HELSINKI — The NATO-aligned Baltic states are to pursue greater collaboration on the joint purchase of offensive weapons systems.
Baltic governments, motivated by unease over a more unpredictable Kremlin, also want the U.S. to house the Patriot air-and-missile defense system in the region to defend against potential future threats by Russia.
Baltic leaders have so far failed to persuade NATO to scale up capabilities in the region beyond defensive weapons systems. Baltic leaders are eager to secure such a commitment from NATO as part of ongoing plans to both increase their military budgets and strengthen their collective defense structures and capabilities, including the development of a common air defense.
Atis Pabriks, a member of the European Parliament and former Latvian defense minister, wants NATO and the United States to beef up their commitment to the defense of Baltic airspace by deploying missiles such as the Patriot system in the region.
"It is obvious that the three NATO battalions that are deployed in the three Baltic states, even taken together with the armed forces of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, would not be strong enough to combat a major Russian military offensive," Pabriks said.
According to Pabriks, the present formation of NATO forces deployed to defend the borders of the three Baltic states would constitute little more than a "delaying mechanism" in the event of a full-on attack by Russia.
Citing Russia's so-called destabilizing military movements in the region, Baltic leaders raised the deployment of the Patriot system during a visit by U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis in mid-May.
Mattis told Baltic political leaders and military chiefs that the U.S favors a strategy of non-provocation with Russia. Under this policy, the U.S. can be expected to continue to restrict deployments of defensive systems to only the Eastern European region.
For their own part, the Baltic states are negotiating the development of a joint mid-range air-defense system. At present, the three Baltic countries rely on short-range anti-aircraft defense systems.
While these Baltic interstate talks continue, Lithuania has contracted Nordic defense group Kongsberg to deliver two Norwegian Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems at a cost of $110 million. Kongsberg is due to deliver the NASAM units to Lithuania in 2020.
The NASAMS system package purchased by Lithuania comprises 12 launcher vehicles carrying six missiles, eight radar vehicles, one fire-control center and one tactical control vehicle.
With an eye to further deepening defense cooperation, Latvia has signed a mutual agreement on military procurement with the U.S.
"The agreement will provide opportunities for companies of each nation to participate in the other's public procurement procedures," Latvian Defence Minister Raimonds Bergmanis said.
The joint procurement deal will, according to Bergmanis, also enable Latvian and American companies to partner and participate in international procurement competitions.