A pair of United States Navy ships, the USS Gravely and USS Gunston Hall, are in Finland, underscoring the United States’ commitment to preserving Baltic regional security and stability alongside regional allies and partners.
“Every Sailor aboard Gravely recognizes the importance and privilege of visiting Finland during these historic times,” said Cmdr. Hunter Washburn, commanding officer of the USS Gravely. “The U.S. continues to work with our Partners and Allies, just as we have done for 70 years, and we look forward to building on these partnerships now and in the future.”
The U.S. Navy statement explained that the two ships had been conducting “extensive operations with Allies and Partners in the Baltic Sea,” and in particular with the Finnish and Swedish navies.
“It has been an absolute pleasure working alongside so many NATO Allies and Partners while we have been in the Baltic Sea,” said Washburn. “Each time we sail with like-minded nations, we strengthen our interoperability and enhance regional stability.”
In addition, the USS Gunston Hall took part in Estonia’s Siil 2022 exercise, known in English as hedgehog. Those drills “exercised battalion-level command and control of amphibious operations to enhance Allied interoperability in the Baltic region with a focus on defensive maneuvers. During Siil, Gunston Hall Sailors and Marines from the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) participated in various training events with the Estonian Defense Force, including ship to shore operations, mass casualty and casualty evacuation drills, and an amphibious assault on Saaremaa Island, Estonia.”
The United States Navy's visit to Baltic waters could not come at a more opportune time. With Ukraine still fighting against the Russian invasion, both Sweden and Finland have decided to apply for membership in the NATO alliance. The historic decision upends nearly eighty years of previous Swedish and Finnish government policy and reflects how Russia’s invasion has radically reshaped the security calculus on the continent.
The U.S. Navy statement explained that the United States is excited about strengthening U.S-Finnish relations and, by proxy, ties with Sweden. Both countries bring significant assets to the NATO alliance, including well-trained, well-armed military forces and, especially in Finland’s case, experience in fighting the Russians.
“I look forward to the prospect of Sweden and Finland joining NATO and I foresee a day when we’re actually increasing our maritime operations in the Baltic Sea,” the Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro stated to the House Appropriations defense subcommittee last month.
Though it seems likely that both Sweden and Finland will join the NATO alliance, it will take a bit of prodding to get all NATO allies onboard and unanimously agree to the two country’s membership. Turkey has objected to Sweden’s membership because of Stockholm’s support of the Kurdish PKK group, which Turkey considers a terrorist organization.
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.