NATO plans foresee use of Polish troops in Lithuania's defense – army chief

  • 2024-03-05
  • BNS/TBT Staff

KORZENIEW, Poland – NATO plans foresee the use of Polish troops in Lithuania's defense, and, therefore, it's not a matter of bilateral relations, Lithuania's Chief of Defense General Valdemaras Rupsys says as he's visiting Poland where the Dragon 2024 exercise is taking place.

His comment comes amid the recent debate on whether Poland has the legal right to defend Lithuania if it is attacked.

"I don't know of any legal restrictions. The operational use of the Polish army is foreseen in NATO plans, it is a NATO issue. It is not a matter of our bilateral relations, it is a NATO matter," the army chief said. "As far as I know, the task of the Polish army is clearly defined on our territory as well, and I do not see any problem with that."

In his words, Poland, like other NATO countries, is guided by all the articles of the North Atlantic Treaty, including Article 5.

"There is no doubt that we will stand together anywhere, if necessary. (...) And on the issue of sending troops, they will be here," Rupsys said.

The Dragon 2024 exercise is aimed at testing allied ability to carry out deterrence and defense tasks by countering aggression by a potential enemy against NATO countries and conducting combat operations combining land, air and maritime components.

The exercise is one of the components of this year's NATO Steadfast Defender 2024 exercise. 

According to the Lithuanian army, the centerpiece operation of Dragon-24 is the deployment of the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force to assist an ally in the event of aggression, which will also highlight the nuances and potential challenges of military mobility across national borders. When the exercise ends, the German enhanced Vigilance Brigade battalion will relocate for continued training in Lithuania as of March 7.

A platoon from the Lithuanian army's Iron Wolf Infantry Brigade's reconnaissance company with JLTV all-terrain vehicles is currently participating in the exercise in Poland. In total, 20,000 troops and 3,500 pieces of military equipment from ten NATO countries are participating in the exercise.

The exercise is taking place in Lithuania amid a debate on whether Poland's own laws would allow it to defend Lithuania in the event of an attack on it.

Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte said last week that Poland's legal restrictions "do not impose an obligation" to send troops abroad, even in the event of war, which would also apply in the event of an attack on neighboring Lithuania. 

Later, the prime minister added she did not mean that "the Poles will not defend us", but rather that she was referring to specific legal constraints, which she was seeking to resolve with Poland at the "political level". The prime minister also said that she could not specify which restrictions she was referring to.

Speaking earlier in the day, Kestutis Budrys, an advisor to Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda, said that a defense plan for the Suwaiki Corridor was drawn up back in 2022, and Polish troops would also defend the territory in Lithuania, so there is no legal restriction on it.

Nauseda said on Monday that join Lithuanian-Polish army exercises were meant to make sure that both countries act together.

For his part, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, who visited Lithuania on Monday, said that Lithuanian-Polish solidarity was unquestionable. He also added that the Polish and Lithuanian foreign and defense ministers would soon "decide on all the details so that there are no communication issues and uncertainties", to avoid speculation on the issue.

NATO's Article 5 stipulates that an armed attack on one or more of allied countries will be considered an attack on all of them. According to this article, all NATO members must agree to take action to help the attacked ally. However, any action requires the agreement of all NATO countries.

So far, this article has been activated once, in 2001, after the September 11 terrorist attacks in the US.