On 3 April, the presidents of Lithuania, Dalia Grybauskaitė, Latvia, Raimonds Vējonis, and Estonia, Kersti Kaljulaid, met in Washington with U.S. President Donald Trump. The talks were held amid the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the independence of the Baltic states. A declaration signed in Washington confirms U.S. security guarantees for the three countries and sets the direction for further cooperation – writes Kinga Raś, analyst of the Polish Institute of Foreign Affairs (PISM).
What was the format and nature of the summit?
The visit of the three Baltic leaders was an official state visit. The talks between the four presidents were held in a multilateral format, which is becoming a tradition for meetings at the highest level between the Baltic states and the U.S. In 2014, the Baltic heads of state met with then-U.S. President Barack Obama in Tallinn, and in March this year, the foreign ministers of the three countries met with then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Washington.
This model was also used by the American Chamber of Commerce in the accompanying U.S.-Baltic Business Summit. For small countries with limited potential, the multilateral format is both pragmatic and a means to impact relations with key partners.
What is the significance of the visit for the Baltic states?
The main result of the summit is the declaration signed by the parties commemorating the anniversary of the independence of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, and upholding their partnership with the U.S. The document confirms above all American security guarantees. This is particularly important for the Baltic states in the context of Trump’s statements since the beginning of his presidency about a possible reduction of the NATO presence on the Alliance’s Eastern Flank. These countries consistently emphasise the importance of U.S. involvement in the region, which is fundamental to strengthening their security strategies. The declaration also promises to increase U.S. deterrence activity and indicates that energy, the development of new technology, and strengthening interpersonal relationships are important to their future cooperation.
What do the Baltic states strive for in their relations with the U.S.?
Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia would like to strengthen their security by establishing the permanent presence of U.S. troops on their territory, even outside the auspices of NATO. The U.S. did not address this issue in the declaration, although the security guarantees given at the end of the summit constitute success from the point of view of the Baltic states. They also want to deploy an anti-missile system in their region (e.g., a Patriot battery) and to increase maritime defences in the Baltic Sea. The declaration, however, does not specify how air defences will be developed. In addition, it only laconically defines as a priority cooperation in the field of cybersecurity. Meanwhile, Lithuania announced that in cooperation with the Pentagon it will strive to establish a regional cybersecurity centre in Kaunas.
What is the role of the Baltic states in U.S. foreign policy?
U.S. relations with the Baltic States are a model of cooperation, primarily in security. According to the American position, this cooperation confirms the call for more responsibility from other members of the Alliance and proves the effectiveness of the pressure exerted by the U.S. in this area. The U.S. appreciates the involvement of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia in security, including their respective increases in defence spending—in 2018, they plan to spend at least 2% of GDP for this purpose—and their support for NATO reforms. At the same time, further modernisation of their military makes them partners for the U.S. arms industry. Within only the framework of assistance programs (FMF, IMET), the U.S. intends to allocate about $170 million to strengthen the defence potential of the three countries. They also plan to buy more American natural gas (LNG), which confirms the U.S. ambition to increase its presence on the European market.