On 23 September, Deputy Director Martin Hurt gave an overview of the security situation in the Baltic Sea region at the 2nd Regional Consultation of Defence Attaches of the Republic of Poland accredited to the Nordic and Baltic States. The event was organized by the Embassy of the Republic of Poland in Tallinn and included speakers from the Estonian Ministry of Defence and the Defence Forces Headquarters.
Martin Hurt described the security situation in the Baltic Sea region as increasingly tense due to numerous Russian exercises but there are also positive trends. Latvia and Lithuania are both taking significant steps in increasing defence spending. Norway has also announced a limited increase in defence spending and their armed forces seem to be relatively well balanced with some significant modernization programmes on track.
Finland and Sweden are seeing active debate regarding NATO membership and the need to develop national defence capabilities. In Sweden, the NATO debate is underpinned by a broad understanding that the national defence capability is limited after many years of political neglect. In Finland, where a national defence capability to a large extent has been maintained, there seems to be less concern. However, unfortunately no major steps have been taken in Finland or Sweden regarding defence spending or modernisation. In Sweden, the defence budget will decrease slightly down to 1% of GDP in the coming years, while in Finland the political ambition is to compensate for the budget cuts that were made some years ago.
Denmark is still struggling with accepting the change in the security environment. Yes, the Danes participated in the Baltic Air Policing mission by deploying their F-16s to Estonia last spring. At the same time the politicians have not addressed the need to bolster defence capabilities. The army is still primarily focused on participation in international peace operations and this is also reflected in the decisions to modernize the army. In terms of defence expenditure, Denmark is well below even the European average, and the politicians still need to carve a way forward for its defence policy. In stark contrast, Poland is the significant exception in the Baltic Sea region. Poland is not only spending 2% of GDP, but also developing significant defence capabilities that are in proportion with its population of 38 million people.
The key to increased stability in Europe consists of deployments of significant combat units to those NATO member states that border Russia aiming to deter the Kremlin from using military force against them. The forces would need to be deployed as soon as possible for as long as necessary.