The importance of Baltic navies ensuring Baltic Sea security

By Adm. James G. Foggo III
Atlantic Council

Throughout history the Baltic Sea has been home to great naval fleets. Naval strength is vital to achieving maritime security, which is an essential component for regional stability and a thriving economy. Indeed, the Baltic Sea remains a critical artery of commerce, with up to 15 percent of the world’s cargo traffic transiting the region. The dynamic security environment in the Baltic Sea demands cooperation to ensure freedom of movement, and consequently economic prosperity. This requires commitment from regional partners and allies because, as Lithuanian Defense Minister Raimundas Karoblis observed, “For many reasons—geographic, historic, social—the Baltic region is bound to remain the most vulnerable part of the alliance.” The US Navy is deeply committed to the Baltic region, and continues to work alongside allies and partners to deter potential adversaries and provide collective defense. For this reason, I invited the top military leaders from Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania to my headquarters in Naples, Italy. During the two days with the Baltic chiefs of defense, we will discuss regional challenges and opportunities. As a NATO and US military commander, I deeply value the contributions of the countries’ navies, particularly the geographic expertise every one of our Allies brings. Together, we create a maritime force greater than the sum of the individual navies. This holds particularly true in the Baltic Sea.

Every Baltic country has something powerful to contribute, and when they do, our unified strength is simply unmatched. We recently demonstrated this during BALTOPS 2019—the 47th iteration of the region’s largest maritime exercise. Beyond maintaining the sea lanes open for all, a strong naval presence is the only concrete way to deter aggression and monitor unknown intentions, including Russia’s robust Anti-Access Area Denial (A2AD) network, and the deployment of Iskander ballistic missile batteries to the Kaliningrad enclave. Over the past decade, Russia has displayed a general disregard for sovereign neighbors’ territory and maritime international laws. They invaded Georgia, illegally annexed Crimea, and all but claimed the Sea of Azov as their own—stopping and detaining cargo ships and mariners at will. For these reasons, a capable naval presence in the Baltic Sea is critical. A strong alliance of navies will enable us all to maintain the most basic human rights: freedom and safety. We must remain dynamic in our capabilities while also prioritizing our resources to maintain and expand naval capabilities that remain far ahead of those who seek to disrupt stability. Continued investment in our collective naval capabilities will allow us to ensure regional security and prosperity well into the future.
Kaliningrad presents special problems to security in the Baltic region.