Photo: Portuguese marines (the Fuzileiros) train in Lithuania. Portuguese marines and navy divers have been practicing skills and tactics in Lithuania. The group is in the Baltic country for three months as part of NATO assurance measures which comprise land, sea and air activities in, on and around the eastern part of NATO’s Alliance. Credit: NATO via Flickr.

Strengthening the Baltics: Accelerated Security Assistance

Russia’s war in Ukraine has generated a new sense of urgency in providing security assistance to Europe.

President Biden recently announced $33 billion more asks Congress – which Democrats hope to bring to close $40 billion — to support military, economic and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine, as well as broader security assistance in Europe. This funding supports U.S. and NATO efforts to reset their long-term strength posture to adapt to the new security reality of Europe. After 30 years of disarmament, much remains to be done.

As part of this reset, the United States should dedicate more security aid to the Baltic states — three strategically important allies on the front lines of freedom in Central and Eastern Europe. All are members of the EU and NATO and each spending more than the planned 2% of GDP in defence. They are ardent defenders of democracy, supporting Ukraine and Belarus both politically through rhetoric and practically with the help of security. Yet they lack basic defense abilities of their own. This is where the United States can help.

US programs of security assistance and cooperation are an investment in the shared future of the transatlantic community. They are beneficial for several reasons.

  • Such efforts make the United States safer by allowing allies to do more to defend common interests in Europe. Simply put, the more the United States does now to build Baltic capabilities, the stronger our collective deterrent against future Russian aggression will be. This reduces the possibility that the United States and its allies will be forced into a wider war in Europe.
  • They are a force multiplier for other national contributions. For example, between 2015 and 2020, every US taxpayer dollar allocated to Baltic security assistance was matched by 3.20 Baltic taxpayer dollars. This supported capacities such as the Black Hawk multi-mission helicopters, C4 SRIlarge caliber ammunition, joint light tactical vehicles and aerial surveillance.
  • Security cooperation also improves interoperability. Providing standardized systems (and funding for them) ensures that one ally’s gear plugs into everyone else’s. That way, if the United States has to fight, we can do so effectively and share the burden with allies.

The Baltic countries are currently participating in several security assistance and cooperation programmes, including the Baltic Security Initiative (BSI), which has provided $180 million for 2022 under the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Yet there are several ways to make this assistance more effective.

First, more security assistance resources are needed to provide the Baltic countries with practical, affordable capabilities and fill key gaps.

These include:

  • air and missile defense systems, which are woefully inadequate in the region;
  • artillery and ammunition, which proved essential in Ukraine’s fight against Russia; and
  • Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) tools that improve situational awareness of multi-domain threats and help the alliance build a common threat picture. These capability priorities must be aligned across the United States and the three Baltic States.

Second, funding for security programs in the Baltic countries could be extended to multi-annual timeframes to ensure more predictability and sustainability. Since many security support resources are evaluated and adjusted annually as part of the NDAA, by the time the money is allocated, the time frame to use them each year is reduced to about nine months. This makes it difficult for recipient countries to carry out meaningful projects and hampers longer-term planning.

Building on security assistance efforts already provided to Ukraine, the United States should consider adapting these programs to contain more predictable, multi-year funding. These programs should apply not only to the Baltic States, but also to other vulnerable countries in the region, including Georgia and Moldova. the Baltic Defense and Deterrence Act, introduced in the House and Senate in early 2022 but not yet passed, would prove a useful step in this direction. It would codify the current BSI and create a complementary initiative at the State Department.

Third, security cooperation can be made more effective through technical adjustments. The Ministry of Defense should to prioritize Staff all Defense Attaché Office (DAO) and Office of Defense Cooperation (ODC) positions at each U.S. Embassy in the Baltics with officers of the appropriate rank and training. To help facilitate meaningful security cooperation, it should ensure that these assignments come from the U.S. military service most relevant to that country’s capabilities and U.S. objectives for that host nation.

Fourth, the speed of delivery of security cooperation should be accelerated for major capital equipment (eg artillery, air defense, tanks and aircraft). As evidenced by Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, European allies must have immediate access to tools and resources. which will prepare them to fight potential threats from Russia tomorrow. Often, significant slowdowns in security assistance and cooperation programs occur contractual processes and production deadlines.

The Department of Defense, the defense industry and its allies can solve this problem by:

  • train and develop the professionalism of allied and partner acquisition officers, as well as associated decision-makers;
  • require shorter lead times for contract negotiations; and
  • treat even small acquisition efforts as strategically important to US security.

The entire transatlantic alliance should benefit from greater security assistance to the Baltic states, the frontline countries on NATO’s eastern flank. By supporting the Baltics, the United States can ensure that the region is prepared and ready in the event that Russia attempts further aggression in Europe – regardless of the outcome of the war in Ukraine.

Lt. Gen. (Retired) Ben Hodges (@General_Ben) was Commander USARMY Europe in 2018, having served as LandCOM Commander at NATO. He currently holds the Pershing Chair in Strategic Studies at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA).

Lauren Speranza is Director of Transatlantic Defense and Security at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA). Lauren leads the Center’s work on NATO and Regional Security, as well as its Defense Tech Initiative.

Krista Viksnins is a Program Assistant for the Transatlantic Defense and Security Program at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA). His interests include Baltic security, cyber warfare, rule of law and relations with Congress. Krista earned her Juris Doctorate from St. Thomas University School of Law and her BA in Political Science and Spanish from St. Olaf College. She is also a licensed attorney.

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