Jüri Luik: Even after the relocations of US forces in Europe, they will remain committed to our defence

While the US intention to reduce its permanent presence in Europe is not a positive development, the US presence in the continent has increased since 2014 and the US will remain committed to the defence of Eastern Europe in the future, the Estonian minister of defence, Jüri Luik, said in a statement on 29 July.

Estonia highly appreciates the contribution of the United States and other allies to the security of the Baltic Sea region. Close co-operation to strengthen NATO’s deterrence and defence 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.

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

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 the US 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 he 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.

The US continues to support the building of Estonia’s defence infrastructure

The US presence in our region has been significant in recent months alone, despite COVID-19. US strategic bombers have been conducting joint exercises in Estonia´s airspace, and at the beginning of June, a US-led naval exercise BALTOPS took place in the Baltic Sea. This summer, the US Air Force MQ-9 Reaper were also hosted at the Ämari Air Base.

The United States also continues to support the building of Estonia’s defence infrastructure and capability elements. We have invested US security assistance in the implementation of various infrastructure projects (eg the modernisation of the Ämari Air Base), capacity building and replenishment of ammunition stocks. Another batch of Javelin missiles recently arrived in Estonia as part of US security assistance.

What is important is the US plan is also to bring US forces and NATO forces closer together, which means closer integration of American forces in Europe with NATO.

Estonia is doing its utmost to further strengthen allied relations and will continue defence consultations on exercises and military presence with the United States in Tallinn, Washington and Brussels.

Cover: Secretary of the Army, Ryan D. McCarthy, hosts an office call with the Estonian minister of defence, Jüri Luik, in the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., 11 February 2020. US Army photo by Sgt. James Harvey.

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