The Second Investigation Department under the Ministry of National Defense published its annual report, the “National Threat Assessment 2018,” on March 26 (Vsd.lt, March 26). This year, Lithuania is celebrating its centenary of independence. And since during the last century, the country was only truly independent for about four decades, the question of external threats is particularly sensitive at this time.
The yearly “National Threat Assessment” discusses the main threats to Lithuania’s political and military security, including activities by hostile intelligence and security services, cases of cyber-espionage, attacks on the country’s constitutional foundations, information security weaknesses, risks to economic and energy security, and terrorism. As the head of the State Security Department, Darius Jauniškis, once noted, generally these kinds of reports have an educational value by raising public awareness about hostile activities being carried out in Lithuania by unfriendly states (15min.lt, October 27, 2017). However, it may have a preventive role as well by helping to reinforce social resilience to such dangers.
According to the 2018 report, the major threat to the national security of Lithuania continues to originate from Russia. “Although, in 2017, Russia tried to demonstrate a willingness to pursue a more positive relationship with the West, its strategic goals [throughout this time] remained the same—to change the global power balance and dominate [the countries within] its perceived zone of privileged interests, including the Baltic region“ (National Threat Assessment 2018, p. 4). The defense ministry document further notes that “Russia will continue to use political, economic, informational, cyber, military, [and] intelligence means, as well as influence operations to maintain and strengthen its position in the region. Therefore, Russia’s hostile intentions, capabilities and actions will remain the main source of threats to Lithuanian national security” (National Threat Assessment 2018, p. 57).
The report predicts that “Russian hostile activities against the IT systems of the Lithuanian state sector and critical infrastructure will not decrease. A threat of espionage or subversive cyberattacks may particularly increase during major political events” as Russia tries to influence foreign decision-making processes in its favor (National Threat Assessment 2018, p. 58).
Arguably, Russia’s greatest threat toward the countries of Central and Eastern Europe currently stems not from in its military power, but its ability to interfere in their internal politics. Despite Moscow’s often incendiary rhetoric, it does not necessarily want to physically occupy the Baltic States. But undoubtedly, it is willing to interfere in the local political systems and exacerbate social cleavages. Hence, the “National Threat Assessment 2018” report warns that “Russia will continue to exert influence on internal political processes in other countries, particularly focusing on the states which will be holding elections or facing major political events. Russia will likely employ information campaigns, cyberattacks and influence operations against Lithuania as well. They will serve to antagonize the society and reduce its trust in [the] democratic process, state institutions and officials. It will be of great relevance due to approaching 2019 presidential and other elections in Lithuania” (National Threat Assessment 2018: 58).
Lithuanian intelligence acknowledges that ongoing attention to the development of defensive military capabilities in the region by the Baltic States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has reduced the probability of a regional conventional war (National Threat Assessment 2018, p. 57). Beginning this year, Lithuania’s expenditures on defense will exceed 2 percent of GDP and may increase further in the future (Alfa.lt, October 10, 2017). However, the bulk of the funds are being invested in military equipment, including armored vehicles, air-defense systems, trucks, artillery guns, etc. Meanwhile, a dangerous gap is forming in terms of securing sufficient and relevant defense-sector personnel (Tv3.lt, December 23, 2017). As a member of NATO that spends the requisite amount on homeland defense, Lithuania might feel quite safe. But under the conditions of “hybrid” warfare, when the distinctions between peace and war are purposefully blurred by the attacker, the involvement as well as resilience of all of society are likely to become crucial.
According to data collected in a 2017 opinion poll on “Civil Resilience Opportunities and Presumptions in Lithuania,” carried out by the Vilnius University Institute of International Relations and Political Science, more than 150,000 Lithuanians—that is, approximately 5 percent of the population—would personally contribute to the country’s defense in the event of war. However, 47 percent of respondents said they “did not know” what they would do in such a situation. This substantial portion of society thus represents a valuable target for both the Lithuanian state’s attempts to promote greater patriotism, as well as for unfriendly propaganda.
To strengthen social resilience, it is not enough for the authorities to solely monitor public perceptions of the main threats or even to explicitly define desirable public reactions in wartime. The challenge ahead for the Lithuanian government will be to organize a broader educational campaign to teach critical thinking skills that would be necessary to effectively survive and resist an aggressor under a “hybrid war” scenario.