VILNIUS – Public disapproval of plans to increase defense spending is affected by unresolved social problems and misconception of funds allocated to national defense, Lithuanian National Defense Minister Raimundas Karoblis says, stressing the need to increase the defense budget in response to a fundamentally changed security situation.
His comment came in response to a recent public opinion poll showing that more than half of Lithuanian residents are against the political parties' agreement to gradually increase defense spending to at least 2.5 percent GDP by 2030.
"We have strong public and political support to the allocation of 2 percent GDP to national defense, and also the army now enjoys the highest public support in many years, and that's key," Karoblis said in a comment sent to BNS Lithuania.
In his words, the survey results are "a direct reflection of unresolved social problems and public misconception that national defense gets the lion's share of the budget".
The minister says "we cannot set defense funding against funding for other areas as that divides the public and poses direct threat to national security".
"Second, national defense comes in forth in terms of funding after social security, health and education, and that's a proper and right place. If we add EU funding, that place is even lower," the minister said.
In his words, the budget gets 70 percent of its defense expenditure back through the acquisition of goods and services and paid taxes, therefore, Lithuanian economy receives the most economic benefit.
"Up until 2014, the Lithuanian army lacked funding and it needs to be modernized. And we need to ensure transparent and effective investment into the army's modernization," the minister said.
He also underlined that "the need to allocate at least 2 percent GDP to defense and gradually increase it to 2.5 percent emerged, first of all, not because of commitments to partners but due to a fundamentally changed security situation as we cannot forget the lessons of Georgia and Ukraine".
"Threats are real and major, and nobody will defend us if we don’t defend ourselves," the national defense minister said.
Karolis said he would seek to ensure public understanding of the need for a strong state to increase defense spending.
"We will continue seeking that the public understands decisions made by political parties and the State Defense Council on a gradual long-term increase in defense spending to up to 2.5 percent GDP and accepts them as a necessary condition for a strong state," the minister said.
The majority of people in Lithuania are against political parties' agreement to gradually increase defense spending for it to reach at least 2.5 percent GDP in 2030, a Vilmorus survey for BNS Lithuania, carried out earlier this month, has revealed.
30.3 percent said they were in favor or were rather in favor of the planned increase in the defense budget, as stipulated in the agreement, 55.2 percent said they were against or rather against and another 14.5 percent were undecided.
The agreement on the guidelines of Lithuania's defense policy was signed by the leaders of six parliamentary parties in September, 2018, with the Social Democratic Party of Lithuania refusing to join. President Gitanas Nauseda has called for the implementation of this agreement.
Lithuania's defense budget has for the first time reached NATO's target of 2 percent GDP this year as defense spending in the country should amount to 2.03 percent GDP.
1,000 adult Lithuanian residents were surveyed on Nov 8-16.