Lithuania is one of the smallest countries on earth but also packs a big punch in diplomacy and foreign policy. A Baltic nation, Lithuania has had a dark past in its fight for independence and sovereignty against Russia and the USSR.
Despite the relatively minimal population and modest economy, Vilnius is gradually rising in soft power—and being one of the smaller nations, Lithuania’s government is also lobbying for the rights and protections of other smaller countries.
Lithuania’s Foreign Policy on Ukraine
The European Union is currently going through post-WWII conundrums. Most member-states miscalculated the threat Russia would enact on the rest of the continent, especially as Putin became more emboldened by appeasement policies. Knowing the imperial ambitions of Moscow, Vilnius warned the EU of the dangers of intertwining Russian energy, which was the Kremlin’s soft power against Europe in the leadup to the invasions of Georgia and Ukraine.
Lithuania became one of the country’s most significant military backers per capita during the Russian invasion of Ukraine. As of June 2023, Vilnius has allocated close to 12% of its military GDP and over 1.4% of its overall state GDP towards Kyiv’s defense against Moscow’s onslaught.
To put the GDP allocations of Lithuania into perspective, the United States, Ukraine’s top military backer, has allocated 0.3% of its 2022 fiscal year budget towards Ukraine aid. With many NATO members lagging in the 2% defense GDP requirement, Lithuania is one of the few member states to meet such obligations.
Several volunteers from Lithuania in the Ukrainian military and professionally trained combat medics help soldiers and civilians during the war. The Lithuanian government is also a significant lobbying partner for Ukraine’s EU and NATO ascension and is involved in reconstruction projects throughout the war-battered country.
Lithuania’s Foreign Policy on Taiwan
Taiwan, also known as the Republic of China, constantly fights for territorial sovereignty against the mainland government, the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Initially, the recognized Chinese government, Taipei, was slowly cast aside by the international community for Beijing during the height of the Cold War.
Despite Taiwan’s international isolationism, Lithuania has gambled against the PRC to open an unofficial diplomatic office in the Taiwanese capital of Taipei, sending Beijing into a fury in the process. Beijing would recall its ambassador, expel the Lithuanian ambassador, and attempt to strengthen the European Union to mitigate Lithuanian exports.
To counter the rising threat of China’s imperial ambitions in the Asian Pacific, Lithuania released its own Indo-Pacific Strategy at the 2023 Vilnius NATO Summit. Lithuania’s emphasis on the Indo-Pacific includes prioritizing partnerships and defense for Taiwan and Japan, as both countries face a looming Chinese threat.
A significant point on Lithuania’s counter to China against Taiwan is outlined in their Indo-Pacific Strategy, which states, “using force or coercion to change the status quo in the Taiwan Strait are red lines — the violation of which would prompt a legitimate response from countries that believe in the preservation of the rules-based international order.”
The presence of Lithuania’s undeclared red line cannot be underestimated, as even though the United States will be leading most of the fighting during a potential invasion of Taiwan, the Lithuanian government is hinting that they will do their best to lobby for defense procurements and possible European military action to supplement Taiwan’s defense.
Lithuania’s Foreign Policy on Armenia
Armenia and Lithuania are both nations whose populations endured deportations, assimilation, and ethnic cleansing by their biggest rival and neighboring nations, respectively. Wanting to enhance trade in the technology sector, Yerevan and Vilnius signed a Memorandum of Understanding to strengthen innovation between both countries.
In late September, as Azerbaijan conducted a lightning military campaign in the Karabakh region that subsequently forced the remaining Armenian population to flee, Lithuania was one of the few EU members that gave its greatest condemnation. According to a September 27th article by Politico, only Vilnius suggested all options should be on the table regarding punitive actions against Baku for breaking the delicate ceasefire and Trilateral Agreement.
Lithuania’s diplomatic backing of Armenia is no surprise, as last December, Vilnius also called out Baku’s blockade of the Lachin Corridor, which various international NGOs and governmental bodies would ask Azerbaijan to lift to no avail immediately.
Why Lithuania Fights for Marginalized Countries Under Pressure by Their Neighbors
Lithuania, once a powerful medieval kingdom that held a commonwealth with Poland, faced Russian rule for nearly two centuries before achieving independence solidified by the Treaty of Brest‐Litovsk. The Soviet Union, under the ruthless leadership of Josef Stalin, would renege on the Baltic nation’s autonomy and enact brutal rule.
Lithuanian partisans enacted a two-decade resistance against Soviet rule past WWII into 1953. Over 100,000 Lithuanians were forcibly deported to Siberia and Kazakhstan, and the Soviet secret police would conduct massacres and state-sanctioned torture.
Towards the end of the Cold War, Lithuania would begin peaceful protests for their right to self-determination, something then US President Ronald Raegan admired. This fighting spirit and looking out for fellow smaller countries seeking self-determination became the forefront of Lithuanian foreign policy.
Lithuania remains small today but packs a big punch through its growing soft power. Whether it’s Ukraine, Taiwan, Armenia, or others, Vilnius will continue to defend the rights of countries under threat of invasion and forcible coercion.
[Photo by Ted, via Wikimedia Commons]
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.
Julian McBride is a forensic anthropologist and independent journalist born in New York. He is the founder and director of the Reflections of War Initiative (ROW), an anthropological NGO which aims to tell the stories of the victims of war through art therapy. As a former Marine, he uses this technique not only to help heal PTSD but also to share people’s stories through art, which conveys “the message of the brutality of war better than most news organizations.”