July 7, 2023

British Power in Baltic Weather: The UK’s Role in Nordic-Baltic Security and UK-Estonia Defence Cooperation

Ketter Ojakivi / Estonian Defence Forces (via pildid.mil.ee)
British Chinook helicopter during Exercise Winter Camp 2023 in Estonia.
British Chinook helicopter during Exercise Winter Camp 2023 in Estonia.

For many decades, the United Kingdom has been an important player in the Nordic-Baltic region, and today it aims to increase its contribution to security and stability of the region. The UK has long been an attractive partner for countries in the region that seek to maintain strong relations with the geopolitical heavyweight possessing a similar outlook on the security environment, transatlantic relations, utility of military force, and the threat from Russia. Given London’s interest for global engagement and its limited means, ensuring continuous and reliable British involvement in the region is a priority for Nordic-Baltic states.

This report analyses the objectives, priorities, and constraints of the UK’s defence policy in the Nordic-Baltic region at a critical juncture for Euro-Atlantic security, as Russia continues its war of aggression against Ukraine and China grows increasingly assertive in the Indo-Pacific. It provides the political and strategic context of British engagement in the Nordic-Baltic region, with a particular focus on the challenges that British defence strategy and capability plans face as a result of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. It then explores whether other key security players, such as Germany or France, could eventually take a stronger lead in the Nordic-Baltic area and how that would impact the UK’s involvement and leadership.

It discusses the arrangements aimed at enhancing the UK’s military footprint in Estonia — in the framework of NATO’s collective defence and deterrence — that were developed in the run-up to and after NATO’s June 2022 Madrid summit. This analysis is put into the context of expectations from the Baltic states and plans of the Alliance for stronger forward defence in the region that are subject to discussions in July 2023 Vilnius summit and may generate additional demand for the UK’s regional military presence.

The report also explores how minilateral formats, such as the UK-led Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF), fit into the regional security architecture and how London seeks to leverage them to sustain its leadership role. Finally, it highlights some key aspects of the UK-Estonia bilateral defence cooperation and analyses its opportunities, challenges, and prospects.

Download and read: British Power in Baltic Weather (PDF)