Time flies. 15 years have passed since Lithuania‘s accession to NATO. Once, NATO membership seemed completely out of Lithuania‘s reach. Today, we proudly consider ourselves to be experienced and reliable members of the Alliance.
I remember very well how difficult it was in 2002 to argue that NATO principles, first of all, collective defence, are not in conflict with the Constitution, but, rather, enhance its protection. During that time, a new version of the Law on International Military Operations was adopted, which amounted to a preliminary ratification of the North Atlantic Treaty, and cleared the legal gateway to join the Alliance.
Years later, the Constitutional Court ruled that full-fledged NATO membership is a constitutional value. On 15th March 2011, the Constitutional Court delivered a ruling, which we may all take pride in. The petitioners – members of the Parliament – questioned the constitutionality of the above-mentioned Law on International Operations. The idea behind the petition was to prove the unconstitutionality of NATO membership itself. It failed. Indeed, the Constitutional Court answered to the contrary – the Constitution is not a suicide pact, that would preclude the State from guaranteeing its safety by being a member of the most effective alliance of collective defence in the world.
The Constitution consolidates the “one for all, all for one” principle, enshrined in Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, establishing that an armed attack against one member of the Alliance shall be considered an attack against them all. The military units of other states - allies of the Republic of Lithuania – may be deployed on the territory of Lithuanian and may be used to defend it. Military bases of other NATO states may be stationed in Lithuania.
The Western geopolitical orientation of the Lithuanian state means – among all – its membership in NATO. This concept of the Constitution was further developed in 2014 when the Constitutional Court stressed that such geopolitical orientation is also underpinned by the universal constitutional values shared by democratic European and North American countries. It is impossible to introduce amendments to the Constitution, if they are contrary to the obligations of Lithuania that arise from its membership in NATO.
Could it all have turned out differently? Probably so. If the Constitution had been primitively comprehended as a simple text that did not explicitly mention NATO, membership in the Alliance could have been found to be unconstitutional. The consequences and the chaos that would have followed such a ruling are unimaginable… However, this latter understanding does not require a law degree… it most likely does not require one to be a citizen, either.
The constitutional case on NATO membership is just one of the examples of the coherent understanding demonstrated by the Constitutional Court of its responsibility towards the Nation and to the Constitution it adopted. Constitutional justice may not be exercised through the adoption of decisions that are irresponsible, or even disastrous for its country, or without taking into account the broader historical and international context. All decisions of the Constitutional Court must be grounded on the concept of the Constitution as a general good. For these exact reasons, Lithuania’s membership in NATO is a constitutional imperative.
24-01-2014 ruling No. KT2-N1/2014, case No. 22/2013
President of the Constitutional Court of Lithuania
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