Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas was in Washington, DC on July 13th and 14th for meetings with Members of Congress to discuss the Baltic Security Initiative and other issues relating to U.S.-Estonia security cooperation. Karin Shuey, Estonian American National Council (EANC) Washington, DC Director, and her colleagues at the Joint Baltic American National Council (JBANC), have been meeting with the same offices to reinforce the Prime Minister’s message from the perspective of Baltic American voters.
The Baltic Security Initiative is a new line of appropriations in the defense budget for U.S. security assistance funding to the Baltic countries. It was first approved last year for fiscal year (FY) 2021 at a level of $169 million. The funding is mainly intended to increase the Baltic nations’ capabilities and interoperability with NATO allies in the areas of air defense; maritime situational awareness; ammunition; Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C4ISR); and Special Forces. Background on last year’s allocation is available at kaitseministeerium.ee/en/news and searching by date for 23 December 2020.
The goal for FY2022 and beyond is to establish a dedicated line in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and/or Defense Appropriations Bill for $200 million per year over five years. This would allow the governments of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania to develop longer term regional capability projects with better predictability regarding the funding they will receive. The level for 2022 is currently set at $150 million, which is short of the goal but still a good baseline. The Pentagon initially only included $105 million in its submission to the White House budget proposal. The House Appropriations Committee increased the level by an additional $45 million, which indicates a success in advocacy efforts put forth by the Baltic American community and other supporters.
On the Senate side of Capitol Hill, Prime Minister Kallas met with Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), who is chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee and its Defense subcommittee. She also met with Senate Baltic Freedom Caucus co-chair Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA). On the House side, she met with House Baltic Caucus co-chairs Representatives Ruben Gallego and (D-AZ) and Don Bacon (R-NE). Both are also members of the House Armed Services Committee. The meetings were positive and all concerned expressed support for Baltic security funding.
In follow-up meetings with these offices, staffers commended EANC and JBANC efforts to facilitate grassroots advocacy by constituents to send the message to Members of Congress that U.S. support of Baltic security is important to the American voters whom they serve. As the budget bills continue through their processes, Estonian Americans are invited to contact their Senators and Representatives, especially if those lawmakers belong to the Senate or House Armed Services or Appropriations Committees. Please let them know that Estonia is a solid contributor to transatlantic security and that continued U.S. support for its military capabilities is vital, and feel free to use any of the background information above. Committee websites with membership lists are linked from www.congress.gov/committees.
Prime Minister Kallas also headlined an event at the Atlantic Council during her visit. She and Representative Ro Khanna (D-CA) discussed secure modernization of global digital infrastructure in an era largely defined by strategic competition with China. Video of the event is available at atlanticcouncil.org under Events and Past Events for July 14th.