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25th Aug 2019

Lithuania to re-introduce military conscription

  • Dalia Grybauskaite: "We must reinforce the country's defence capacities" (Photo: U.S. Army Europe Images)

In the wake of Russia’s actions in Ukraine, Lithuania on Tuesday said it would take steps to reinstate basic military conscription for the next five years.

"We must reinforce the country's defence capacities. Under new geopolitical circumstances, the army must be properly prepared for the country's armed defence even in times of peace," Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaite said following a meeting of the state defence council.

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The compulsory military service would apply to men aged 19-26 years, with the aim of drafting up to 3,500 a year.

The defence council's decision has to be approved by the parliament, but there remains main uncertainties over how conscription will be implemented.

Linas Kojala, an analyst at the Eastern Europe Studies Centre, sees it as positive that Lithuanian politicians start paying attention to the country’s military capabilities.

Talking to EUobserver, he points out that there are currently only about 12,000 battle-ready soldiers in the country, when double would be needed to form a functioning army.

“Half-empty battalions will be filled with conscripts. This is the only possible viable solution in the short term”, he says.

But he notes the political decision is just the beginning.

“There is a lack of details about how to make the system transparent, how to avoid corruption by those who want to avoid military service, and, most importantly, how to maintain the military as a source of attraction for young people.”

With military conscription abolished only in 2008, the country has been discussing whether its re-introduction signals that there is a real danger from Russia which annexed Crimea last year and has soldiers in eastern Ukraine.

According to Deividas Slekys from the Institute of International Relations in Vilnius University the decision was not a surprise.

“It was definitely to be expected as politicians and military representative have been talking for several months about what to do if there are not enough volunteers for the army,” he told public radio.

He noted that making compulsory military service temporary will help get the votes needed to pass the law in parliament.

“Conscription never causes any euphoria. A five-year limit is like a sweetener for talking with the public”, Slekys added

Jonas Vytautas Zukas, chief of defence, noted that training conscripts would cost only half of what it would cost to train professional forces of a similar size.

But critics have pointed out that a bigger number of conscripts does not necessarily equal a small group of professional soldiers.

Meanwhile analyst Kojala also notes that Lithuania – a Nato member - only spends 1.1 percent of GDP on defence. The military organisation has repeatedly called on its members to spend at least 2 percent of GDP.

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