Baltic, Black Sea security must be a priority as Russia war alters security focus, NATO advised

21 May 2023

NATO must further bolster its defences in the Baltic and Black Sea regions, working hand-in-glove with candidate and partner countries, as it adapts to new security realities in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, parliamentarians from Allied nations warned on Saturday.

In a series of debates in Luxembourg ahead of the Alliance’s July 11-12 Vilnius summit, NATO Parliamentary Assembly committees also analysed energy security and dependency and the need to boost transatlantic economic ties and protect the rules-based trading order.

The Defence and Security Committee’s Sub-Committee on Transatlantic Defence and Security Cooperation weighed the rapid evolution of security challenges in the Baltic region and how new NATO member Finland and Sweden, whose accession is pending, can help shore up Allied defences up to the High North.

A preliminary draft report, prepared by Dutch lawmaker Jeroen van Wijngaarden, warned that a strong, unified approach to adapting the northern maritime region to the changing security environment is vital. Finland’s addition will bolster NATO’s capabilities in the Baltic Sea region significantly, but it will need to work closely with its new Allies as it defines its role within NATO.

Adapting NATO’s approach could mean outfitting existing logistical hubs and command and control linkages as well as examining precisely how the Alliance might want to adapt its forward presence in the Baltic Sea region. One option, the report notes, is for Finland to host a new NATO Force Integration Unit, in addition to revamping existing bases to handle a potential surge in Allied forces, should they be needed to facilitate the rapid deployment of forces to the eastern flank and support regional defence planning, training and exercising.

Top priority for Allies, the report warns, should be to complete Sweden’s accession process. This includes working with Sweden to support Türkiye’s remaining legitimate security concerns and finding ways to integrate Finland’s Nordic neighbour even more deeply into the Alliance as it gets closer to joining.   

NATO’s defences in the Black Sea were the focus in the Sub-Committee on Future Security and Defence Capabilities, where a preliminary draft report prepared by UK legislator Mark Lancaster assessed the need for a focused regional strategy, supported by a robust regional defence plan. 

That strategy should involve significant support for NATO’s most vulnerable partners, including Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova, and ensure that the Alliance can maintain a 365-day presence to deter Russian aggression as well as conduct military missions in the region on short notice. 

Noting that Russia’s threat to Allied security is “acute and significant,” the draft report outlined the importance of more forward-positioned Allied military assets in the region, including modern integrated air and missile defence systems and a wider air, sea and land presence. 

In the Economics and Security Committee, Allies were urged to lower their dependency on Russian energy, even as Europe weans itself off the country’s natural gas. A preliminary draft report by UK lawmaker Harriett Baldwin warns that Moscow continues to generate income through its energy reserves and that this remains a threat to the European security order. 

The draft text underlines the importance of energy adaptation to new realities by reducing consumption, which is not just good environmental policy but can reduce the unwelcome geopolitical leverage of authoritarian energy suppliers. 

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and willingness to use its energy might as leverage, the text said, suggests that energy security is not simply a civilian matter; it is rife with military implications. 

In the Sub-Committee on Transatlantic Economic Relations, the threat of insecurity raised by the retreat from globalisation and the rules-based international order was high on the agenda. A preliminary draft report by Faik Oztrak from Türkiye insisted that upholding the system must be a priority for NATO and member governments. 

The draft text underlined that trade with developing countries is equally vital for security reasons as the commercial exchanges offer the most effective means to generate the resources these countries need to alleviate poverty, advance their own development and remain stable. 

It called for “sustained political and economic leadership and active engagement with industry and civil society” to ensure this can be done and encouraged the use of “creative statesmanship to find ways to tighten these bonds at a moment when malign actors seem dedicated to loosening them.” 

Looking for ways to develop future military capabilities, lawmakers in the Science and Technology Committee discussed the need for NATO to invest in research on novel materials and additive manufacturing which are crucial drivers for defence innovation. 

A preliminary draft report, by Luxembourg legislator Sven Clement, argued that novel materials and additive manufacturing are of strategic importance and that NATO’s Science and Technology Organization (STO) should play a key role in coordinating Allied research in these areas to prevent duplication of efforts. 

Allies were also urged to step up research on robotics and autonomous systems, in a preliminary draft report compiled by German parliamentarian Joe Weingarten. To minimise risks of misuse proliferation and use by hostile non-state actors, Allies should work together and with like-minded partners, such as the EU, to develop international standards and agreements. 

The text emphasised that developing human-machine interaction is essential for the integration of autonomous systems into NATO’s military forces. It encouraged Allies to provide additional resources to the STO to help boost its research activities in this area, notably on human‐machine trust. 

To curb the economic cost of their forces, it said, NATO Allies should complement complex, cutting-edge weapon systems with cheaper autonomous systems which can be produced at mass and speed, particularly in combat.