Combined armed forces - discussion about the future of Lithuanian Armed Forces

Combined armed forces - discussion about the future of Lithuanian Armed Forces

Recently society has been interested in what sort of armed forces would do better for Lithuania's benefit, and which organisation of national armed forces could help ensure Lithuania's security more efficiently. Another point of interest is what influence the new leadership of the National Defence System and Lithuanian Armed Forces will have on the reform.


Preceding leadership of the National Defence System made the decision to abandon regular armed forces based on compulsory conscription for the sake of professional armed forces. The new leadership looked again at the issue of forming the reserve. Until now individual, or in other words mobilization reserve was majorly made of reserve soldiers after compulsory military service. When conscription was abandoned this source of renewing the reserve ran dry. On the other hand, economic slowdown cut down financial resources for covering contracts with candidates to join professional war service and thus filling lacking capabilities of the bottom link staff positions.


Minister of National Defence Rasa Juknevičienė and the new Chief of Defence of Lithuania Gen. Maj. Arvydas Pocius has hinted about the necessity to have a mixed type of armed service in Lithuania. Lithuanian media and society interpreted it as suggestion to bring back compulsory recruitment. Discussions revealed that not everyone has dot the right idea of the terms in use and time is wasted to argue about different things while using the same words. Aim of this article is to explain to people what may be lie under one or another concept of organisation of the armed forces, and to cast some light onto the issues of this important point.


What does „combined" armed forces refer to?


Usually every contemporary modern armed forces is combined in character and employs active (also called regular) personnel and reserve. It is so because peacetime conditions make permanent maintenance of the numbers of capabilities corresponding to wartime, or any other emergency situation, conditions irrational. Regular part of forces usually employ the number of personnel necessary to carry on with daily tasks of the armed forces, to maintain infrastructure necessary to conduct mobilisation and efficient preparation of soldiers to supplement reserve. The reserve itself is not always solid, it may consist of soldiers of various reserve types. There are two main types of reserve of the armed forces in Lithuania - the individual/mobilisation and active reserve. Individual reserve are reserve soldiers of obligatory basic or professional military service, active reserve are volunteer soldiers of National Defence Volunteer Force. Members of individual/mobilisation reserve are called in cases number of regular armed forces needs to be increased, like war or large scale natural or other disaster. Members of active reserve take part in exercises on a regular basis, they only withdraw from their civilian occupations for a weekend in a month, or even more seldom. Level of basic military preparation of volunteer soldiers is steadily sustained and renewed and their conscription procedures are relatively easy. Volunteers took part in peacekeeping operation in Kosovo, two of the nine provincial reconstruction teams Lithuania had sent to Afghanistan were formed on the basis of NDVF. In other words, active reserve is high-readiness, well-organised, and capable of operatively fulfilling military tasks.


Many countries of the world have relatively large reserves in their armed forces for enforcement of regular armed forces. For example, the USA have around 1,3 m of regular armed forces and 1,2 m of reservists and National Guard troops, Norway keeps about 22 000 of regular armed forces and 220 000 of reserve soldiers, Finland's regular armed forces numbers 30 000 and reserve - 350 000. Reserve is organised and kept in readiness according to own policy of every state.


The regular personnel may be of combined nature too. It may be composed of professionals and conscripts alongside. A usual ratio of professionals and obligatory basic military service conscripts in modern armed forces that also employ conscription, is 60% and 40%.


Compulsory military service of citizens is the most effective way for armed forces to ensure permanent re-staffing of the reserve with new members. If there are no troops who have completed compulsory basic military service, active reserve may be supplemented by with reservist professional soldiers and by expansion of the active reserve (by recruiting more volunteers).


Which type of armed forces is more efficient?


Currently discussions are frequently heard in Lithuania as well as in other states on weather combined or professional armed forces are a more effective form of organisation. Let us point out that concepts of professional and well qualified armed forces are usually confused. Professional or occupational armed forces is organised by signing job contracts with soldiers, whereas well qualified armed forces only refer to soldiers capable of meeting high standards when fulfilling their functions.


Analysis of organisation forms of professional and combined armed forces reveals the main differences between the two. A usual opinion is that professional armed forces is more effective than recruit-based armed forces. However, it is not necessarily so. Professional war service contracts are usually sought by people who plan to serve in the bottom link of the armed forces and do not pursue education while citizens aimed at higher education traditionally are not interested in joining regular forces without motivation. By the way, that is the reason of diminished general education level in the USA regular forces after it transitioned to professional military service. A decision was made to privilege professional servicemembers after they complete the duty and give them financial support in seeking education. Such a solution gave the needy a chance to serve for a free education and also allowed the armed forces to attract more educated youth than before.


It is typical that conscripts differ in education level and social background and therefore armed forces mirrors the entire country's society. It makes society more interested in activities of national armed forces and places civil control upon military capabilities. For example, armed forces of the USA were based on the conscription principle during the Vietnam War. American society displayed great interest in the war. Consequently, actions were terminated when the society began mass protests as a sign of disapproval of their government's goals in the war and refused to put up with human losses. Whereas during Iraq war American armed forces were made of professional war service soldiers which expanded the gap between the society and the armed forces and diminished the former's interest in the war.

Different principles were employed for organisation of armed forces during different historical periods, and efficiency of armed capabilities was never determined by whether professionals or recruits had served in them. The determining factor is motivation and preparation of soldiers and technological advance. There is no reason to association motivation of servicemen with one or another organisation principle. Some of them see service as their way of life, some - as means of subsistence. Motivation is formed by abilities or inability of commanders to earn the soldiers' trust, respect, and the pursued goal.


Why do majority of countries adopt professional armed forces?


We often hear the question why do so numerous countries of the world change recruitment system to professional armed forces? One of the main reasons is low popularity rates of obligatory military duty in democratic societies and political figures of such societies seek electorate's favour by removing the duty and rely on professionals only. On the other hand, countries facing more exterior threat than other do not abandon compulsory conscription. Finland and other Scandinavian countries retained compulsory military service but likewise in Lithuania discussions are on about the optimal structure of composition of combined armed forces. Military conscription is relatively popular in the mentioned region. Citizens of Scandinavia countries are conscious about their role in political security of their home countries and conduct military duty eagerly.


However, compulsory military duty is not as poplar with Lithuanians. As results of some polls testify, only less than half of Lithuania's citizens supports compulsory conscription. Among other reasons bitter experience of contemporary potential conscripts' parents in the Soviet army could be the case.


While Constitutional Court investigates the law passed to abolish compulsory conscription, we should bear in mind that abolishment was already implemented and new resources as well as time would be necessary to restore it. Armed Forces need more soldiers at the moment lacking especially sharply in the regular force, permanent and sustainable replacement of the reserve is necessary. Therefore now is a favourable time to decide which way of organising military service would suit Lithuania most though not necessarily be the most optimal, however, discussions should be based on facts rather than emotions.


Read also: Advisor to the Minister of National Defence Jonas Kronkaitis says: „we must retain essential defence capabilities in the face of economic crisis"