U.S. Military Leader Stresses NATO Defense for Baltics

The New York Times
October 23, 2008

VILNIUS, Lithuania — The United States and NATO are updating plans for defending allies neighboring Russia and will consider increasing the number of military exercises with the Baltic states, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said here Wednesday on the second and final day of a visit to the region.

The chairman, Adm. Mike Mullen, said the move was in response to Russia’s brief war in August with Georgia, its first post-Soviet military action beyond Russian borders, which sent “a real chill” across NATO and was particularly alarming to those member states closest to Russian territory.

He said it also reflected a desire to incorporate lessons learned from coalition military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan into NATO planning. “Warfare is changing,” Admiral Mullen said. “And it is important that we update all our planning based on what our capabilities are.”

The effort to update contingency plans, he said, should not be viewed as provocative but is part of the alliance’s determination “to do everything we can to prevent and deter” attack by any potential aggressor.
The three Baltic republics — Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — were incorporated by force into the Soviet Union after World War II, but became NATO members in 2004.

Admiral Mullen’s visit to the region began with a secretly arranged session just outside of Helsinki, Finland on Tuesday with Gen. Nikolai Makarov, chief of the Russian General Staff.

During their meeting, their first face-to-face encounter, they discussed a range of security issues, airing agreements and disagreements, Admiral Mullen said. They concluded the session acknowledging the need to make sure their top-level dialogue continued despite bilateral tensions.

Lt. Gen. Valdas Tutkus, the Lithuanian chief of defense, said one of his nation’s primary reasons for joining NATO was the commitment to collective defense laid out in Article V of the alliance’s charter. At a news conference, General Tutkus urged NATO to examine whether it should organize more military exercises with Baltic allies, an idea endorsed by Admiral Mullen.

In addition to “prudent planning,” the alliance “must exercise that capability,” Admiral Mullen said.

Admiral Mullen flew here on Wednesday morning from Riga, the capital of Latvia, where he also sought to reassure a tiny ally that all of NATO stands fully committed to the pledge of defending any member that comes under attack.

“One of the reasons that I am here on this visit is to send a very visible message of reassurance,” Admiral Mullen said. “I think it is an imperative for all of us in NATO to stay unified on this issue.”