How does a state achieve effective deterrence? Lithuania provides an example.
Deterrence has always been a crucial element in ensuring one’s security. In classic international relations literature, punishment and denial are described as drivers of effective deterrence. Yet, the intent of this article is not to delve into theories but to offer a practical view on deterrence as a reflection of the author’s time as deputy defence minister of Lithuania and as an incentive to reimagine the concept.
In simple words, effective deterrence allows people to feel safe to conduct their social, economic and cultural activities undisturbed and allows institutions to work towards reaching their goals. The fast-changing economic and geopolitical scene, augmented by technological innovation, contributes to a whirlwind state of mind where it becomes difficult to separate noise from a signal. In such a world, a focus on building effective deterrence can serve as a true north, a clear objective to be achieved on the way to a more secure and prosperous world.
The fundamental question is how to achieve effective deterrence. There are obvious solutions that at least partly address this conundrum. The first is focusing on raw military strength. That is where massive defence modernisation programmes and infrastructure improvements, currently undertaken by literally all countries, fit in. The return to great power competition and numerous potential hot spots worldwide coupled with decades-long underinvestment in capabilities motivate governments to invest in defence.
Lithuania, for example, has tripled its defence budget in the past five years, directing most of the increase to modernisation. Other countries in Eastern Europe have been growing their defence capabilities at a similar pace. While it is true that without potent defence capability, there can be no effective deterrence, modern militaries, especially in smaller countries, cannot on their own guarantee that deterrence will not fail.
Thus, the second component to effective deterrence is cooperation with allies. Former US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley have vocally reiterated the vitality of allies to the US’s success on the battlefield. For smaller states, cooperation is predetermined and axiomatic.
Cooperation is the heart and soul of NATO, the largest and most successful partnership of all. The Alliance delivered once again when NATO countries pitched four multinational enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) battalion groups in Poland and the Baltic States in 2017. Integration of these eFPs into national military structures has strengthened the deterrent effect and significantly bolstered NATO’s relevance.
The third deterrence-enhancing element is resilient society. Arguably, it is the most fluid and underappreciated concept, as it requires cross-institutional coordination and agile ownership. Most people will agree that a strong shared purpose serves as a unifying symbol within a society. The same can be said of equal opportunity, fairness and trust – all of which are important variables of a resilient society.
Moreover, a recent study by research firm Ipsos found that 54% of the global population agree that their country’s society is broken, while 62% of respondents think the elites are estranged from people’s reality. These findings pinpoint the magnitude of the challenge of growing societal resilience.
Yet, resilience-building is too complex to be owned by a single government branch. The military can contribute and perhaps even lead, but the effort has to be at whole-of-society scale. In Lithuania, the Riflemen’s Union (RU), an NGO, acts as a magnet rallying the young and the old, the rich and the poor, with a sole mission to build societal resilience. The driving idea behind RU is a supreme belief that if the society is able to maintain awareness of threats, is immune to propaganda, and develops ability to defend the country, then no aggression can cause the state harm. In effect, this is the most effective deterrence at play.
It is well understood both by policy wonks and the military that there can be no perfect deterrence. There will always be unknown unknowns, which, even in the utopian world of symmetrical information, will concern the minds of those attempting to forecast what the enemy will do next. Yet, there is an overarching commonality, a trend, within the spectrum of traditional deterrence-enhancing measures – partnerships. In aiming to strengthen deterrence, the intent should always be to maximise the return on partnerships.
On the capability development side, the three-headed partnership among the government, private sector (defence industry, investors) and public institutions (research and design institutes, think tanks and universities) is a must. Unfortunately, true partnerships are few, considering the inborn mistrust between the military and industry, while universities, as they tackle the future of learning, are struggling to fit into the model of defence research and design and procurement.
Similar partnerships are required to boost societal resilience. The questions of education curricula, social programs, youth involvement, labor relations and others come to the fore as the resilience net is expanded over the whole of society. This cannot work without tight partnerships among various stakeholders and a whole-of-society approach.
Partnerships, if structured correctly, would enhance both defence capabilities and societal resilience. Saab’s role in the Swedish defence system and Finland’s inclusive defence-targeted educational programmes for multiple stakeholders serve as examples of how such partnerships would work. International cooperation in the field of modern deterrence is equally paramount. Here is where RUSI’s Modern Deterrence programme offers a unique opportunity for governments, the private sector and NGOs to come together to exchange ideas and lessons learned. Everyone is in this together in this age of complexity. Thus, more collaboration will yield better returns on partnerships.
Giedrimas Jeglinskas served until this week as Lithuania's Vice Minister of Defence. As of next week, he will be NATO Assistant Secretary-General for Executive Management. He also addressed RUSI last December.
The views expressed in this Commentary are the author's, and do not represent those of RUSI or any other institution.