Importance of Baltic navies ensuring Baltic Sea security

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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 stability in a region 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.

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 stability in a region 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.

As such, we are in a dynamic security environment that demands cooperation to ensure freedom of movement – and economic prosperity – continues in the Baltic Sea. This requires commitment from regional partners and Allies as Lithuanian Defence 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 we continue to work alongside our Allies and partners to ensure the ability to deter and provide collective defence. For this reason, I invited the top military leaders from Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania to my headquarters in Naples, Italy, to discuss important security matters facing the region and Europe.

During the two days with the Baltic chiefs of defence, we will discuss regional challenges and opportunities. As a NATO and US military commander, I deeply value the contributions of navies, particularly the niche capabilities that so many of our Allies can bring to the fight. Together, we create a maritime force greater than the sum of the individual navies. This particularly holds 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. BALTOPS provides a terrific opportunity for Allies and partners to improve interoperability and warfighting skills while learning from each other. In this year’s highly successful exercise, we brought together 50 ships, 36 aircraft, two submarines, and 8,600 service members from 18 Allies and partner nations.

I’m proud of what we accomplished together in BALTOPS, demonstrating our combined and enduring willingness to work towards our common goals of regional security and stability. Yet we must continue to challenge our naval forces to further develop our mutual capabilities and interoperability in the unique and challenging Baltic environment. As I will discuss with the chiefs of defence, maintaining Baltic maritime security will not be easy. I know the nations of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are up for the challenge.

Estonia’s continued participation in BALTOPS and recent modernization of its Sandown-class minehunters, as well as its commitment to transfer their expertise to our partners through cross training, is mutually beneficial to our combined maritime forces.

Latvia, who recently celebrated its navy’s centennial, had its mine countermeasures (MCM) ship Virsaitis participate in BALTOPS, serving as the command and control vessel for a multinational MCM task unit. Latvia also hosted an important amphibious landing, where the Spanish Navy’s ESPS Juan Carlos I landed forces on its shores.

Lithuania debuted a new range where a Hellfire missile was test launched – a first at BALTOPS. Lithuania also provided an MCM ship and a patrol craft as part of the Baltic Naval Squadron or BALTRON.

We must commit and invest in a robust and capable naval presence to maintain regional stability. Not doing so could be far more costly. Equitable and proportional contributions to maintain a unified naval presence strengthens trust. Nowhere is this need more relevant than in the Baltic Sea.

The region has long witnessed innovative warfighting – the first modern-era mines were laid in the Baltic Sea in the mid-nineteenth century. This pioneering defenceimpacted the balance of power between opposing fleets and was again implemented during World War I, along with the rise of submarine warfare.

World War II again witnessed new mining techniques and brought air power into the Baltic Sea, continuing the trend of the region employing innovative technologies in new warfighting domains. The Baltic nations are well suited to develop niche skills to confront potential maritime security issues which threaten regional stability and economic prosperity.

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 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 have 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.

I applaud the wonderful citizens of the Baltic nations for your desire to live free and your efforts to create a safe and secure environment. You have fought for your freedom and for the right to chart your own destiny.

As a military commander who has had the opportunity to visit the Baltic region on numerous occasions, I recognize your commitment to regional security and thank you for your continued participation in BALTOPS, as well as your navies’ contributions toward a stable maritime environment. Your countries make important contributions to the NATO Alliance and we must continue to work together to preserve freedom of the seas.

A strong alliance of navies will enable us 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.

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