The budget project, prepared by the previous Conservative government of Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius, stated that defense expenditures should reach 1.95 percent in 2001. Less-promising words to the military were heard in the corridors of state power after the victory over the New Policy bloc this October and the creation of the Liberal Union/Social Liberals government.
"It is obvious that the defense budget will be lower than 1.92 percent of GDP," said Kestutis Glaveckas, chairman of the parliamentary committee of budget and finances, during his press conference Nov. 14. His words sprang from the new prognosis of Lithuania's experts that the country's GDP will grow 3.2 percent in 2001, while Kubilius' prognosis was 3.5 percent. A day earlier, Prime Minister Rolandas Paksas said that defense spending might not reach 1.95 percent. Both pointed out the necessity to spend more on education and science.
Kubilius' budget project devoted about 5.1 percent of GDP for education and 0.9 percent for universities and science. However, after elections the new parliamentary committee for education, science and culture lobbied for 6.5 percent of GDP for education and 1.5 percent for universities and science. They suggested that additional money might be taken from the defense budget.
President Valdas Adamkus, in contrast, said that Lithuania must seek a mark of 2 percent of GDP for defense spending in the nearest future. Defense Minister Linas Linkevicius expressed the same view, saying that lower financing of defense can damage Lithuania's plans of cooperation with NATO.
To enhance their chances for membership, NATO recommends that candidate countries try to reach the 2 percent spending threshold as soon as possible.
News about these different views in Vilnius quickly reached Brussels . Chris Donnelli, special adviser to the NATO secretary general on issues of Central and Eastern Europe, came to Vilnius to meet with Parliament Chairman Arturas Paulauskas on Nov. 20. Donnelli said that the current Lithuanian Par-liament would probably make final decisions on joining NATO. He added that the political committee of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly considers Lit-huania, Slovenia and Slo-vakia as countries which are the closest to meeting NATO standards. He also said that the continuation of the defense expenditure obligations of the previous Lithuanian government is important for NATO.
Paulauskas said that the obligations of the previous government would be implemented.
On Nov. 22 Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis visited Brussels and re-assured George Robert-son, NATO secretary ge-neral, that Lithuania is ready to spend 2 percent of GDP defense.
On Nov. 24 Adamkus called for a meeting of the defense council that consists of all of Lithuania's top political and military officials. Adamkus invited Paksas, Paulauskas, Lin-kevicius, Glaveckas, Finance Minister Jonas Lionginas, Economy Minister Eugenijus Maldeikis and Com-mander of the Armed Forces Jonas Kronkaitis to the pre-sidential office. The meeting concluded that defense spending should be 1.95 percent of GDP in 2001 and 2 percent in 2002.
"Our government and especially the Ministry of Finance investigated care-fully the possibilities of our budget and decided that we were able to spend 1.95 percent on defense. We'll also find resources to increase financing of edu-cation and science," Paksas said after the meeting.
"The situation was somewhat similar to March, 1990 when we pro-claimed independence. I mean, it is a good historical oppor-tunity for us to join NATO now, and we need to use this op-portunity," said Alvydas Medalinskas, chairman of the par-liamentary foreign affairs committee, adding that defense spending should not be reduced.
"The average defense spending by NATO mem-bers is 2.2 percent. We should follow this example," said Gediminas Kirkilas, an MP with the opposition Social Democratic Coalition.
Jonas Kronkaitis, commander of the armed forces, is happy with the defense council's decision and says that any reduction in defense spending could become a pretext for some pro-Moscow Western politicians to postpone a NATO invitation to Lithuania.
NATO optimism pre-vails among Vilnius officials. "I am sure a political decision will be made at the meeting of NATO heads (in 2002). Lithuania will be invited to join NATO. I'm 100 percent sure," Adamkus told the German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung.
Last week in Berlin, the political committee of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly proposed a reso-lution, prepared by U.S. Senator William Roth, stating that Lithuania, Slovenia and Slovakia should be invited to NATO in 2002. The Estonian delegation replied that either all three Baltic countries should be invited or none of them. Turkey was not happy that Rumania and Bulgaria are not mentioned in the draft resolution. There were some more unhappy voices.
Finally, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly said that those candidate countries, which meet NATO standards, should join NATO in 2002. Vygaudas Usackas, the Lithuanian foreign deputy minister, described Estonian behavior as "not mature". Opposition leftist MP Kirkilas said that "there is a lack of political logic in Estonia's action." Even the Estonian ambassador to Lithuania was forced to say during an interview with LNK TV on Nov. 26 that "better one in NATO than none in NATO."
Conservative MP Rasa Jukneviciene said that the position of the Latvian delegation was similar to the views of Lithuanian MPs: an invitation for Lithuania is a positive step if it is impossible to invite all three Baltic countries.
Tallinn's behavior has received more notice from Lithuanian comedy shows than from serious political observers.
"I have no doubts that America wants to welcome those countries which are ready. Slovenia, Lithuania and Slovakia are assessed as the countries which have made the greatest progress. These three states are the most supported by the U.S. Congress," Adamkus told Suddeutsche Zeitung.