After four turbulent years under President Trump, America and the world were shocked once more by the storming of the US Capitol this week. It was another episode in an increasingly polarizing country. Many have raised questions about the current state of the American democracy and its reliability as an ally. Gabrielius Landsbergis, Lithuania’s foreign minister, keeps faith and is convinced the American republic and democracy will recover.
Despite the fact that the images of the angry mob storming the Capitol made Landsbergis feel “emotional”, he believes justice and democracy will prevail. In an interview with EU Observer, the Lithuanian foreign minister explained how important the US example of democracy is for former Soviet-states like his own country. “The foundations [of US democracy] have held for almost 250 years. They are stronger than Donald Trump, than this one assault on the Capitol”.
Landsbergis emphasized that in the current international relations atmosphere, one where China and Russia try to increase their power and influence, the West must bridge its differences and present a united front against forces that attack the foundations of liberal democracy. He referred to the Russian propaganda that fomented hatred and division in the West.
During and as a reaction on the Trump presidency, the EU has increasingly strengthened their mantra of “strategic autonomy”: becoming a united military power that no longer depends on the US for its protection. Landsbergis noted that Lithuania embraces many of the efforts that the EU took to achieve the idea of “strategic autonomy”, but only if they were aimed at establishing a joint military-industrial complex in Europe. “Decoupling” from the US was never an option for Lithuania, because “when it comes to military defence – that’s Nato. And that [Nato] is the US”.
Lithuania is part of the so-called CEE states, EU member states which were part of the former Eastern bloc. NATO is very important for them, which is illustrated by their defence spending. Back in 2018, there were only seven states that met the recommended threshold of 2% of GDP being spent on defence, four of them were CEE states: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. Perceived threats from Russia and the annexation of the Crimea region led to increased military spending. Lithuania raised their defence budget with 232% between 2010 and 2019.
The idea within the EU to end consensus-based foreign policy and replace it for a majority-voting system in order to react more swiftly to world events, cannot count on support from Lithuania. Landsbergis explained that although the Lithuanian government trusts the foreign policy decisions made in Brussels, they do so because they are partly their decisions. Losing the consensus influence on the EU’s foreign policy feels like a sacrifice that might not outweigh the benefits for countries like Lithuania, and is therefore unlikely to occur anytime soon.