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Defence Politics and Reshaping of the Lithuanian Semi-Presidential Regime

Europe (Central and Eastern)
War
Decision Making
Political Regime
Deividas Slekys
Vilnius University
Deividas Slekys
Vilnius University
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Abstract

Events in Ukraine in 2014 became a catalyst of big changes for the Lithuanian politics and political system. It fast-tracked increase of record breaking defence budget, pushed through major military procurement, actively lobbied Western allies to take serious look into the defence of NATO’s Eastern flank and deploy units into the region and finally made a political decision to bring back conscription. Russian threat and war scare mobilized Lithuanian society to unprecedented level. However, to explain all this scale and tempo of change by emphasizing only factors of international politics geopolitics, as causes is not enough. There was very important domestic independent variable - its specific semi-presidential political regime. In Lithuania, which is a parliamentary republic with elements of semi-presidential regime the ultimate authority to settle key issues of defence, such as authorising manning levels and approving the defence budget, rests with the parliament, Seimas. Different periods saw different traits of one or other form of semi-presidentialism. All of that depended on, which party controlled the parliament, was the president associated with particular party or not, the importance of international politics issues (i.e. membership in NATO and EU) and finally, the personality of the presidents. The President together with the government, implements the nation’s foreign and security policy. The president is the Commander-in-chief who, upon advice of the Defence minister, appoints and dismisses Commander of the Armed Forces and also convenes and chairs the State Defence Council, a constitutional body comprised of the speaker of Seimas, prime minister, defence minister and chief of defence. However, this council has only advisory, not, executive powers. It is important to emphasize, that Lithuanian presidents traditionally were more interested in security, but not defence and military politics. They spent a lot of energy and time pushing political agendas for more effective, robust energy, cyber security, more efficient law enforcement and intelligence institutions. Defence military policy was left in the hands of MoD and presidents were quite passive bystanders. Just before the events in Ukraine president Grybauskaitė was in situation of cohabitation with left-centre majority in parliament, which meant, that regime was more parliamentary then presidential. Therefore the events in Ukraine and necessity to react was a chance for the Presidency in short term to get an upper hand against the parliament and in longer term - to take over control of military policy from the government and in that way to carve out additional political powers. It was President, who initiated and pushed major political parties to agree to increase defence budget. The return of conscription is seen as Presidents pet project, pushed over the heads of Minister of Defence and Prime minister. It is public secret, that no serious decision concerning defence issues can not be taken if there is no green light from the President. Comparing situation before and after the Crimea occupation it is clear, that role of the Presidency in defence politics increased tremendously and that change helped to increase Presidential powers in general vis-à-vis to Parliament and Government.