Mission and Money

Alec Baldwin, besides being a great actor, is a phenomenal interviewer and podcast host. When he talks to comedians, actors, or policymakers, he creates an atmosphere that is witty, personal, and insightful. The latest instalment of his “Here is the Thing” podcast was with the Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning.

According to Fanning, his job is one of a CEO. Secretary of the Army is a civilian who makes sure the Army is prepared to fight America’s wars. The job includes personnel management, procurement, financing and everything else required to have the Army ready to defend the homeland or go overseas to protect America’s allies through deterrence and fighting battles and wars.

The thing that stuck out the most, though, was Fanning’s assertive understanding of what Army is all about. The Armed Forces are still being asked to participate in and respond to a variety of challenges globally. And Army as an organization needs to be ready in terms of having great people, top-level training, adequate infrastructure, cutting-edge technology. If any of the components are below par, the potential cost is ultimate. Therefore, significant investments are being made to minimize the number of soldier and civilian deaths.

An interesting, and completely reasonable, thought was regarding the planned growth in the number of soldiers. Fanning said it is all good to have a larger force, but we need to make sure that the infrastructure is adequately built up and able to accommodate the larger force.

Investments in infrastructure are essential to a larger and better functioning military force — more buildings, more facilities, perhaps more bases both in the US and abroad. Running the operation of how to get to this state is an important part of Fanning’s job, which will end when the new president takes charge in January.

From a perspective of a Lithuanian ex-military, this rolls back home in, at least, two ways — mission and money. First, the mission of the US Army is completely clear: “to fight and win our Nation’s wars, by providing prompt, sustained, land dominance, across the full range of military operations and the spectrum of conflict, in support of combatant commanders.” Second, there is a clear understanding within the US defense apparatus that whatever threats and objectives are defined by the leadership and whatever requirements are set by the military commanders, the financing, with strict oversight of course, will become available.

I am 100% supportive of increasing Lithuania’s military capability, both the professional and the conscript elements of it. Given the geopolitical threats in the region, we clearly need a larger military. The societal benefits of each additional conscript or soldier are exponential in a small country like Lithuania. Recently promised changes in the budget are encouraging, finally envisioning defense expenditure crossing the magic 2% of GDP threshold by 2018.

However, there is a difference of thinking incrementally vs. thinking in terms of what must be done. It is well understood that a financial stature of Lithuania is nowhere near the economic power of our main allies. Nevertheless, while politically we are still debating if conscripts are needed, the financial consequences of indecisiveness will continue to pile up.

The approach that Lithuania, and many other NATO allies, is taking is linear in nature. We first try to agree if we need to increase our military capability, then we determine the priority areas to invest in, and, in parallel, decide how much money we can allocate for that purpose. Yet, in a cash-strapped Eastern European world the decision to boost defense capabilities is unlikely to be final (read: believable). There are no safeguards that the money will not be reversed.

Understanding the rigidity and limitations of bureaucratic silos of how the government operates, it would be naïve to expect blank checks for Lithuania’s military capability enhancements. Thus, the question remains how can we effectively communicate and demonstrate that we are fully committed to strengthening our country’s national security?

As often is the case, it comes back to the issue of political will. Attention deficit toward national security challenges continues to permeate Lithuania’s newly elected Parliament, a place where a plethora of other agenda items are distracting the Parliamentarians from the core questions.

A clear political direction needs to be set by the Lithuanian civilian leadership through bold vision, committed financing, and unquestionable support in public. Until that happens, Lithuania’s military readiness stands hostage to political wrangling and prone to unpredictable international flashpoints.


December 2016