NATO Reassurance and Partnerships in Focus on Visit to the Baltic Sea Region
Brussels, 29 September 2015 – Some 25 parliamentarians from around a dozen NATO member and associate delegations visited Helsinki, Stockholm, and Tallinn from 21 to 25 September. The delegation discussed a broad range of issues, including Baltic security, Finnish and Swedish relations with NATO and with Russia, and cyber security.
The delegation was chaired by Karl A. Lamers (Germany), Chairman of the Sub-Committee on NATO Partnerships (PCNP), and Jan Arild Ellingsen (Norway), Chairman of the Sub-Committee on Energy and Environmental Security.
Senior officials from government and parliament in Helsinki and Stockholm stressed that Finland and Sweden cherish their partnerships with the Alliance. Co-operation with NATO is particularly beneficial for the development of Finland’s and Sweden’s defence capabilities. Both countries have become Enhanced Opportunity Partners at NATO’s 2014 Wales Summit and the two Baltic partner countries are interested in further broadening and deepening their relationship with the Alliance. New security challenges and the volatile strategic environment have led to lively discussions on NATO membership in both countries. In Finland, the government is preparing a study of the costs and benefits of potential membership over the next year. However, in the foreseeable future neither of the two Baltic partner countries is likely to apply for NATO membership and both continue their policy of non-alignment, NATO Parliamentarians were informed.
Government officials in all three states stressed the central role of Russia for regional security. While the situation in Ukraine and Russia’s generally more assertive role has certainly impacted Baltic security, the region remains relatively stable, the delegation learned. However, the number of border violations and air safety incidents induced by Russian military aircraft over the Baltic Sea has markedly risen in the recent past.
Kalev Stoicescu, an Estonian Research Fellow at the International Centre for Defence and Security, argued that Russian actions over the last two years constituted “not just a change of weather, but a change of climate”. Russia had moved from an adversarial to a hostile stance towards NATO. He argued that Russia would not constitute a military threat to the Alliance in the medium term, but pointed out that the military balance was more precarious in the Baltic region.
Finland and Sweden have strongly criticised Russia’s actions in Ukraine and supported the line of the European Union on sanctions, but they also recognise the need to continue the dialogue with Moscow. Nevertheless, officials in Finland and Sweden were also keeping a close eye on the increased presence of Russia military assets in the Arctic region, fearing potential militarization.
The reassurance measures that NATO agreed upon at the 2014 Wales Summit have increased regional security and stability, all interlocutors agreed. in Estonia, the lawmakers took a first-hand look at Allied commitment to collective defence, when visiting Ämari Airbase. The airbase serves the NATO Baltic Air Policing Mission which ensures that the air space of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania is defended. NATO member states provide combat aircraft on rotation to the Baltics, as their air forces do not possess a combat aircraft fleet. The members of the delegation discussed the NATO mission at length with the Estonian commanding officers as well as the German pilots currently providing the combat aircraft at the airbase.
The briefings and exchanges in Finland and Sweden also covered Nordic Defence Cooperation (NORDEFCO). However, while NORDEFCO has recently stepped up its joint activities, particularly in the areas of air and sea surveillance, it does not include a binding commitment to collective defence.
Due to the changing security environment and the emergence of new threats, all three countries have decided to invest more in defence. However, although the trend of declining defence budgets has been reversed, available resources for defence remain limited. Moreover, while Finland and Sweden continue their active engagement for international security, and their contributions to UN-led missions in particular, the continuing financial crisis is limiting their ability to do so.