The central concern in 2022 for the Joint Baltic American National Committee, Inc. (JBANC) remains Russia’s war against Ukraine – a serious threat to the West. Our support for Ukraine has also prompted increased calls for additional security assistance for the Baltic countries.
Baltic Security Assistance. JBANC’s focus has been the Baltic Defense and Deterrence Act (BDDA), the main defense and economic aid package centering on Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. The BDDA would codify the Baltic Security Initiative (BSI) into law, providing approximately $250 million per fiscal year 2023-2027 to strengthen the Baltics’ reconnaissance, air defense, and domain awareness. An amendment detailing multi-year support was introduced to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) by Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA), co-chairs of the Senate Baltic Freedom Caucus, but was unfortunately not adopted in October into a so-called manager’s package, a vehicle to bunch together noncontroversial amendments in hopes that the Senate adopt them as a bloc by unanimous consent.
A compromise version of the 4408-page NDAA, formally known as the ‘‘James M. Inhofe National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2023’’ was filed on December 6. The U.S. House of Representatives passed the NDAA on December 8 by a 350-80 margin. The Senate will now consider the bill. A vote on an overall spending bill is needed by December 16 to keep the government running. It is not clear yet if that will be a longer-term omnibus spending bill or another short-term continuing resolution, which would delay agreement on any new funding levels until a final bill can be settled.
In the NDAA, the primary section affecting the Baltics countries is found under Title 12, Sec. 1272 – “Sense of Congress on NATO and United States Defense Posture in Europe,” and states:
Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania play a critical role in strategic efforts to continue to deter Russia.
The United States should continue to pursue efforts consistent with the comprehensive, multilateral Baltic Defense Assessment conducted by the Department of Defense. Robust support to accomplish United States strategic objectives, including by providing continued assistance to the Baltic countries through security cooperation, including cooperation referred to as the Baltic Security Initiative pursuant to sections 332 and 333 of title 10, United States Code, should continue to be prioritized in the years to come. Specifically, such assistance should include the continuation of—
(A) enhancements to critical capabilities that will strengthen Baltic security as well as strengthen NATO’s deterrence and defense posture, including integrated air and missile defense, maritime domain awareness, long-range precision fires, and command and control; (B) efforts to enhance interoperability among Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania and with NATO; (C) infrastructure and other host-country support improvements that will enhance United States and allied military mobility across the region; (D) efforts to improve resilience to hybrid and cyber threats in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania; and (E) support for planning and budgeting efforts of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania that are regionally synchronized.
While such support is certainly important for authorizing critical funding to the Baltic countries, it does not lay out specific dollar amounts for doing so, as is maintained in the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative which is authorized for $800 million in the FY23 NDAA. One of the main functions of this assistance to Ukraine is to help procure weapons to help Ukraine fight against the ongoing Russian invasion. To emphasize what’s at stake, Section 1272 of the NDAA begins by stating that “The Russian Federation’s further invasion of Ukraine poses a grave threat to United States security and interests around the globe and to the rules-based international order, including the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).”
The need can’t be any clearer than that. Russia’s aggression is a grave national security threat to the United States and its allies.
While Baltic security funding as part of the NDAA is not drawn out in specific figures, there may be other opportunities for attaining funding before the end of the 117th Congress. One such avenue is through the appropriations process. A good sign was support from the Senate Appropriations Committee, which on July 28 released its recommendation to increase the BSI to $255.5 million in 2023.
Additionally, grants of between $140 million – $150 million for each Baltic country are being provided, which includes funding to help backfill military capabilities. A Foreign Military Financing (FMF) supplemental package received final approval from the U.S. Congress in late September. In addition, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are in the process of purchasing High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) – which has proven so effective in Ukraine – along with anti-ship missiles, Blackhawk helicopters, and other weapons systems as part of foreign military sales agreements.
JBANC Managing Director Karl Altau contributed a report on Baltic security assistance measures, published online by the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) on November 2: https://cepa.org/article/arm-the-baltics-and-keep-malign-neighbors-at-bay/.
Ukraine Legislation. Following Russia’s renewed February invasion, the U.S. Congress has enacted successive supplemental aid packages for Ukraine, one of which included appropriations for Baltic security – an appropriation for the BSI was $180 million, about $10 million more than the initial request prior to Russia’s new invasion of Ukraine.
On November 15, President Biden asked Congress for an additional $38 billion in Ukraine aid. If Congress funds the supplemental request, it would bring the total amount appropriated for Ukraine this year to more than $100 billion. $21.7 billion of the latest package would be for security assistance.
More on Ukraine. The JBANC team participated in Ukrainian advocacy Days in Congress on November 16-17. The event was organized by the Ukrainian National Information Service and the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America. JBANC took part in meetings with Maryland offices, including with senior staff of Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen and Reps. Jamie Raskin and David Trone, whom we had a chance to meet and speak with. The main issues raised included support for supplemental aid packages and designating Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism. JBANC was a co-sponsor of the Ukraine Action Summit in the U.S. Congress from September 18-20 and has also co-signed two letters regarding Ukraine – the latest being a November 25 letter to the leadership of both Senate Foreign Relations and House Foreign Affairs committees, asking that Russia’s genocide of Ukrainians is recognized as such. Twenty other organizations signed the letter, which was organized by Razom.
Baltic Caucus News. Three members joined the House Baltic Caucus (HBC) this year: Reps. August Pfluger (R-TX), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), and Brad Schneider (D-IL). The Caucus currently has 73 members, but it will drop to 63 at the start of 2023 and the 118th Congress. The ten members leaving will be mostly due to retirements: Democrats Ron Kind (WI), David Price (NC), Alan Lowenthal (CA), Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA), Bobby Rush (IL), and Anthony Brown (MD), who was elected to be Maryland’s next Attorney General. Republicans Adam Kinzinger (IL) and Fred Upton (MI) are also retiring. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), lost in a primary, and Steve Chabot (R-OH), was the only member to lose in the general election race in November. The Senate Baltic Freedom Caucus has 14 members. Both members facing re-election – Senators Grassley (IA) and John Boozman (R-AR) – defended their seats. In fact, all 29 Senators seeking re-election this cycle were re-elected, something which hasn’t happened in at least over a century, according to CNN.
In May, JBANC met with HBC co-chairs Reps. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) and Don Bacon (R-NE). We discussed our 2022 Baltic Advocacy Days and exchanged insights on Baltic-related security assistance legislation. Co-chairs Gallego and Bacon introduced the BDDA in the House (H.R.7290). Senate Baltic Freedom Caucus co-chairs Durbin and Grassley introduced the Senate version (S.3950).
Centennial of U.S.-Baltic diplomatic ties. Together with the Baltic American Freedom Foundation (BAFF), JBANC co-sponsored a September 13 congressional reception in the U.S. Capitol to commemorate the U.S.-Baltic centennial and 25th anniversary of the Baltic Caucuses. Senator Richard Durbin and Congressman Don Bacon spoke at the event, along with the ambassadors of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.
JBANC hosted its first Twitter Spaces event on July 21 centering on the importance of the Welles Declaration and the centennial of U.S.-Baltic relations. Over 1200 listeners tuned in. We hope to have another Twitter Spaces event soon!