a legitimate question, why?” he said. “When we are facing threats that have no limits, no borders, we have to be united regardless of size. If you are leading the free world, that means you are also assuming responsibility.”