The nearby NATO base looms pretty large here in Šiauliai, and not only because it means jobs for the locals. It also makes everyone feel a little more secure, given recent events in nearby Ukraine.
Today Jane and I attended a briefing conducted by NATO officials for the Šiauliai community, held at the university library in the city center. A little background: NATO was formed at the height of the Cold War in 1949; the east bloc responded with the Warsaw Pact in 1955. Lithuania joined NATO in 2004, a little more than a decade after restoration of its national independence, and after the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact in 1991. The end of the Cold War seemed to rob NATO of its principal mission, but perhaps it is time to reconsider the hypothesis of NATO’s 21st-century irrelevance.
There were approximately 60 people at the briefing, which began with some welcoming remarks, some of them delivered by a member of the Šiauliai city council. Then a Lithuanian soldier briefed us on the structure of NATO and on what is required of its 28 member states (see photo #1, above). Afterwards, we heard from Lt. Col. Mark Sadler of the United States Air Force (photo #2), who explained the way that NATO monitors air space in the three Baltic countries from its base here in Šiauliai, where a squadron of ten F-15s can be airborne in a matter of minutes, any time of the day or night. He said that policing the Baltic airspace is a little like being a fireman.
Afterwards, a panel discussed related issues and fielded questions from the audience. Photo #3, above, shows (from left to right), a representative of the Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a military attaché from the Republic of Poland, a high-ranking Lithuanian officer from the Šiauliai base, the U.S. military intelligence officer based at Šiauliai, and Lt. Col. Sadler.