Nations Around Baltic Sea Increasing Defense Spending

Swedish soldiers training, Aug. 25, 2013 (photo: Jorshr)

Swedish soldiers training, Aug. 25, 2013After Russia grabbed a piece of the Black Sea coast from Ukraine and ramped up its marine and air force exercises on and over the Baltic, the other eight countries with a piece of that sea’s shoreline have realized that this backwater isn’t as placid as it was.

“People believed in security mechanisms like the U.N. and EU and so on, but it has been shown that those don’t work—one country has invaded another relatively close to us,” said Hans Hakansson, the National Guard chief on Gotland [Sweden]. “If it can happen in one place it can happen in another.”

Last month Sweden said it would send a permanent force of professional soldiers—initially a company of about 150—to Gotland for the first time in a decade as it refocuses its military on national defense and away from international missions in places like Afghanistan and Mali.

The Swedish plan to deploy even such a modest defensive force on this island near the Baltic Sea’s center is an eye-catching example of a militarization that evokes memories of the Cold War, when the Baltic was part of the front line between the Soviet Union and the West.

While military spending is falling in the U.S., the U.K. and France, the reverse is true in this corner of northeastern Europe.The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, a think tank, said this month that seven out of the nine states around the Baltic Sea are set to increase military spending this year and that the other two are considering it.

Sweden will refit warships previously set for retirement and increase its submarine fleet while Poland is budgeting for new naval vessels, helicopters and coastal defense systems.

The three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which were long under Soviet control and joined NATO in 2004, are leading the push for stronger defenses against Russia and are eager to see the likes of Sweden get a tighter grip on its maritime assets.

The three small states fear becoming isolated from their NATO allies if Russia were to intervene within their borders to protect Russian minorities from discrimination—a move it has threatened to make.