What will the ongoing changes in Baltic Sea regional security mean for the future?

Dr Mart Kuldkepp explores the implications of a new consensus in Baltic Sea regional security.

Finland’s and Sweden’s recent moves to join NATO, and Denmark’s very new decision to give up its opt-out from European security cooperation, have a far-reaching strategic importance both for the defence of the Baltic Sea Region, and the discussions of European security as a whole.

For the first time in their history, all Nordic and Baltic states find themselves in agreement on, firstly, what constitutes the most significant threat to regional and European security (answer: Russian aggression), and, secondly, what is the best way of dealing with this threat (answer: full, rather than limited international cooperation in NATO and EU frameworks). Together with Poland, which is very much on board with the same security assessment, they will now be able to make Russia’s Kaliningrad enclave much less useful as an A2/AD strongpoint, which in turn will eliminate the famous Suwałki Gap as the position where NATO is currently the weakest.

But there are other significant effects as well. The demise of the long-standing security political fragmentation in the region will mean unprecedented prospects for integration of defence capabilities and joint procurement of weapons, which will make security both cheaper and more rational for everyone. At the same time, it will give more international clout to Baltic-Nordic-Polish security interests and allow them to become a more serious counterweight to the defeatism and pro-appeasement sentiment widespread in Western European capitals.

Firstly, all states in the region will be able to benefit from economies of scale when acquiring the necessary matériel in the future – not just in terms of negotiating a better price when buying in bulk, but also through their newfound ability to coordinate prioritisation of investment in regional armaments industries instead of buying off-the-shelf weapons. This will have the effect of benefitting the regional economy, while also providing a new and more ethical market for manufacturers that for many years have faced criticism for selling their goods to unsavoury dictatorships around the world.

Secondly, rationalisation of defence planning in the Baltic Sea Region means that the use of national capabilities can be organised in a way that delivers maximum deterrence without unnecessary duplication and capability gaps that are unavoidable when planning needs to be conducted primarily on the national level. The Baltic Sea Region is a single strategic space, and the defence that makes most strategic sense is therefore pan-regional defence, not every country trying to defend itself on its own.

Thirdly, as a fully integrated regional security community of like-minded allies, the Nordics, the Baltics and Poland will have a much better chance of making their voice heard in all sorts of settings where European security is being discussed. It would be a costly mistake to allow Russia’s aggression against Ukraine to go unpunished, and any further Russian aggressive moves to remain undeterred. Together, they will now be in an even stronger position to make sure that this does not happen.

Dr Mart Kuldkepp is Associate Professor of Scandinavian History and Politics at UCL and Head of the Department of European and International Social and Political Studies (EISPS).

The views expressed in this post are those of the author, and not of the UCL European Institute, nor of UCL.

Photo by Aleksey Malinovski on Unsplash.

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