Autors: Paul Pryce .
With the increasing number and role of the Centres of Excellence (COE) within NATO, it is clear that the ‘knowledge dynamic’ is becoming just as important to the Alliance as the concept of ‘smart defence’ recently introduced by Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen. But how true has this been for the Baltic states? While Estonia is home to the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence (CCD COE), have the Baltic states been as steadfast in their commitment to the knowledge dynamic as they have been to the principle of collective security that underpins NATO?
Further examination reveals some degree of inconsistency across Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. While Latvia is comparatively more engaged in the work of COEs, Lithuania is decidedly less so.
Reporting to Allied Command Transformation in Norfolk, Virginia in the United States of America, there are currently 16 NATO accredited COEs in operation and three more in development. According to NATO, “Centres of Excellence (COEs) are nationally or multi-nationally funded institutions that train and educate leaders and specialists from NATO member and partner countries…” and assist in expanding the Alliance’s capacity to operate in varying environments under diverse conditions. Many of these COEs take the form of research hubs, with experts spending time not just training personnel from NATO and its partner countries but also working on policy and technological solutions to specific challenges currently facing Alliance forces in various theatres.
These COEs can obviously be quite crucial to improving the operational capabilities of forces employed by NATO member states, pooling the best practices and lessons learned by NATO forces through the Alliance’s long history. Their work can also benefit the militaries of NATO partners, as in the case of Finland’s participation in the NATO COE for Operations in Confined and Shallow Waters, based in Kiel, Germany.
At present, Estonia’s participation in COEs has been limited to its role as the host of the aforementioned CCD COE. The other two Baltic states are listed as Contributing Nations, providing personnel and finances to the CCD COE. However, whereas Lithuania and Estonia participate in no further COEs other than the CCD COE, Latvia also participates in the work of the Civil-Military Cooperation COE in Enschede, Netherlands.
This represents something of a gap in the commitment levels of the Baltic states to the knowledge dynamic of NATO. Lithuania currently possesses the greatest military capabilities of the Baltic states, yet contributes the least to COEs of the three countries. According to figures from the US Department of State, the composition of the Baltic militaries is as follows: the Estonian Defence Forces consists of roughly 3,800 persons, including 1,500 conscripts; the Latvian military consists of approximately 4,500 regular force personnel and 8,500 reserve personnel; and the Lithuanian military consists of some 8,000 active duty troops and 5,000 reserve personnel. Yet while the Lithuanian military is slightly larger in composition and budget than the armed forces of Latvia, Latvia is participating in two COEs to Lithuania’s one.
This is more perplexing when one considers the degree to which Lithuania contributes its personnel to active military operations. Since 2005, Lithuania has participated in the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, leading its own Provincial Reconstruction Team in the Afghan region of Ghor. Prior to 2005, the Lithuanian Special Operations Force was involved in Operation Enduring Freedom, playing a role early on in the intervention into Afghanistan. Up until 2008, Lithuanian forces were on deployment in Iraq. While the importance of Estonian contributions to NATO and other operations ought not to be downplayed, Lithuania has been the most willing of the Baltic states thus far to send troops into the field.
In light of this, it is also apparent that Lithuania would stand the most to gain from involvement in the work of additional COEs. The participation of Latvia and Lithuania in the CCD COE is a gesture that emphasizes an ongoing Baltic solidarity, but Lithuanian authorities should consider matching Latvia’s level of commitment to the knowledge dynamic both for the sake of expressing solidarity with the Alliance as a whole and to ensure Lithuanian troops are equipped with the know-how and expertise necessary to successfully complete their missions.
Given the widespread use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the potential that Lithuanian personnel may encounter these weapons in future operations, participation in the work of the Counter Improvised Explosive Devices COE (C-IED COE) in Madrid, Spain could be a worthwhile investment. Joining with experts from the other Contributing Nations (France, Germany, Hungary, Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Spain, United States of America, and soon Turkey), Lithuanian personnel could advance the Alliance’s tactics in dealing with IEDs and obtain knowledge of best practices that could be passed on to other Lithuanian military personnel prior to deployment on future operations.
Similarly, involvement in the Defence Against Terrorism COE in Ankara, Turkey might be beneficial to Lithuanian forces as they increasingly face against terrorist threats, rather than conventional military forces. Conversely, participation in NATO’s many COEs concerned with naval and air forces would have limited applicability to Lithuania. What is at issue, therefore, is the articulation of priorities by Lithuanian authorities. Areas where Lithuania wishes to improve its operational capabilities must be identified and relationships with existing relevant COEs cultivated.
Lithuanian defence spending has fallen short of the targets agreed upon by all NATO member states. This has been the case for Latvia as well. However, despite funding cuts, Latvia has remained actively engaged in the knowledge dynamic of the Alliance. Rather than Latvia cutting back its commitments to match the levels maintained by Lithuania, it is important to the success of NATO and the Baltic states that Lithuanian authorities make the effort to reach Latvia’s level of active participation.
 NATO. (2011). Centres of Excellence. Retrieved from: http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natolive/topics_68372.htm
 With data from US Department of State: http://www.state.gov/