U.S. military chief says NATO would defend Baltics

International Herald Tribune
October 22, 2008

VILNIUS: NATO would abide by its commitment to defend the three Baltic states in case of attack, the top U.S. military officer said Wednesday in the face of regional concerns over a newly assertive Russia.

Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia broke from the Soviet Union in 1991 and joined NATO in 2004. They remain wary of long-time dominant neighbour Russia, particularly after its conflict with Georgia.

“I certainly understand the reactions in places like Ukraine or the Baltics after what had happened in Georgia,” said Navy Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“NATO’s commitment under Article Five for mutual defence is a very real commitment and it is one that NATO, I am confident, would stand up to,” he told a news conference after meeting Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus.

“And in part why I am here is … to reassure your countries, that the U.S. is very committed to those obligations,” added Mullen, who Tuesday visited Latvia.

He said the United States had “made that very clear” to his Russian counterpart, General Nikolai Makarov, head of the Russian general staff, this week during a meeting in Helsinki.

He saw a need for more joint military exercises, both in the NATO framework and bilaterally with the United States.

The United States has just taken over the rotating air police mission over the Baltic states, which have no fighter planes of their own.

(Reporting by Nerijus Adomaitis; Editing by Dominic Evans)