In a move that will have only minor effects on its own – but which could have larger consequences were it to be replicated around Europe, especially in terms of drone use – the Baltic nation of Lithuania has responded to increasing international instability by banning the purchase of tech from countries deemed untrustworthy, including China, for defense or public service operation.
Amendments made to a law passed last March tightening public procurement rules now prohibit Lithuanian public administrations and defense agencies from obtaining IT and communications tech from untrusted nations, notably Russia, Belarus, and China. Coming amid the continuing war against its ally, Ukraine, the move aims to sideline all equipment that pose data theft or other potential security risks, particularly from Russia and its Belarus backer.
By adding China to that list, however, it seems evident leaders in Vilnius are following the lead of their peers in the US by relegating DJI drones to a de facto blacklist created by the wider procurement ban. That will mean company craft that have been as popular in Lithuanian public operations like infrastructure inspection, surveying, and security and defense missions as they have elsewhere in the world are now off-limits.
A small nation with a $65.5 billion economy and $1.8 million drone sector (compared to US non-military US market that in 2020 surpassed $1.2), Lithuania won’t be making enormous waves in banning Chinese drones and other tech as part of its broader protective measures. Yet the move isn’t entirely symbolic, either – especially if the idea spreads elsewhere.
Indeed, the former Soviet republic is now not only a very Russia-wary member of the European Union and NATO. Along with Poland, Latvia, and other Central European nations, it has also been a loud advocate for tougher collective actions against Moscow and nations seen as backing its war on Ukraine.
While China’s support in that regard has been indirect at most, the prevailing view in Lithuania is the nation – including its drones – nevertheless poses as much a data theft and IT security threat as Russia, Belarus and their tech do.
Were Lithuania’s tightened laws tarring drones and other tech from China with the same brush of mistrust as gear from Russia and Belarus to be replicated by other former East Bloc nations, meanwhile, the potential of those measures being considered elsewhere in the EU would increase – notably in Germany. From there other European capitals might well wonder whether they can still afford to continue loading data collected by their state agencies into China-built tech that even EU partners have started banning as potentially major risks.
In announcing the passage of the amendments, Lithuanian vice minister of National Defense, Margiris Abukevičius appeared to nod to the possibility of other EU allies eventually following Lithuania’s lead.
“The amendment to the law passed today will prevent public sector entities from acquiring technologies produced by manufacturers of China, Russia and Belarus,” he said. “We have put into force the security measures in 5G sector already, and today we are pioneers in the European Union in managing national security risks arising from the integration of unreliable IT, equipment, or services in critical infrastructure by means of such scale.”
The procurement restrictions applies to about 400 agencies in Lithuania using foreign tech for public service and defense deployment, including drones from China. Though Abukevičius urged for previously acquired tech banned under the new law to be mothballed as quickly as possible, a grandfather clause allowing their continued use will run through the end of 2024.
Though he said the list of untrusted nations covered by the law will be lengthened or shortened as the nature of international tensions and threats evolve, he made it clear which countries will qualify as dependable providers of tech.
“Our goal is to make sure that hardware and software is bought only from states whose suppliers are trustworthy, (meaning) members of NATO, European Union, European Free Trade Association, (and the) Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development,” he said.
Photo: Igor Gubaidulin