Lithuania to be one of the few NATO nations to go beyond NATO goal
U.S. President Donald Trump has railed against European allies for not spending enough on defense, and Lithuania's expected investments will make it one of few NATO countries to go beyond an alliance target of 2 percent of GDP on defense.
But Lithuania's main motivation is Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, officials say, prompting the country to rebuild its military after years of neglect.
The country is on track to spend 2 percent of GDP this year, one of only eight of 29 NATO countries to do so. Before the Crimea annexation, it spent just 0.8 percent of GDP on defense in 2013, the second-smallest share of NATO countries after Luxemburg.
"Reaching the 2 percent spending target allowed the military to somewhat recover its capabilities," Defence Minister Raimundas Karoblis told reporters at a signing ceremony in the prime minister's office.
"Reaching the 2.5 percent threshold would allow it to develop real deterrence and defense capabilities, which is very important in today's situation", he added.
Of the seven parties in the parliament, five parties signed the agreement. Another said it would sign later, leaving just one party, the left-wing Social Democrat party, to reject the deal because it seeks spending on social issues, not defense.
The political agreement, which is not legally binding, makes defense spending increases part of every future government, whatever its political leaning.
The agreement calls for the country to acquire short-range and mid-range air defenses and to reach a decision on whether to begin universal conscription by 2022. It will spend at least 30 percent of its defense budget buying arms in the next several years.
Lithuania, together with its Baltic neighbors Latvia and Estonia, are significantly smaller than Russia, their former overlord, and rely on U.S. and NATO for their security.
NATO agreed in 2014 that each member would move towards boosting military spending to 2 percent of its gross domestic product by 2024. Cumulative expenditure by Europe and Canada has risen by almost $90 billion since 2015.
But only two-thirds of the allies, excluding the United States, have a realistic plan to hit the 2 percent level in 2024, NATO diplomats say. The United States spent 3.57 percent of GDP on defense in 2017.