As NATO finally endorsed updated defence plans for Poland and the Baltic states, Lithuanian officials say the step is crucial for regional security.
“Today we have a coordinated regional NATO defence plan for Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Poland,” Darius Kuliešius, the president's adviser on national security, told reporters on Wednesday.
“This plan is very important, as it boosts regional security, boosts deterrence and means that Lithuania and the Baltic states are not alone in the face of threat,” he added.
This week, NATO finished the necessary endorsement procedures after striking a compromise with Turkey, the only country that was blocking the plan.
“Military officers and military planners can now continue working and doing their job on the basis of what has been achieved,” Lithuania's Defence Minister Raimundas Karoblis told reporters.
NATO approved its first defence plans for the Baltic states in 2010, but Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Poland insisted that they be regularly updated.
“The security situation in the region has changed since 2010, therefore, [...] any plan, be it national or for collective defence, should be changed and adapted,” said Lithuania's chief of defence Valdemaras Rupšys.
“The [Lithuanian] army and troops are really glad this plan is completed. It means that we can […] finish planning procedures,” he added.
During a summit in London last December, the NATO secretary general said that state leaders had backed the updated defence plans for the Baltic states and Poland, but Turkey was stalling formal endorsement procedures.
Turkey said at the summit that it would block the plan, known as Eagle Defender, calling for allied support against the Kurds in northern Syria.
However, allies have been reluctant to back Ankara, as US and other NATO members' forces have fought alongside, as well as supported, the Kurdish PYD in northern Syria in the fight against ISIS.
Lithuanian government officials have refrained from commenting on what the reached compromise with Turkey is.
Ben Hodges, a former commanding general of United States Army Europe, says the decision is very important in seeking effective deterrence amid tensions with Russia.
“This is very important and shows that Turkey understands the need for formal plans in order to properly resource and train, which is essential to effective deterrence,” Hodges, who now works at the Center for European Policy Analysis think tank, told BNS.
“Now we need to get this done for the Black Sea region which is also important as it’s where Russian aggression started in Georgia in 2008 and in Ukraine in 2014,” he added.
Blocking the defence plans was not the right step, Hodges believes, but Turkey's concerns need to be heard.
“I think the USA should do more to address the trust issues between Turkey and the USA as part of an overall reframing of the Turkish–American relationship,” he said.
“Turkey is an essential member of NATO, albeit sometimes a frustrating member. Yet the alliance is so much better with Turkey than without Turkey. And Turkey is not alone in blocking decisions for domestic political reasons,” Hodges added.