The Lesson From Lithuania
Balance of power is a fairly straightforward dynamic within the Russia-NATO relationship but "balance of passion" seems to be an overlooked, but very crucial ingredient within long term confrontations. Lithuania is demonstrating to its NATO allies how to be more cohesive and unified than Russia both in message and purpose. Its citizens are preparing to confront invaders armed only with small arms, knowledge of their surroundings and a huge dose of patriotism.
In his book, Strategy for Action (2011), Commodore Steven Jeremy RN highlights the balance of power – balance of passion nexus. Balance of power is a fairly straightforward dynamic within the Russia-NATO relationship but balance of passion seems to be an overlooked and very crucial ingredient within long term confrontations for both the present time and littered throughout history.
Balance of passion is a term that needs defining and Steven Jeremy talks about it as a combination of key factors in the calculation of the relative gravity of the issues at contest, political capital, national will and character and preparedness for sacrifice. In short, compared to the hard, material basis of balance of power the balance of passion consists of less tangible, more emotive foundations. Quite simply, if we were to imagine two nations with very similarly sized armed forces then we might expect a draw. If however we add the balance of passion dimension then the country who is more motivated or determined to win the fight, who has a patriotically cohesive population or who is ready to die fighting stands a stronger chance of beating the enemy over the longer term.
This may sound slightly archaic but history shows the importance of passion and will in conflict and confrontation. Take the Vietnam war. Though America was materially superior to the North Vietnamese it lost the war over the long term. For the North Vietnamese the war was one with a powerfully emotive and nationalistic ideal to repel another ‘imperial' subjugator and claim the country for themselves as a unified people.
The Cold War was another example of balance of passion. Reagans ‘evil empire' speech posited a dichotomy of good and evil and a will to win at all costs. Then there was the Soviet-Afghan war which posited a materially superior USSR against the passionately stronger mujahideen. Yes guerilla tactics played a key role in both Vietnam and Afghanistan but one must realise as well that guerilla warfare needs strong population support in order to survive. So balance of passion is an important facet of confrontation and conflict. But how is Lithuania a lesson to be learnt to other countries in this matter?
Firstly, Lithuania, a NATO partner since 2004, has seen a rise in membership of its paramilitary organisation, the Riflemen's Union. Mention paramilitary in any context and an inadvertent shiver travels across the psyche but in this case though the situation is different. The Rifleman's Union is more akin to a civil defence cum territorial army organisation which has civil defence as its primary aim instead of offensive para-military operations. The organisation boasts a membership of 10,000 out of a population of 2.8 million people and is looking to reclaim its post-World War one membership of 80,000.
After the annexation of Crimea and the fermenting of dissident republics in Eastern Ukraine one can fully understand the concern of Lithuanian citizens about Russian encroachment and interference in their internal affairs. The Riflemen's Union works closely with the Lithuanian military and accords strongly with its code of values. Though not a substantial force in its own right the Riflemen's Union is an expression of something important for Lithuania. It is an expression of national service, patriotic duty and a concern for the affairs of the country and the wider region.
The lesson from this is quite substantial. While Britain, France, Germany and the US struggle with internal political issues from immigration to economic inequality the citizens of a NATO ally are preparing to face down the Russian bear armed only with small arms, knowledge of their surroundings and a huge dose of patriotism. The contrast of this example to that of the public's in the aforementioned countries is stark and powerful.
Putin knows that the NATO alliance is nowhere near as cohesive as it was during the Cold war and NATO allies like Hungary, Turkey and the as yet unknown US position under Trump are pulling at the collective seams even more.
To be successful over the long term Lithuania teaches NATO that it has to be more cohesive and unified than Russia both in message and purpose. This is a difficult challenge for 28 alliance members compared to a post-modern autocratic regime like Putin's Russia which can force compliance and unity. But it is nonetheless an important dimension that NATO needs to focus on. The North Atlantic Council, heads of state and military chiefs need to coordinate a strong and codified message of support and resolve towards the NATO alliance and persistently. Rhetoric needs to match force and strategy and consistently. Inconsistency is the greatest threat to the balance of passion and must be passionately guarded against.
Connor Smart studied International Relations at Plymouth University. He has worked in a think tank and is now Head of Research at an executive recruitment and sector advisory company.
- EU's Litmus Test in the Western Balkans
- It's the State of our Democracy, Stupid! Why Transatlantic Relations are in Trouble
- The Reverse Trump Effect: EU Populist Movements After Trump Took Office
- Smaller and Larger Nations: Concert of Big Powers or Fair Balance of Interests?
- The Trump-Merkel Summit: After the Storm, a Vital Trans-Atlantic Agenda