2023 - REPORT - SEA CHANGE: THE RAPID EVOLUTION OF BALTIC SECURITY AFTER RUSSIA’S INVASION OF UKRAINE

Jeroen VAN WIJNGAARDEN (Netherlands) - REPORT

07 October 2023

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine unleashed the most violent and consequential conventional war on the European continent since World War II. The war sent immediate shockwaves that continue to resonate along the Alliance’s eastern flank, from the High North down to the Black and Mediterranean Seas. The impact on Baltic Sea security is ongoing and represents a potentially wholesale transformation of the region’s security order. 

In the run-up to and immediately following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Allies surged maritime, land, and air forces to the Baltic to reinforce NATO’s regional deterrence and defence posture. Less than three months later, Sweden and Finland submitted their letters of application to join NATO together on 18 May 2022. With their bids to join the Alliance, both states abandoned long-standing and relatively entrenched positions of neutrality. Finland’s accession and Sweden’s future accession to NATO will fundamentally impact the security order of the Baltic Sea region. 

Implementing NATO’s new baseline for deterrence and defence is an essential imperative. To get there, Allies agreed to six decisions at the Vilnius Summit. Key among them are three new regional defence plans which establish clear responsibilities for all member states - Allies in the Baltic Sea region will need to invest in force structures adapted to take on these responsibilities. Immediate priorities will be combat-capable ground forces, integrated air and missile-defence systems, long-range firepower, advanced ISR, and logistics. Implementation of the new defence investment pledge agreed upon by member states at the summit will provide much of the resources necessary to fulfil this.

This report reviews the significant changes to Baltic Sea security since the end of the Cold War, focusing on the rapid shift to the region’s security after 2014. These changes are the key drivers for Finland and Sweden’s relative about-face in their foreign security policies. It assesses the impact of the expansion on NATO’s north-eastern flank via the addition of Finland as the 31st NATO Ally, and reviews the immediate contributions Finland will bring, and what Sweden has the potential to bring, to the Alliance, as well as the potential roles each will be able to play in the Alliance post-accession. It concludes with a set of recommendations for NATO member state parliaments and governments to consider as they negotiate another challenging and rapidly changing year in Euro-Atlantic security. Key among them are continued support for Sweden’s membership bid and an increased Allied forward presence across the region, anchored by improved ISR assets, long-range strike capabilities, improved air defence systems, as well as coastal defences.   
 


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