Defense minister: Estonia highly values US NATO contribution

Minister of Defense Jüri Luik (Isamaa).
Minister of Defense Jüri Luik (Isamaa). Source: Aurelia Minev/ERR

Defense minister Jüri Luik (Isamaa) said on Wednesday the withdrawal of United States troops from Germany is not a positive move and that Estonia values America's contribution to NATO highly.

U.S Minister of Defense Mark Esper confirmed on Wednesday, July 30 the United States is recalling 11,900 soldiers from Germany and, of those, 6,400 will be returning home. The remaining 5,400 will be sent to other countries including Poland and Italy.

Luik said in a statement reducing the U.S's permanent presence in Europe is not a good thing but at least some of the troops are going to be redeployed in eastern Europe.

"Estonia highly appreciates the contribution of the United States and other Allies to the security of the Baltic Sea region. Close cooperation in strengthening NATO's deterrence and defense will continue, and the presence of our allies in the Baltic States and Poland in the form of NATO Battle Groups and Baltic air policing is solid and extremely valuable," he said.

"The U.S. military presence is a cornerstone of European security and transatlantic relations. The U.S. intention to reduce its permanent presence in Europe is not a positive development. At the same time, its military presence has increased since 2014, and multi-billion dollar investments in Europe have been and will continue to be key in deterring Russia."

The statement also noted the large volume of personnel and materiel which will remain and mentioned recent U.S.-NATO actions related to Estonia.

He said: "Even after possible relocations, tens of thousands of members of the US armed forces, high-tech US weapons systems and heavy equipment, pre-deployed equipment and US nuclear weapons will remain in Europe. In addition, as Secretary of Defense Mark Esper pointed out in his statement, the United States intends to rotate more troops to Eastern Europe in the future; including, as Secretary of Defense Esper highlighted, also to Poland and Baltic countries. In any case, the relocation of US troops is a thorough process that takes time to plan and implement and nothing happens overnight."

Recent activities in Estonia include the visit of two MQ-9 Reaper drones hosted temporarily at Ämari air base and the joint BALTOPS naval exercise, all of which went ahead in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, and pointed out U.S. invesments in infrastructure projects and weaponry stockpiles – including the recent Javelin missile procurement.

In late June, Trump announced the attention of almost halving the contingent of U.S. forces at present in Germany to around 25,000, citing concerns over the latter's NATO contributions as the main factor.

The NATO Enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) battlegroups were established after 2016's Warsaw Summit, which followed the Russian Federation's annexation of the Crimea two years earlier and the ongoing insurgency war in eastern Ukraine starting the same year.

The Polish battlegroup is U.S.-led. Estonia's eFP battlegroup is U.K.-led and has included French, Danish and Belgian personnel, on a rotational basis so far.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Roberta Vaino

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