Next year the United States of America will allocate $175 million from its defense budget to support military cooperation and development in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania with an additional focus on air defense.
The majority of the money, $125 million, will be used to develop military cooperation between Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. It will also create, for the first time in history, a separate $50 million budget line to support the development of Baltic air defense.
Estonian Minister of Defense Jüri Luik said strengthening the deterrence and defense posture in the Baltic States, including in the area of airspace and especially in the field of air defense, is important for the whole of NATO and for the United States.
"Our ally clearly confirms its commitment to collective defense on Europe´s eastern flank," Luik said.
Luik said the U.S. support for the transition from air policing to air defense of the Baltic countries, is extremely important.
"The transition from air policing to air defense requires a common decision from all allies, but the U.S. position and practical support are of great importance. We greatly appreciate the U.S. support for the development of our region's defense," Luik added.
In addition, the bill includes a solidarity clause, which confirms the United States' commitment to the Baltic region and assigns the Pentagon to write an analysis of defense assistance.
Air defense is more multi-layered than air policing, consisting of a well-functioning early warning system, surveillance capabilities and anti-aircraft weapon systems, as well as well-qualified personnel capable of conducting anti-air operations that current air policing does not allow.
U.S. President Donald Trump signed U.S. National Defense Authorization Act bill granting aid to the Baltic countries last Friday.
Reinsalu: This decision takes the US and Baltic defense cooperation to a new level
Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu on Monday said "This is great news before Christmas and serves as an indication of the extraordinary cooperation between our nations and countries in the name of freedom and peace."
Reinsalu welcomed the US' 2020 defense budget signed by President Donald Trump and its adopted in the Congress. "This is historically the largest [budget] for the third year in a row and gives NATO, as a whole, a stronger military power. With this budget, the United States will allocate $175 million from the defense budget to the Baltic states next year, and for the first time, a separate budget allocation of $50 million will be set up to support the development of Baltic air defense. This decision will take the US-Baltic defense cooperation to a new level," the minister added.
Reinsalu said Estonia and the US are very close allies and cooperation partners. "The decisions made demonstrate the US' commitment to NATO's eastern flank and, in addition to a significant signal, play an important practical role in further developing our defense capabilities."
Editor: Helen Wright