THE WATCH STAFF
The United States military is considering plans to bolster its involvement in military exercises with Finland and Sweden as NATO weighs the nations’ applications to join the alliance.
Arriving in Helsinki on June 3 to meet with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and top military commanders, Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the Nordic countries bring “significant military capacity to NATO.”
“We, the military, have a variety of plans with NATO … to conduct exercises in all the domains ― air, sea, land, et cetera. So, we’ll do that,” Milley told Defense News June 3, adding that any final decisions by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and others are “still under consideration from a policy perspective.”
“We are developing plans in order to not only sustain the exercise programs we’ve been doing but to modestly increase those,” he said.
Milley, before arriving in the Finnish capital, said the talks would focus on how to support the NATO applications and what operations, activities and exercises the U.S. would engage in to “improve our readiness and interoperability.”
Over the past six months, Finland has expanded its participation in military drills with European partners, adding eight new exercises and changing 12 others, said security and defense policy expert Charly Salonius-Pasternak of the Finnish Institute of International Affairs.
All NATO members must approve the nations’ bids to join the organization, which were spurred by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Turkey, however, has said it opposes the applications unless certain preconditions are met. Turkish leaders say they remain concerned about Finland and Sweden’s alleged support of Kurdish militants.
Following the talks, Milley visited Sweden as part of the annual Baltic operations (BALTOPS) air and naval exercise. Fourteen NATO allies, plus Sweden and Finland, participated in the exercise, deploying 45 ships, more than 75 aircraft and about 7,000 personnel, according to the alliance.
Milley’s visits to Finland and Sweden came ahead of a NATO summit in late June. They were intended to demonstrate support for allies after Russia’s invasion and to enable the U.S. to help coordinate military aid to Ukraine ahead of a third meeting of donor nations set for June 15. (Pictured: Supreme Commander of the Swedish Armed Forces, Gen. Micael Byden, left, Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson stand aboard the U.S. Navy’s amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge in Stockholm, Sweden.)
Earlier, Swedish Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist said that his country’s bid to join the alliance would spur greater stability around the Baltic Sea.
“If we take more responsibility for the Baltic Sea together, maybe we can create a situation where we will not have so much military competition,” Hultqvist told Defense News.