NATO has extended the mission to protect the airspace of the three Baltic members (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) until 2018, Associated Press reported on 8 February.
While the allies have agreed to extend the fighter jet patrols, they also are committed to finding a sustainable solution to policing the airspace of the Baltic states, an anonymous official said.
None of the three states, which joined NATO in 2004, have had fighter planes since they seceded from the Soviet Union in 1991. As a result, other allies have taken turns policing their airspace.
Normally, up to four jets are deployed on four-month rotations, along with 50-100 ground crew. Since 2014, the air forces of Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Turkey, the UK and the United States, have participated in the missions.
The patrols are carried out from an air base in Lithuania.
In 2010, NATO extended the air policing mission until the end of 2014. But Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia wanted the mission to last at least until 2018 and for air policing to get the status of a permanent NATO mission.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen welcomed the extension, saying that it sets an example for other collaborative projects within the alliance "as we reconcile our security requirements with budgetary realities". “This is the spirit of Smart Defence, which I expect to become a guiding principle for NATO at our Chicago Summit in May”, he added.
NATO wants its 28 members to increasingly pool their military resources, as defence spending across the Alliance is reduced due to the austerity measures implemented by governments to cope with the ongoing economic crisis.
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