Going Global: Baltic Security
Columns / March 21, 2017
Sabre-rattling in northeastern Europe
Tristan Johnston, Coordinating Editor
With the potential of a weaker NATO and an aggressive Russia, Sweden has decided to bring back military conscription, while Polish parliament has voted to construct a canal in the Vistula Lagoon. Even though a future invasion is unlikely, some states believe it’s better to be safe than sorry.
While Russia has seen no improvement in their domestic situation, they remain a valid threat to the region, continuing to engage in information warfare pending French and German elections, as well as possible interference in the United States.
While Sweden is not part of NATO, the left-leaning Social Democrats-Green coalition government has decided to bring back conscription after removing it in 2010, now opening it up to women as well. Swedes born after 1999 will be affected, and up to 4,000 individuals could be called up to serve. Previously, the Swedish military felt that they had adequate reserves, but the current security landscape is changing that.
Sweden also upped their defense budget in December, from $5 billion USD, to $6 billion, though the military suggests 7 to 9 billion.
Though not part of NATO, Sweden is still an EU member state, and thus is also signed on to mutual defense as a part of it.
Across the Baltic, Poland is changing the geography of the Vistula Lagoon. Currently, if Poland wants to move ships out of it’s Elblag sea port and into the Baltic, it must go through the Strait of Baltysk, which is Russian territory by way of their Kaliningrad exclave. In late February, Polish MP’s voted to approve the $215 million construction project, which they expect to be completed by 2022.
Also expected by 2022 is the full expansion of Polish military spending, which is to rise from $34 billion USD to $62 billion. Poland also wants to increase its troop count from 100,000 to 150,000.Notably, Poland is one of the few NATO countries to meet the 2 per cent of GDP recommendation for military spending.
As for Russia, things aren’t going very well. Sanctions and oil prices are putting the country in a tough economic spot. Putin understands that any military operations need to happen fast, as reserve funds are quickly running out. While Putin could go further into reserve funding designated for Russian pensions, this is a last resort for him, especially with 2018 presidential elections coming up.
One move that Putin might consider taking is a trade; in exchange for backing out of Syria, Russia could ask for NATO withdrawal from the Ukraine. Of course, many politicians would dread making such a decision.
Either way, while Sweden and Poland are both upping their military spending, and Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are all worried about Russian threats, is Russia likely to do anything? Russia felt safe in invading Ukraine and Georgia several years ago because neither are involved in mutual security arrangements. The Baltic countries, as well as Sweden and Poland, are unlikely to be threatened by Russia in a tangible way. It’s true that Russia might try to capitalize on perceived notions of ethnic Russians being “persecuted,” but it’s unlikely to work, as Russian Latvians are not separatists.
While some politicians like to paint China as the biggest threat, perhaps accurately so for their activities in the South China Sea, Russia has been actively using military force to attain geopolitical goals, whether by force or by manipulation.