NATO is starting Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) 2022, an exercise that includes fourteen member states and two NATO partner countries in Stockholm. The exercise has taken place annually since 1972 and this year’s iteration marks over fifty years of NATO cooperation in the Baltic region.
“In past iterations of BALTOPS we've talked about meeting the challenges of tomorrow,” said Vice Adm. Gene Black, commander of Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO (STRIKFORNATO) and the U.S. Sixth Fleet, in a statement. "Those challenges are upon us - in the here and now. BALTOPS 22 highlights our past investments and shows our collective partnership and capabilities as we recognize the importance of 'freedom of the seas' and the vital role the Baltic plays in European prosperity."
The Baltic Operations exercises are designed to preserve freedom of movement and navigation in the Baltic Ocean area and include “amphibious operations, gunnery, anti-submarine, air defense, mine clearance operations, explosive ordnance disposal, unmanned underwater vehicles, and medical response.”
The U.S. Navy statement added that BALTOPS “also builds on previous iterations by enhancing the incorporation of the space domain through the NATO Space Center.”
U.S. Naval Forces Europe is leading the exercise, alongside the U.S. 6th Fleet, the statement covering the exercise explained. It added that Royal British Navy RAdm. James Morley, the STRIKFORNATO deputy commander, will be in command of the group.
“BALTOPS is a fabulous opportunity for allied and partner nations to train together at sea, in the air and on the ground – improving interoperability and experience working together,” said Rear Admiral Morley. “It also serves to assure those in the region that NATO is ready to defend itself.”
In addition to the BALTOPS, the Swedish Navy marked its 500-year anniversary, a celebration that is particularly important within the context of Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine and Sweden’s recent application to join the NATO alliance. Stockholm’s application decision upends nearly eighty years of Swedish military non-alignment. The impetus for the Swedish decision is Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which continues.
Finland joins Sweden in its aspirations for NATO membership, a decision that is perhaps even more surprising considering the country’s staunch neutrality during the Cold War as a neighbor of the Soviet Union.
“For over 80 years, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-U.S. Naval Forces Africa (NAVEUR-NAVAF) has forged strategic relationships with our allies and partners, leveraging a foundation of shared values to preserve security and stability,” the U.S. Navy explained.
Set against the backdrop of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, BALTOPS has particular importance this year. Combined with the likely approval of Sweden and Finland’s NATO applications, the Baltic region has never looked more secure.
Caleb Larson is a multimedia journalist and defense writer with the National Interest. A graduate of UCLA, he also holds a Master of Public Policy and lives in Berlin. He covers the intersection of conflict, security, and technology, focusing on American foreign policy, European security, and German society for both print and radio. Follow him on Twitter @calebmlarson
Image: Flickr/U.S. Navy.