Remarks by the Vice President to Enhanced Forward Presence and Estonian Troops
Estonia Defense Force Headquarters
THE VICE PRESIDENT: President Kaljulaid, President Vējonis, and President Grybauskaitė, General Terras, Colonel Ridland, members of the Armed Forces of the United States of America, members of the armed forces of Estonia, the United Kingdom, and France -- it is my great honor to be here at the Defense Forces Headquarters of the great nation of Estonia.
And to all of you, I bring greetings from the leader of the free world, the President of the United States of America --President Donald Trump.
The President personally sent me here -- to this place, at this time, to thank all of you who have stood up and stepped forward to protect this alliance, to protect our values, and to stand in the gap for our of way of life.
Before me today is the Enhanced Forward Presence, the embodiment of the NATO Alliance -- free peoples from free nations, standing together as brothers and sisters in arms.
The Good Book tells us, “if you owe debts pay debts, if honor, then honor, if respect, then respect.”
And I stand before you today to pay a debt of gratitude, honor, and respect to each one of you on behalf of the President of the United States of America and the American people.
You are the best of us, heroes all.
And you are here, including the Americans among you so far away from home, because the United States and Europe are bound together by history, a time-honored alliance, and the abiding oath of friendship -- and most of all, we are bound together in our devotion to freedom.
Under President Trump, the policy of the United States of America is to place the security and the prosperity of America first. But as the President has made clear, and as my presence here today demonstrates, America First does not mean America alone.
In my meeting earlier today with the leaders of the Baltic States, I gave them the same message that I am here to deliver to each and every one of you: The United States is with you. America stands with the nations and people of the Baltic States -- and we always will.
We stand with our NATO allies in our commitment to your security.
And under President Trump, the United States of America stands in defense of the timeless values that unite America and Europe together in the West -- freedom, democracy, and the rule of law.
As the President expressed in his historic speech in Warsaw, Poland just last month, these values are in his words “the priceless ties that bind us together as nations, as allies, and as a civilization.”
Western civilization is a beautiful mosaic of diverse, free nations and peoples -- each with their own unique and special histories, cultures, languages and traditions -- all of which deserve to be recognized, cherished and protected.
And Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are sterling examples of our civilization’s vitality and commitment to freedom.
Next year marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of freedom in the Baltic States. You’ve clung to that birthright ever since -- even in the face of those who would take it from you.
For the better part of this last century, your nations were locked behind the Iron Curtain. That communist regime personified everything free peoples reject. It sought to eradicate your identity, your traditions, your language, the very essence of who you are -- the cherished ties of family and faith.
But through all the decades of brutal occupation, I’m proud to say the United States of America never accepted the illegitimate claims of the Soviet Union on your three Baltic States. Your perseverance inspired free nations around the world, and it was our honor to stand with you.
It is no coincidence or accident of history that it was right here in Tallinn that some of the very first cracks in the Iron Curtain first appeared.
You had preserved your memory of the past as the foundation of your future -- you kept the flame of freedom alive in your hearts.
It was only 30 years ago that more than 300,000 Estonians began to gather together to sing the songs of your land and your people -- as in the days of Hezekiah, the “singers sang.” And soon your culture and nation were renewed. Shortly thereafter, your brothers and sisters in Latvia and Lithuania joined the chorus of a Singing Revolution.
And in 1989, you joined hands in the Baltic Way -- an unbroken line of unbroken will -- connecting Tallinn, Riga, and Vilnius. So strong were your voices, so firm was your grip that the Soviet Union crumbled before you, and you reclaimed your freedom from the ashes of communism.
And since that day, the people of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, have reached out your hands in friendship to Europe and to the United States -- and today, together, we stand as one.
The United States and Europe are stronger together than we will ever be apart; and so it was, only 13 years ago, that we welcomed the Baltic States into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the most successful mutual-defense alliance in the history of the world.
The Baltic States embody the spirit of our alliance; your commitment to NATO’s common defense inspires us all.
At the Wales Summit in 2014, every NATO member committed to move toward spending a minimum of 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense within a decade.
President Trump has made it clear that every NATO member must in his words “finally contribute their fair share and meet their financial obligations.”
At this moment, I am proud to stand in the heart of one of only five NATO member nations that meets this basic standard. Estonia joins the United States, the United Kingdom, Greece, and Poland in meeting or exceeding their obligation for our common defense. And I’m happy to report that by the end of 2018, Latvia and Lithuania will join these nations in fulfilling their promise -- and President Trump expects all of our NATO allies to follow your lead.
The President and I are grateful for the leadership and the example of the Baltic leaders gathered here. And to Estonia in particular, as your presidency of the Council of the European Union, know that you have the United States’ full support in your call for stronger internal security in Europe, stronger external borders, a more robust partnership between the EU and NATO, and increased European defense spending.
At the heart of our alliance is the solemn promise that an attack on one is an attack on all. But this oath requires action -- and every NATO member must renew their commitment to our common defense -- and they must renew it now.
A strong and united NATO is needed more today than at any point since the collapse of Communism a quarter-century ago. The adversaries we face are more numerous and sophisticated and asymmetrical than ever before.
In this age, once-distant threats have become local threats to nations and communities across the world -- and so all free nations must band together to confront and overcome them.
As we speak, our alliance is taking the fight to radical Islamic terrorism on our terms, on their soil -- and we will not rest and we will not relent until we hunt down and destroy ISIS at its source -- so it can no longer threaten our people, our allies, or our sacred gift of freedom.
The Baltic States are members of the Global Campaign to Defeat ISIS, and the United States and our people are grateful for your action. And all three of your nations are participating in NATO’s Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan, where our citizens have served together and sacrificed for many years.
The people of the United States mourn the Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian citizens who have given their lives in the cause of freedom. They are heroes, and their names will always be enshrined in the hearts of the American people.
But terrorism is not the only adversary we face. Just last week, our alliance and all the world saw the grave and growing threat posed by the missile capabilities of dangerous regimes in North Korea and Iran.
Both regimes conducted provocative launches over a 24-hour span. Their actions have brought them closer to threatening our partners in their regions, our transatlantic alliance, and the American homeland itself.
In these times of widening threats and provocations, we will stand together in defense of our alliance and all we hold dear. We all have a vital role to play -- for all nations in this alliance loom large in the tapestry of freedom. America has no small allies.
Today we stand where East meets West, on a great frontier of freedom. And no threat looms larger in the Baltic States than the specter of aggression from your unpredictable neighbor to the east.
At this very moment, Russia continues to seek to redraw international borders by force, undermine the democracies of sovereign nations, and divide the free nations of Europe one against another.
President Trump has called on Russia to cease its destabilizing activities in Ukraine and elsewhere and to cease its support for hostile regimes like North Korea and Iran.
And under President Trump, the United States will continue to hold Russia accountable for its actions -- and we call on our European allies and friends to do the same.
In a sign of our commitment, very soon, President Trump will sign legislation to strengthen and codify the United States’ sanctions against Russia.
The preference of the United States is a constructive relationship with Russia based on cooperation on common interests. Russia, too, has said that they would like to normalize relations with the United States. Regrettably, last week Russia took the drastic step of limiting the United States' diplomatic presence in their nation.
President Trump has made it clear: America is open to a better relationship with Russia. But the President and our Congress are unified in our message: A better relationship and the lifting of sanctions will require Russia to reverse the actions that caused sanctions to be imposed in the first place.
We hope for better days and better relations with Russia, but as I said earlier today, recent diplomatic actions taken by Moscow will not deter the commitment of the United States to our security, that of our allies, and to freedom-loving nations around the world.
Be assured: The United States rejects any attempt to use force, threats, intimidation, or malign influence in the Baltic States or against any of our treaty allies -- and under President Donald Trump, the United States of America will stand firmly behind our Article 5 pledge of mutual defense -- and the presence of the U.S Armed Forces here today proves it.
As the President said in Poland, we have demonstrated our commitment to the common defense not with mere words, as he said, “but with actions.”
Simply look at the United States’ leadership role in the Enhanced Forward Presence initiative, the one that brings us here today.
The Enhanced Forward Presence is the largest reinforcement of our alliance’s collective defense in a generation.
Here, United Kingdom and French troops stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Estonian forces. To the South, in Latvia and Lithuania, Germany and Canada have taken on leadership roles in additional battlegroups. And the United States proudly leads the combat-ready battlegroup stationed nearby in Poland.
But the United States’ commitment does not rest solely with this initiative. We have deployed a full armored brigade combat team to Central and Eastern Europe through the European Reassurance Initiative.
And American forces throughout the region are conducting visible exercises with our allies and partners, such as BALTOPS and Saber Strike.
Our actions firmly demonstrate our unwavering resolve -- and they enhance our alliance’s ability to stand firmly for freedom and face any scenario.
Under the leadership of President Trump, the United States will make the strongest fighting force in the history of the world even stronger. As the President said only a few days ago, “American might is second to none -- and we’re getting bigger, and better, and stronger every day.” And the world knows it.
The President has already signed the largest increase in military spending in nearly a decade. And we’ve called on Congress to pass one of the largest investments in defense spending since the days of the Cold War.
And so today, the United States calls on all our allies, and all who cherish freedom, to rededicate themselves to strengthening our alliance and our commitment to this cause. We must, all of us, be strong in arms. We must, all of us, be strong in our resolve. But most of all, we must be strong in our conviction that our cause is just and that freedom at the heart of our way of life is worth defending.
In these times of widening challenges, President Trump has powerfully also reminded us that our fight in his words “begins with our minds, our wills, and our souls.”
So let us steel our minds, strengthen our wills, and refresh our souls -- for if we do, as our President Trump promised, “the West will never, ever be broken. Our values will prevail. Our people will thrive, our civilization will triumph.”
This, then, is our cause. It is why NATO exists. It is why Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania have united with Europe. And it’s why the United States stands with you -- today and always.
The United States is now and will always be your greatest ally and your surest friend.
And I have faith -- faith that our alliance will grow stronger and our friendship will deepen because I have faith that we do not walk alone.
In these times of greater challenges, I urge the people of Estonia and the Baltic States, and all who cherish freedom, to have that faith.
For as the Old Book tells us: “Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”
My friends, ours is a shared future -- a future of security, a future of prosperity -- and ours is a shared future of freedom united in this great “community of nations,” together in the West.
And so today I say with confidence: With the courage of the people of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania; with the partnership of all of our allies; with Armed Forces of the United States of America and with our Commander-in-Chief, President Donald Trump; and with firm reliance on Almighty God; I know the future of freedom in these lands and around the world is brighter than ever before -- and we will meet that future together.
Thank you. God bless you. God bless Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia. And God bless the United States of America. (Applause.)