VILNIUS - NATO allies have developed a new defense plan for Lithuania, hoping to strengthen the Baltic state's role within the Alliance.
In an ambitious move, the Alliance presented Lithuania with 65 "force goals" that focus on developing the nation's position within NATO, Lithuanian Defense Ministry Undersecretary Renatas Norkus told the Baltic News Service.
"The goals presented to us reflect the Alliance's expectations for Lithuania's future contribution to the NATO force planning process. The proposals are much more ambitious than the previous package of proposals for Lithuania," Norkus said.
Until NATO defense ministers officially approve the proposed tasks next spring, the force goals will not be publicized. Lithuania and NATO will begin negotiations as soon as this fall.
According to Norkus, "the result of the talks will directly depend on defense funding over the next fiscal year, and on funds that will be directly allocated for the army's needs."
The parliamentary NATO Affairs Commission will present the new plan during a closed meeting on Aug. 29.
Lithuania, which joined NATO in March 2004, has so far met 52 Alliance force goals.
Yet on several occasions, Alliance leaders have expressed concern over insufficient defense funding in the country. According to officials, direct spending on defense accounts for only 1.28 percent of gross domestic product, though the state declares allocation of 2 percent of GDP.
The remaining funds, or so-called delta, are forwarded to sectors with no direct relation to defense -- two interior service units, the State Border Guard Service.
This year, 2 percent of GDP would amount to over 1.1 billion litas (320 million euros).
Lithuania's Defense Ministry and Armed Forces leaders have publicly admitted on a number of occasions that the dwindling funds have negatively affected Armed Force reforms and procurement plans.