Defense Secretary Jim Mattis yesterday reassured U.S. allies in the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia of American solidarity with them and of U.S. determination to defend Baltic and other NATO territory against any aggression.

During his visit to Vilnius, Lithuania, Mattis met in the morning with Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite and in the afternoon with Estonian Defense Minister Margus Tsahkna, Latvian Defense Minister Raimonds Bergmanis and Lithuanian Defense Minister Raimundus Karobolis. The secretary held news conferences after each meeting.

“United by our transatlantic bond, I believe that you who have withstood oppression can most keenly savor freedom, never taking it for granted or looking away when it is threatened,” Mattis said during a joint news conference with Grybauskaite.

“Even in the face of a neighbor next door shredding trust,” he added, referring to nearby Russia, “Lithuania has nonetheless contributed to the NATO-led mission far away in Afghanistan and has continued to provide capable trainers” in Iraq for the mission to counter the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

Common Cause

Mattis said he believes that 2014 was a watershed year in Europe, when the Baltic states and the NATO alliance faced dangers from terrorism, aggression, cyberattacks and more.

“Have no doubt we stand with you, united in a common cause,” the secretary said, adding that the U.S. commitment to the security guarantee of NATO’s Article 5 remains ironclad. Article 5 of the Washington Treaty that established NATO says an attack on one ally is considered as an attack on all.

Mattis commended Lithuania for its commitment to raise defense spending above 2 percent of gross domestic product by next year.

“Your recognition of the threat and of our treaty obligation under NATO Article 3, to maintain our individual and collective capacity to resist armed attack, heartens the American people, and you rightly stand as an example for all NATO allies,” the secretary said.

Americans join the United Kingdom, Germany and Canada as NATO framework nations lead diverse allied defensive forces deployed in Eastern Europe to reinforce a deterrent posture and allow diplomats to engage with Russia. The NATO framework nation concept involves nations working multinationally for the joint development of forces and capabilities the alliance needs.

NATO’s purely defensive stance, Mattis said, is designed to assure allied sovereignty by preventing miscalculation and buying time for diplomats to restore mutual respect.

Meeting With Baltic Defense Ministers

Yesterday afternoon, Mattis joined his Baltic defense counterparts in a meeting and reiterated the strong U.S. commitment to defend its Baltic allies.

He also visited Pabrade Training Area, there meeting with the NATO battle group, which he called a stabilizing force in the region. The group consists of allied forces deployed in Lithuania to demonstrate the nations’ solidarity and determination to defend NATO territory against any aggression, Mattis said.

During their meeting, Mattis said, he and the Baltic defense ministers had good talks, as they share an appreciation of the situation and of the road ahead. “And what you see here with the enhanced forward brigade is matched in the several other Baltic nations as well,” he added.

The battle group in Lithuania has a German commander and a strong German contingent, the secretary said, “but allied nations also are part of the battle group, … [and] it shows the way NATO can be interoperable and troops can come together and work together and, if necessary, fight together.”

Mattis is traveling this week to Denmark, Lithuania and the United Kingdom to meet with U.S. partners and reaffirm key military alliances. While in Denmark, Mattis and the Danish defense minister co-hosted a meeting of senior leaders from 15 countries that are key contributors to the fight against ISIS.