As employees and visitors walk through the halls of U.S. Army Security Assistance Command buildings – whether at the headquarters in Alabama, satellite offices in Pennsylvania, in Washington D.C., Saudi Arabia, or at Fort Bragg in North Carolina – one distinct slogan stands out at every location: Strength in Cooperation.
“We truly believe in this motto,” Brig. Gen. Garrick Harmon, the USASAC commander, said. “It is about long-term relationship building, capabilities improvement, and interoperability amongst forces.”
For smaller countries, like the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania – staunch U.S. allies and members of the North Atlantic Trade Organization – strength in cooperation helps bolster each nation’s defenses and supports their independence.
All three countries sit precariously at the eastern edge of the Baltic Sea and share hundreds of miles of border with their larger and more aggressive neighbor, Russia.
In the aftermath of Russia’s South Ossetia military invasion of Georgia in 2008, and the Crimean invasion in Ukraine in 2014, the Baltic states amplified their military modernization efforts to increase their capability to defend their borders.
The U.S. government continues to support this modernization effort through critical Department of State and Department of Defense security cooperation and security assistance programs that train, equip and assist the Baltic forces.
One key aspect of the equip portion is the use of foreign military sales, known as FMS.
“The effective use of FMS, along with training and exercises similar in scope to Defender Europe assists NATO allies like Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in meeting their Article 3 (self-defense) commitments,” Brig. Gen. Garrick Harmon, a former foreign affairs officer with extensive experience in Russian studies, said.
When called upon, “FMS also prepares members of the alliance to respond to armed aggression in the event of an Article 5 (assisting in the defense of NATO partners) invocation,” Harmon said.
In the past three years, William Slade, USASAC’s country program manager for the Baltics states, and members of the security assistance enterprise have processed and implemented more than $1 billion in FMS cases to help assure the Baltic states could deter aggressive action by neighboring militaries.
In major FMS announcements released by the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, this includes offensive and defensive capabilities to include Joint Light Tactical Vehicles, UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters, Javelin missiles, and many other operational and tactical equipment items. These equipment items would also enable the Baltic states to gain significant interoperability with U.S. and NATO forces.
Although Slade is the primary U.S. government representative and advocate for the Baltic states’ FMS portfolios, he must monitor and balance the requirements of the U.S. Army against customer requests, as to not impact U.S. operational units.
“One of our requirements when we send out these inquires to industry is that we make sure that we don’t degrade the Army mission or the Army capabilities or readiness,” Slade said. “As an example, the Army, as well as the Marines, use the JLTVs, so we have to plan out the manufacturing and delivery over the course of years. This is one of the reasons we have longer lead times with FMS, so we can properly plan for procurement while still providing our international partners those world-class capabilities.”
Capabilities very much needed as this year marks the 30th anniversary of the independence of the Baltic states.
Building the capability for Baltic states to respond and defend their countries from foreign influence and military action have received significant congressional attention.
When writing the FY 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, Congress specifically mentioned the Russian threat more than 100 times and in a focused effort signed into law the Baltic Security Initiative. The BSI allots almost $169 million in security assistance and military cooperation to the Baltic countries.
“Many of our allies and partners sit on the frontlines of competition and deterrence around the world every day,” Harmon said. “Some, like the Baltic nations, know firsthand from history and experience the threats to peace and stability that we all face. Our alliances and partnerships provide a decisive advantage in competition through assurance and deterrence.”
These enduring partnerships, built over time, enable us to be successful in competition, deter aggression, and prevail in crisis and conflict. Harmon, a former foreign affairs officer who has lived and worked in the Baltics, understands that the requirement to provide security assistance, in the form of FMS, remains a strategic imperative.
“At the end of the day, it’s not just about the dollars spent, but rather about the strategic effects and the impact on U.S., regional and international security,” Harmon said.