Even superpowers need friends: The US Chargé d’Affaires on the Lithuanian-US strategic partnership

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The US Chargé d’ Affaires Anne Hall tells the Lithuania Tribune that US foreign policy is largely constant through administrations, and that Europe and Lithuania should not worry about the US shifting its focus to Asia. Hall tells us the US is in fact calling on the Europeans to get more involved in Asian affairs together with the United States. Mostly, she affirms that Lithuania is not just a critical partner of the US, but what’s more, the country is a member of a family which shares fundamental values and is America’s most important partner in confronting global challenges. Also read about the US-Lithuanian military cooperation and importance of an adequate spending on defence.

The Lithuania Tribune: I would like to ask about US foreign policy. It is said that US foreign policy is like a giant tanker that is very difficult to push out of its course. Still, there is some apprehension in Europe that the US is starting to pay more attention to Asia. Where does America’s interest lie in Europe, and more particularly in Northern Europe?

Anne Hall: Well, I think, I have always liked that analogy to a tanker whose course difficult to steer because I think that is usually right. And as you all know, America’s relationship with Europe is based on such a long history and common values, that this relationship is unshakable. And I would say the same thing about the United States’ relationship with Lithuania. But to start with a little more broadly, since you are talking about Europe at this point, President Obama and Secretary Clinton, have said repeatedly, and I will quote, that “the United States’ relationship with Europe is the corner stone of stability and prosperity and security in the world.” And actually just yesterday (Nov. 28) Secretary Clinton gave a major, foreign policy speech, at Brookings Institute, and the title of the speech was “A Revised Global Partnership”. The focus of the speech, though, is how over the past four years, the President has revitalised the trans-Atlantic relationship and the continued importance of this relationship. – Also next week she will make her 38th visit to Europe as Secretary of State. She has travelled overall more than any other Secretary of State in the past. In her speech she talked a little bit about how her close relationship with Europe has helped the United States and Europe in a number of top security challenges, whether it is the war in Afghanistan, the crisis in Libya, Iran’s nuclear program or strengthening our strategic defences with NATO.

All of these issues have been key elements of our partnership with Europe. And in fact, Lithuania is a full partner of the United States, and has played a role in each of these areas, whether it is Lithuania’s presence in Afghanistan, as an EU member, working on sanctions for Iran, working to resolve the crisis in Libya… I am always surprised by this question, because I wonder were it is coming from and I think, maybe people are looking at the relationship from the perspective, 65 years ago, this was a primarily military-military relationship, when we had 300,000 troops in Europe, and now we have just 30,000 troops in Europe. So I think that people perhaps don’t know and don’t see the whole relationship now. The United States’ relationship with Europe is the most robust and operational relationship we have with any part of the world. Except perhaps Canada. But we work with Europe to fight and to address every global challenge. We could not do this without Europe.

So, whether, as I mentioned, it is Afghanistan, or Libya, or Iran, Europe and the United States have worked together, and continue to work together. But even in Asia, it is important that we work together. And Secretary Clinton addresses that in her speech: “We want to see Europe more involved in Asia”. Trade in Asia is important to all of us. We work hard to keep the sea lanes open in Asia so that everyone can benefit from trade with Asia.

We are in such an interconnected world nowadays that this [US-Lithuania partnership] is a critical partnership for us. And it always will be, because we are more than partners. We are family, who share a foundation of common values, and a foundation of history. We forged the last century together and our relationship with the Baltics, including Lithuania, has matured. We worked closely with the Baltics, as they were getting ready to join NATO, and join the European Union, which we strongly supported. Of course, we are not a member state, but we supported it so strongly.

Look what has happened in the last ten years. Last year Lithuania chaired the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Lithuania also held the presidency of the Community of Democracies. So, Lithuania was suddenly in the international spotlight in a way that probably nobody could have imagined 10 years aog. It was just over 20 years ago when Lithuania regained its independence, and in 2004 Lithuania joined NATO and EU. And now, this summer, Lithuania will have the presidency of the EU. If I am not mistaken, I think Lithuania is the first country that was formerly part of the Soviet Union to do so. That is huge progress. And I think that this is a mature relationship. As Ambassador Derse often said this is a full and equal partnership. And we really look to Lithuania to coordinate on many different issues. We work on a bilateral basis with Lithuania, we promote trade and investment, we promote strengthening Lithuania’s military capabilities. But overall, this is a partnership and we are really working on a much broader and wider stage with Lithuania than we used to.

So, I suppose my next question is about the expectations for Lithuania after the latest US elections. Will the partnership be so strong as it was until now?

Absolutely, I have no question about that.

Lithuania likes to call the US its strategic partner. Could a country of less than three million people be a strategic partner to a superpower?

Absolutely. Superpowers need friends.. Lithuania has demonstrated that very clearly with its presence in Afghanistan. The Lithuanian military is widely recognized in Washington and throughout NATO as an absolutely first rate professional military service. And Lithuania’s leadership of its own Provincial Reconstruction Team in Afghanistan has been very successful.

As a matter of fact, Lithuania has partnered with the Pennsylvanian National Guard and the Pennsylvania Guard members serve under the command and the leadership of Lithuania. And that is unusual. But that is a testament of how highly the United States values the Lithuanian Armed Forces. And Lithuania has taken a lead as well, particularly with police training in Afghanistan, and Lithuania has committed to continuing to support financially the Afghan National Security Forces after 2014. So that is one very clear example of this strategic partnership. That is where Lithuania has set an example for all of Europe. And did a terrific job.

And during the EU presidency, one of its cornerstones and key topics will be on the Eastern neighbourhood partnership. Lithuania has taken a clear leadership role in promoting and supporting democracy in Moldova, Georgia, and certainly Belarus.

Did the Lithuanian political elite get the message from the outgoing ambassador on the necessity of spending two percent GDP on defense?

Yes, absolutely. I think I can point to a couple of public reasons. One is the agreement among eleven Lithuanian political parties committing to incremental increases in defense spending over the next few years with an aim of reaching two percent, eventually. I think that was a clear commitment and then since the elections the head of the new coalition made positive statements about defense spending. I think the fact that there was a slight increase in defense spending this year, to maintain the overall percentage of the GDP, I think it also shows the commitment to defense spending because Lithuania is still coming out of a very deep economic crisis and people here are still suffering. I think what Lithuania has done to come back so quickly from an almost a fifteen percent contraction in their GDP is remarkable. Lithuania now has one of the fastest growing economies in Europe, so I think that defense spending will come along.

Also there is a greater understanding that increased defense spending is about increasing the capabilities of Lithuania`s national defense. A strong national defense for Lithuania and helping to support NATO capabilities are one and the same, there is no difference. So, reaching the NATO goal of spending two percent of GDP on defense complements Lithuania`s whole national defense. And the two percent number that NATO has come up with was very carefully formulated. What NATO has found is that if a country is spending less than 1.2 percent of its GDP a year on defense, then they`re actually losing capability. So it`s very important for Lithuania to gradually get up at least to that point and then eventually be on target for 2%, and I think people understand that, and I think that will happen.

One of the ways of keeping this strategic partnership with Lithuania as you mentioned taking part in Afghanistan and being quite committed to this operation. What would you say is Lithuania’s role in Afghanistan after 2014 because Lithuania as far as I understand will take some part in Afghanistan.

Last month [November] was the Force Generation Conference and these sorts of questions are just now starting to be worked out and I think that there will be some NATO requirements that will be a match with Lithuania’s capabilities, especially as Lithuania winds down its very successful PRT in 2013. So, while I don’t know what that is yet, it will evolve, it will happen quite naturally. And I would say also, one thing I didn’t mention in talking about our strategic partnership, BALTOPS did occur here over the summer, and it was very exciting to have US Marines landing on the beach in Lithuania, and to have B52`s travel all the way from Louisiana. That was another clear indication of NATO`s commitment and the US commitment to Lithuania`s security.

Continuing on strategic partnership, the current Lithuanian president has not been in a White House meeting with the US president. Do you think it`s normal between the strategic partners that this has not happened yet and could we expect in the future that this, at least in this term.

Well, President Grybauskaite had a good meeting with the President in Chicago during the NATO summit. We were very pleased with that but certainly there are a number of presidents that would like to have opportunities to meet with the President in the White House and I am very hopeful that since we now have the good fortune of President Obama’s re-election, that might happen.

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