Congressman: Permanent US Baltics base being discussed, would be major task
Discussions on a potential permanent United States military base in the Baltic States are underway, but the project would be a large one involving much more than just one unit, Congressman and Chair of the House Armed Services Committee Adam Smith (D) said on Monday.
Estonia's prime minister, Kaja Kallas (Reform), recently appealed for more U.S. military personnel to be deployed in-country, while Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda has reportedly called for the establishment of a permanent U.S. military base in Lithuania.
Smith was in Tallinn briefly Monday and ERR's Tarmo Maiberg was able to catch up with him in a segment for ETV foreign affairs show "Välisilm".
Maiberg asked Smith what hopes Estonia and the other two Baltic States have of seeing a permanent U.S. military base on their soil.
"The [troop] numbers are going up as we speak, and that's part of why I'm here – to get a better idea of how exactly we want to do that," Smith, who was visiting NATO eastern flank countries for the second time in six months, said.
"There's a very firm commitment now from the U.S. and NATO to provide more support, troops and weapons, but how many and where? And how are they based?" he continued.
"One of the big debates that has come across in all of those countries I've been to is that they want permanent U.S. troop bases, like the ones we have in Germany, but you need infrastructure for that. The troops have to have some place to be, families are going to be a part of that. What's the balance between rotational troops and permanent troops, and what are the pros and cons of that, learning about that and how that's going to be coordinated," he went on.
With Russian military personnel staying on in Belarus after the ending of a joint Russian-Belarusian exercise there, Maiberg asked what the implications were for the region.
Smith said: "It makes it a lot more tenuous. There is no question about it. I was just briefed by your intelligence services and your military on the threat, and the big point of emphasis was how quickly Russian troops can get into the Baltics. Certainly now if they have a troop presence in Belarus, that just puts another point on the map where they can quickly violate the security of this region."
Of specifics, Smith said: "I know that one of the big concerns is air defenses – Patriot missile batteries etc. We haven't gotten into that level of detail yet, I know that our defense secretary [Lloyd] Austin is in the region this week as well, and I'm sure they will be having those discussions, but I can't go into that level of specifics."
Smith sits in the U.S. House of Representatives as congressman from the State of Washington 9th district. He formerly sat in the Washington State Senate.
NATO member states as a whole have pledged to shore up the eastern flank and allies in the region, including Estonia, with defense ministers from NATO countries recently instructing military planners to further intensify deterrence, "Välisilm" reported.
At present, there are now around 5,000 U.S. military personnel in Poland, including the existing NATO Enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) Battlegroup there, which is U.S.-led.
U.S. special forces operatives are thought to have been active in Estonia in recent months, and last spring a mass airborne nighttime drop over Järva County involved U.S. and British troops. U.S. Air Force planes such as B-52s and Rockwell B-1s regularly visit Estonia and fly over Estonian airspace.
U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris recently gave her assurance to Baltic leaders that NATO would not leave the member states high and dry. At the Munich Security conference late last week, which Harris attended, she said: "The U.S. remains committed to Article 5 and our position has always been and will continue to be, that Article 5 is ironclad. And the spirit behind it, that an attack on one is an attack on all, remains our perspective."
Article 5 is the NATO alliance's collective defense clause.
The "Välisilm" interview slot (in English and Estonian) is below.
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Editor: Andrew Whyte