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Blog by Karl Altau

Defense bill including support for Baltics passes House; awaits final approval

December 17, 2019

On December 11, the United States House of Representatives passed the final conference report on the Defense authorization bill by an overwhelming margin, and it now awaits final Senate action.

 

The NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act for 2020) has key items with respect to the Baltics and deterring Russian aggression. These include an increase in military assistance to the Baltic countries, giving a strong message for commitment to NATO, and greenlighting a measure to sanction companies involved with the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline in the Baltic Sea. These have been central issues raised by the Baltic-American communities through advocacy throughout this year and on the November 8 Baltic Advocacy Day on the Hill.

 

The December 11 House vote of 377-48 moves the bill to the Senate for final adoption as S.1790. This is expected to happen early this week.

 

The bill contains a section addressing the Baltics specifically to help Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania to “deter and resist aggression by Russia.” Part of this would provide for an increase in security assistance from $100 million to $125 million for the Baltic countries, due to an amendment introduced by Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL) in July.

 

Also included in the section are provisions to enable support for various programs, including expansion of joint training exercises between the U.S. military and the militaries of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, including the participation of other NATO allies; and support for U.S. foreign military sales and equipment transfers to the Baltic countries.

 

A “Baltic Defense Assessment” lays out future resource requirements and recommendations in critical areas, including addressing improvements to air defense, air-surveillance, and counter-unmanned aerial system capabilities. These programs are said by sources to possibly pack an additional $50 million to support the Baltics.

 

Another key area in the NDAA is the additional funding of $250 million to counter Kremlin influence and the incessant disinformation operation being perpetrated by Russia.

 

The Joint Baltic American National Committee, Inc. (JBANC) welcomes the vote taken by the U.S. House of Representatives to support a defense bill that includes many of the areas of vital importance to the Baltic countries. We will continue to advocate for adequate funding levels which can help the Baltic countries address the growing need to counter threats posed by the Putin regime, and to further bolster defenses.

 

A closer look at select bullet points from the NDAA summary:

 

• Expresses Congress’ strong support of the U.S. commitment to the NATO alliance;

• Prohibits the use of funds to terminate, suspend, or file notice of withdrawal for the United States from NATO;

• Holds NATO countries accountable for commitments on defense spending and the NATO Readiness initiative by requiring new reports related to ally and partner nation contributions;

• Increases support for security assistance for the Baltic countries and requires an assessment on efforts to assist the Baltic countries to deter and resist aggression from Russia.

 

The FY20 NDAA also renews a series of authorities to deter Russian aggression:

 

• Increases funding for the European Defense Initiative (EDI) needs by providing an additional $734.3 million for military construction, anti-submarine warfare, and other urgent priorities to deter Russia and work with U.S. partners and allies;

• Renews and extends the authorization of $300 million of funding for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, to include lethal defensive items as well as new authorities for coastal defense cruise missiles and anti-ship missiles;

• Prohibits military-to-military cooperation with Russia;

• Prohibits U.S. government recognition of the absorption of Crimea into the Russian Federation;

• Requires an update and expansion of the strategy for countering malign influence activities of Russia, China, and other countries;

• Protects European energy security by imposing sanctions related to Russian energy pipelines Nord Stream 2 and TurkStream.

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