Navy Undersecretary Thomas B. Modly has returned from a trip to Europe in which he visited vastly different countries facing different challenges, but with the same feeling about their alliance with the United States.
Norway and Romania are both NATO allies of the United States, but one extends above the Arctic Circle and the other borders the Black Sea. It would be hard to find more disparate nations in the alliance, but both nations are remarkably similar in their appreciation of their alliances with the United States and NATO, Modly said in an interview.
The undersecretary said he wanted to go to places “that are high value with respect to our alliance relationships.” He wanted to visit smaller countries that demonstrate the importance of the alliance, and see first hand what the nations face and what the United States – especially the U.S. Navy – can do with them.
Modly visited U.S. service members in the countries and met with national leaders. He said his visit to Norway was “an eye-opener to me.”
“I knew we were strong allies with the Norwegians, but the depth of the relationship was stunning,” he said. “I came away appreciative of what they do for us in terms of defense cooperation. They are very comfortable and open about working with Americans and mentioned many times that the United States was their most important ally.”
Trident Juncture Exercise
Norway is in a complex area, as it borders Russia in the far north and has to police a coast cut by fjords and island chains. Modly’s visit came in the afterglow of the very successful NATO Trident Juncture exercise. Trident Juncture – the largest NATO exercise in years – demonstrated the will and proficiency of the 29-member alliance. The land portion of the exercise took place in Norway’s villages and towns, and the Norwegians talked to the undersecretary about their pleasure in meeting service members from many nations.
The sea portion of the exercise demonstrated the difficulty in operations in the environment, he said. “Everyone came away from that exercise extremely pleased with how it went and what they learned,” Modly said. “I suspect we will be continuing those types of activities.”
Romania is totally different on a geographic level, but remarkably similar in the appreciation of the U.S. and NATO alliance. Romania emerged from behind the Iron Curtain in 1989.
“Romanians are looking to see that the United States is there and supportive of them,” Modly said. “Right in their back yard, they are dealing with Russian incursions on national sovereignty in Ukraine, and that has been exacerbated in recent weeks because of the recent Kerch incident. They are very concerned about this and want us to stand with them to enforce international standards that govern how ships should operate on the seas.”
Modly spoke with younger Romanians who were studying about the NATO alliance. “I came away from that understanding they are very, very proud of being part of NATO and they are really trying to get their younger population to understand the alliance,” he said.
Missile Facility in Romania
In Romania, Modly visited sailors manning the Aegis-Ashore facility in Deveselu. The ballistic missile defense facility is designed to shield allies from the threat of Iranian missiles. It is fully operational, and when joined by the one under construction in Poland, it will help bring security to the region. He said he came away impressed with the facility and the team running it. “When you go into the Aegis tower, it is sort of like you are on a ship, without the sense of motion,” he said.
Sailors deploy to the facility and get credit for sea duty. The Romanians are investing in facilities for the facility’s crew.
Both countries want more Navy ships to visit, Modly said. “That is the first thing I get asked,” he added. The nations enjoy hosting the sailors, he said, but more importantly, they like the concrete example of U.S. support and engagement that these ships mean.