As both chambers of Congress deliberate the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for 2021, the Estonian American National Council (EANC) and Joint Baltic American National Committee (JBANC) have been engaging with House and Senate staff to call attention to bipartisan Baltic Security Initiative amendments confirming U.S. support for Baltic security against Russian threats.
On July 2nd, the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) agreed to S.Amdt.2168 to the NDAA, “To express the Sense of Congress on support for coordinated action to ensure the security of Baltic allies.” The amendment was introduced on June 25th by Senate Baltic Freedom Caucus (SFBC) co-chairs Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Chuck Grassley (I-IA). Following our outreach, five additional SFBC members signed on almost immediately before the amendment was included by unanimous consent. They were Senators Gary Peters (D-MI), Susan Collins (R-ME), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Mike Rounds (R-SD), and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). EANC encourages constituents in those states to make a call or send a note of thanks to those offices for their early support. Senator Durbin’s press release, along with the full text of the amendment, can be found at www.durbin.senate.gov/newsroom under press releases for July 2nd.
The Senate’s amendment to the NDAA confirming support for the security of the Baltic nations. Source: congress.gov
A similar amendment to the House NDAA bill is also in process, to “Confirm U.S. Support of Baltic Allies Against Russian Threats.” It was introduced by Representatives Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) and Don Bacon (R-NE), both members of the House Baltic Caucus. The House Armed Services Committee (HASC) unanimously advanced its bill on July 2nd, which includes several key provisions introduced by Rep. Gallego that address maintaining troop levels in Germany, Europe, and South Korea, support for the Baltic states, and other issues less relevant to transatlantic security. Rep. Gallego’s press release is available at rubengallego.house.gov/media-center under press releases for July 2nd.
Both amendments are receiving solid bipartisan support. EANC and JBANC held numerous phone calls with staff from key offices and committees to discuss the introduction of the amendments and related security assistance legislation. Each organization also sent emails to over fifty Senate offices asking that they consider supporting their chamber’s version. The House version differs slightly from the Senate version and these differences will need to be addressed in conference committee once Congress is back in session on July 21st.
An example of U.S.-Estonia defense cooperation: Estonian and U.S. soldiers conduct live-fire training during a combat exercise near Tapa, Estonia, April 6, 2017. The U.S. soldiers participated to boost the capabilities of the Estonian forces under the NATO-led Operation Atlantic Resolve. Army photo by Jason Johnston. Source: defense.gov
On a related note, the House Appropriations Committee released its draft Defense and State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs (SFOPS) bills for 2021 on July 7th. The Defense bill includes $150 million for the Baltic Security Initiative as described in the amendments mentioned above. The SFOPS bill allocates $11.4 million in foreign military financing to each Baltic nation, an increase from $8 million each last year. Other lines potentially relevant to Estonia include $173 million for the NATO Security Investment Program, which in part “will support responses to the challenges posed by Russian aggression,” and an additional $350 million in Overseas Contingency Operations funds “for military construction projects in countries with ongoing U.S. operations and the European Deterrence Initiative to combat Russian aggression.” Please see the full press releases at appropriations.house.gov/news under press releases for July 5th and July 7th.
EANC encourages its constituents to get in touch with their Senators and Representatives to state the importance of these amendments and funding measures to sustain Baltic security and to ask their support in approving them for the final versions of the bills.
In the meantime, EANC is awaiting further action as both chambers return to work to consolidate and agree to the final version of the NDAA. Discussions with staff indicate confidence that it will include some form of the amendments confirming U.S. commitment to Baltic security against Russian threats. EANC will continue to stay in touch with Congressional staff and keep its readers informed on developments related to Baltic security.