For Baltics, it's military finance time again

  • 2000-03-23
  • By Peter J. Mladineo
VILNIUS – With the advent of spring comes the laborious process of US financial assistance appropriations for the Baltic states' militaries. This year, as part of the United States' Foreign Military Financing program, the Baltic states could get up to $18.2 million for use by their militaries in 2001.

Lithuania, which has roughly 20,000 members in its regular and volunteer army, usually gets the largest allotment in the Baltics. The requests for the Baltic states are $6.5 million for Lithuania, $5.35 million for Latvia, and $6.35 million for Estonia. Of course, there are large discrepancies between requested and actual amounts. Last year, the U.S. Senate gave each state $4.7 million. Estimates for 2000 came out a bit lower - $4 million for Estonia and Latvia and $4.4 million for Lithuania.

Karl Altau, managing director of the Joint Baltic American National Committee, a lobbying organization for the Baltic States in Washington D.C., reports that these discrepancies are "the nature of the legislative process."

The US government's budget goes through an agonizing number of rounds of scrutiny and debate between the administration, the Senate, the House, and special interest groups. Even after successful votes, the bill may then face presidential veto and additional negotiation.

"While there certainly has been generosity towards the Baltics, there has also been a feeling that the Baltics are successfully integrating and should be weaned or graduated from certain programs," Altau said. For instance, all three Baltic States have already been removed from the Support for East European Democracy program.

"FMF money is used for assistance in the development of Baltic defense forces towards NATO standards," Altau added. "Each of the three countries determines how the money gets spent. Over the past few years, regional and collective initiatives such as BaltBat, Baltron and BaltNet have been highlighted as funding objectives. Development of the Baltic Defense College is a current priority. Funding is also used for support and training related to Excess Defense Articles acquisitions."

One requirement of FMF funding is that the monies be used for non-lethal purchases – such as communications or support equipment. Another source of funding for the Baltics is the International Military Education and Training program, which allows Baltic militaries to send their officers to western military schools.

To raise support for the Baltics, JBANC has sent letters of support to the key decision makers in the U.S. Senate, Senator Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky and chairman of the Senate foreign operations subcommittee, and Patrick Leahy, the Vermont Democrat and ranking minority leader of the subcommittee.

"JBANC, along with other Baltic-American individuals and organizations, promotes the idea of security and stability in not only the Baltics, but in the region and Europe as a whole," Altau said. "International affairs spending is just a drop in the bucket and we certainly don't want to see cuts in spending anywhere, most of all in programs advantageous to the Baltics."

Despite U.S. Congressional "roller coaster rides," Altau assures that FMF funding levels have remained steady since their introduction, and should remain steady - even with imminent U.S. political changes on the horizon come November.

"I don't see any significant changes in these funding programs to the Baltics under either a new president or Congress. If the international situation/status quo were to suddenly and drastically change, emergency spending measures could always come into play, as they did last year during the war in Kosovo," Altau said.

FMF funding came about in the mid-90s as a result of the Warsaw Initiative, a plan developed by President Bill Clinton in 1996.

"It established a single and comprehensive bilateral program that helps to advance closer relations and probably more importantly, interoperability between NATO and Partnership for Peace countries," says James Grybowski, head of the Lithuanian Ministry of Defense's NATO integration division.

In Lithuania, tactical communications and mapping equipment received the bulk of the expenditures from FMF funds, Grybowski added. Lithuania prefers to use that money to start seed programs, which are eventually transferred entirely to Lithuania's coffers.

"Obviously it doesn't replace the overall requirements of money that is placed on the nation but it helps us develop a goal to start something and move it forward," he said.

Jonas Kronkaitis, commander of the Lithuanian Armed Forces, reports that most military assistance from the United States is actually channeled back into the United States.

"We buy radio communications equipment from the United States. That has been the primary thing that we have been buying. It's only right. The United States doesn't just hand out money to spend on your own economy but to us it's a big help. That money was well spent," Kronkaitis said.

Such assistance programs have also landed many Lithuanian officers in Western military schools.

"Generally on any day of the year we have about 130 officers and non-commissioned officers in schools outside of Lithuania," he said.

As for its ability to directly influence the U.S. expenditures, Lithuania leaves that to the lobbyists.

"We don't pay taxes there, so whatever the United States decides is adequate we will accept," said Kronkaitis. "Naturally we will like to get as much as we can - particularly now when our economy is in bad condition."