Nir Levitan

The expansion of the North Atlantic flank and its significance

The possible accession of Sweden and Finland joining the northern flank of the NATO alliance, reflects the broad emerging defense against rekindled threats. Specifically, against the growing fear for the Baltic region and its increased military presence. The drums of war in Europe and the danger of a renewed Iron Curtain are accelerating the imminent accord between Sweden and Finland to a military alliance. Such an act reveals that the struggle for the northern flank, which began years ago, resulting in a potential open struggle for the Baltic region.

Article 5 of the NATO Convention reflects the Nordic nations’ appeal to receive official military guarantees which would increase their military buildup and defensive capabilities. It suggested Sweden and Finland have been laboring for years in close coordination with the intelligence services of Denmark and Norway, who are responsible for covering the Baltic region, as part of their Military Alliance Treaty. It may assume that Sweden and Finland provide a significant foundation for naval intelligence coverage on the Russians, particularly in the Gotland Island of Sweden where the government has restored military presence and intelligence coverage. It may even step up these efforts by further deploying submarines as the Swedish Defense Administration (FMV) signed a submarine upgrading contract with local giant company Saab.

These efforts are known to the Russians who are familiar with the nature of the Nordic movements. When Sweden and Finland conducted military exercises in Gotland, Russian jets penetrated Swedish airspace east of the island. The commander of the joint operations of the Swedish army confirmed that control of Gotland effectively grants its owner control over the Baltic Sea. A statement that illustrates the main concern of the Swedes, that the island will form the basis for the takeover of the Baltic states.

The accession of Sweden and Finland could have “consequences” as the Russians warned, although it is unclear to what extent Russia will seek to deter Sweden from officially joining the military alliance.

According to Sweden’s definition of a neutral state and its imminent accession to the NATO alliance does not constitute a strategic change in NATO’s northern flank. In fact, during the Cold War, Sweden allowed NATO aircrafts to pass through its territory. Swedish scholars studying the Cold War have related that as a result of the Amber Nine Arrangement, Sweden has secretly become an integral part of NATO’s infrastructure in northern Europe.

The possible change in traditional policy may increase the maneuvers of the Russians in the airspace of Sweden and Finland similar to what it did within Norway. Recently, Russia has quadrupled jet maneuvers and bombers’ activity off the coast of Norway. Russian planes have also maneuvered over Norwegian intelligence facilities and are likely to operate similarly against Sweden and neighboring Finland, which share a border of more than 1,000 kilometers.

Consequently, apart from the timing of the war in Ukraine, the political tension between Russia and NATO members is expected to be mainly manifested through maneuvers that have already taken place over recent years. NATO has already implemented operational exercises with approximately 50,000 troops, 65 ships, and 250 aircraft from 31 countries spread out over hundreds of kilometers from Norway’s border with Russia and across the Arctic region.

Against this context, the role to be employed by Sweden and Finland is of particular importance in regarding the Baltic Sea, especially in regards to the movement of vessels, submarines, and Russian aircrafts arriving from Kaliningrad. Even more significant, the naval vessels will be arriving from the central port of Murmansk—not far off from the Russian border with Norway and Finland.

The rising level of tension between Russia and the Nordic countries, alongside the widespread deployment of military forces gathering in the area, indicate that the struggle may escalate into visible control of the Baltic region and Western Europe’s readiness to draw the lines of a renewed Iron Curtain.

About the Author
Nir Levitan is a Ph.D. from Bar-Ilan University's Graduate Program in Conflict Resolution, Management and Negotiation. Currently, he is a research fellow at Europa Institute and a research affiliate at Center for Cold War Studies at the University of Southern Denmark