Cover: A Brief Naval Overview of the Baltic Sea Region

A Brief Naval Overview of the Baltic Sea Region

Published Jun 13, 2024

by Scott Savitz, Isabelle Winston

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The strategic environment in the Baltic Sea region has undergone two key changes since 2022: (1) intensified North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)–Russia tensions due to Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine and (2) Finland's and Sweden's accessions to NATO. The region represents one of the largest interfaces between NATO and Russia, and essential civilian commerce and undersea infrastructure in the area are vulnerable to attack by Russia.

In this paper, the authors provide a brief overview of some key aspects of Baltic Sea naval affairs. They evaluate the physical environment of the Baltic Sea, the balance of naval forces within it, and the potential dynamics of the region in the event of conflict. The authors conclude that Russia could achieve some degree of sea denial with respect to the Baltic Sea and other Baltic nations, constraining these nations' ability to use the sea for military and essential commercial purposes.

This contradicts claims by some commentators that the Baltic Sea is "Lake NATO" because almost the entire coastline now belongs to NATO members and because Russia's military forces are being damaged by the ongoing war in Ukraine. Rather, Russia poses considerable threats to the Baltic Sea region, and NATO must avoid complacency and continue efforts to improve its capabilities in the region.

This key finding and subsequent observations should be useful for military commanders and national policymakers as they aim to deter and, if necessary, counter Russian aggression in the Baltic Sea.

This work was sponsored was prepared for the Office of the Secretary of Defense conducted within the Navy and Marine Forces Program of the RAND National Security Research Division (NSRD).

This commentary is part of the RAND expert insight series. RAND Expert Insights present perspectives on timely policy issues. All RAND Expert Insights undergo peer review to ensure high standards for quality and objectivity.

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