VILNIUS - Lithuania looks set to actively participate in international peacekeeping operations around the world in coming years, despite public antipathy towards the idea. According to the latest version of the Defense Ministry's draft resolution, forwarded to Parliament in the first week of June, the nation is ready to contribute up to 420 troops to international missions through the end of 2010.
The number of troops to be committed to the international missions with remain the same as this year, but is up compared to last year, when the total number of troops available for the missions was 350.
The largest contingent of Lithuanian troops serving overseas, numbering 137, is currently deployed in Afghanistan, where Lithuania leads one of NATO's provincial reconstruction teams in the Ghor province. Another 58 Lithuanians are serving in Iraq, but the Defense Ministry is mulling plans to recall them by the end of this year.
At the same time however, the ministry plans to boost the Lithuanian presence in Afghanistan by sending some 40 troops there.
Lithuania also contributes to KFOR, the NATO-led operation in Kosovo, where 32 of its troops are deployed. A handful of others serve on international missions in Georgia, Macedonia and Croatia.
In its letter to Parliament the ministry said that in the future Lithuanian troops may also be sent on joint international missions in the South Caucasus, if the United Nations or the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe deem it necessary.
The ministry had earlier asked Parliament for permission to send troops to Central and Eastern Africa, namely to Chad and the Central African Republic, but lawmakers objected to such plans and the ministry excluded the proposal from its latest draft.
In its letter to Parliament the Defense Ministry said that the cost of sending one Lithuanian soldier on an international mission was 144,000 litas (41,705 euros) a year.
Despite the likelihood that Parliament will approve the draft, Lithuanian society is not very supportive of sending troops on international missions.
A poll conducted by the Spinter Tyrimai company in March showed that nearly half (49.5 percent) of the 1,003 people surveyed were against Lithuanian troops taking part in any international missions, while 40.2 percent felt Lithuanian troops should continue to take part in global military efforts.
By the same token, 56.3 percent of Lithuanians supported the withdrawal of troops from Iraq, while 31.2 percent said the nation's soldiers should stay in the country.
But Algimantas Matulevicius, chairman of the parliamentary National Security and Defense Committee, believes that it is Lithuania's duty to contribute to the missions.
"We have joined the system of collective defense. The fighters of our NATO partners today patrol our airspace and we should also somehow contribute to the collective security," Matulevicius said.
Parliament is expected to approve quotas for international missions in June.