Gallery: American military presence in Estonia might continue for decades, US military chief indicates
General Martin Dempsey, the highest-ranking military officer in the United States Armed Forces, who was on a two-day working visit to Estonia, said that both countries benefit from the mutual military co-operation and the American presence in the country might continue for at least a decade.
Dempsey, who has been the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff since 2011, is shortly leaving his post and visit to Estonia was part of his last tour, which also included Germany and Turkey.
Most of Dempsey's visit revolved around evaluating the contribution the United States has made in last year, since Russia violated Ukraine's borders.
“41 years ago I began my military career in the US armed forces in Germany, which at the time was there to protect Europe against the Soviet Union. Right now we have a different threat, which needs our solidarity,” he said.
Speaking about the US troops presence in Estonia, Dempsey indicated that it's not a one-sided affair, but both countries benefit. “More American soldiers gain the understanding of Europe and the region, which in last few decades has been slightly diminished, due to the US being mostly involved in the Middle East conflicts,” he said.
Dempsey, who had a meeting with the US soldiers based in Tapa, also emphasized the importance of military exercises, saying that the training facilities in Estonia are excellent.
The general also appeared to assure that the US military will stay in Estonia for long.
“The US responded quickly and efficiently to the new security environment. Now we have to institutionalize the baseline for the future. For this, we need to understand what went well in our response, where are the gaps, and what can we do as an alliance to close those caps. Our commitment is to analyze what we need to do and then take it back to our capitals and see what resources we have available to commit. But we are talking about decade long commitment here,” he said, adding that the aim is to make alliance's commitment to regional security predictable over time, to avoid negotiation every year.
Dempsey didn't say what are the exact future measures or whether American troop numbers will increase – 150 rotating troops are currently based in Estonia as part of ongoing exercise program – as this depends on ongoing security situation and also on how well their presence can be institutionalized.
“We are going to effectively use the training equipment and troops – sometimes more, sometimes less. We have to take into account that there are commitments elsewhere in the world. As the recent developments show, there is an unpredictability – which benefits us in a way.”
“You can be assured of our support. Our soldiers are here serving and training side-by-side with Estonians, which I very much appreciate. You can count on us. My successor will shortly be behind me and make sure you receive the same message,” Dempsey said.
Dempsey also recalled a personal experience with an Estonian officer in Baghdad during the Iraq War and said that it reminded him the sacrifice the Estonian soldiers have made around the world.