NewsSweden's NATO accession: Heightening strategic significance of the Baltic Sea

Sweden's NATO accession: Heightening strategic significance of the Baltic Sea

Sweden, which was previously a traditionally neutral country, has been cooperating with NATO for years.
Sweden, which was previously a traditionally neutral country, has been cooperating with NATO for years.
Images source: © Getty Images | Jonas Gratzer (Byline: Jonas Gratzer; Byline Title: Stringer; Credit: Getty Images)
3:56 AM EST, February 27, 2024

With this move, NATO hopes to better control Russia's activities in the Baltic Sea region.

"Looking at the map, the Baltic Sea becomes, geographically, a NATO sea," says Minna Alander from the Finnish Institute of International Affairs.

However, according to her, the Alliance must still tread carefully regarding its security against Russia.

Full integration with NATO

Sweden, traditionally a neutral state, has been collaborating with NATO for several years. Its alliance membership will fully integrate it with NATO's defense plans. The extensive Baltic coastline and strategically important island of Gotland play a crucial role in this.

Russia's significant foothold in the Baltic Sea is the Kaliningrad region, situated between Poland and Lithuania. There are now missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons stationed there. Additionally, Kaliningrad serves as a base for the Russian Baltic Fleet, which has performed large-scale maneuvers in the region multiple times.

Is the Baltic Sea a NATO Sea? "Somewhat exaggerated"

Moscow recently downsized its Baltic fleet to favor the Black Sea Fleet. However, John Deni from the US Army Institute of War Studies notes that the Kremlin continues to invest in submarines and has the capability to make small incursions onto NATO territory, disrupting Alliance supply routes.

Deni cautions that the Russian forces significantly outweigh the NATO allies in terms of firepower and range.

"Even with Sweden taken into account, NATO's naval forces are relatively limited," the scholar states. Therefore, labeling the Baltic Sea as "NATO’s waters" may be a little overstated.

NATO has recently amplified its surveillance in the Baltic Sea region, utilizing Awacs aircraft and drones. "However, maintaining full control over the sea is challenging," says Julian Pawlak from the Bundeswehr University in Hamburg. He mentions instances like the sabotage of the Nord Stream pipelines, which proved that monitoring activities under the water's surface are extremely taxing.

Sweden's NATO accession: A positive development for the Baltic states

For years, the so-called Suwalki Corridor between Poland and Lithuania, adjacent to the Kaliningrad region, has been a cause for concern at NATO headquarters. In a potential war scenario, strategists fear that Russia, along with its ally Belarus, could seize a 40-mile strip of land and cut off the land supply routes of the Baltic states. However, Sweden's joining NATO mitigates this risk, as it boosts the naval defense of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia.

Source: AFP

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