France and allies reinforce protection measures in the Baltic space
The Baltic space, a security challenge for France and Europe
A partly closed sea, joining the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean after a series of straits, the Baltic Sea accounts for one-third of the European Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and is home to nearly 200,000 French nationals. Marked by major security challenges, it has seen, over the last decade or so, the revival of tensions forgotten since the end of the Cold War that led to a deterioration of the regional stability.
Brought about by Moscow’s posture, the remilitarization of the region has spread to all the countries bordering the Baltic Sea. Russia has developed a policy of power assertion and strategic intimidation made of military deployments, threats to use force and use of force on different theaters (Georgia, Ukraine, Syria), as well as international law violations, especially with the annexation of Crimea. Since 2011, it has modernized its armed forces in the Kaliningrad and Leningrad oblasts and adopted a posture of ‘aggressive sanctuarisation’ by deploying a large number of anti-access / area denial (A2/AD) capabilities. Along its Western border, Russia has set up a ‘strategic belt’ from the Arctic to the Middle East. In an unprecedented manner since the Cold War, Russia conducts exercises and operations on different theaters at the same time (Baltic Sea, Caspian Sea, Black Sea, Levant). Its maritime presence and airstrike campaign in Syria are both symbols of it.
In reaction, the Allies, including France, have reinforced their protection measures in the East on behalf of their Eastern Allies. From the 2014 Wales Summit, assurance measures were taken. They were reinforced after the Warsaw Summit in 2016, notably through the setting-up of the enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) in Poland and the Baltic states.
Most of the countries in the area also increased defense spending to meet the target of spending 2 % of GDP on defense by 2024. The Baltic states and Poland already devote this share of their budget to defense.
- Share of the GDP devoted to defense in the Baltic space
- Main multilateral organisations in the Baltic space
Several countries in the region have pursued the modernization of their militaries by procuring new equipment. Some reactivated conscription (Lithuania), reinforced their reserves (Finland and Baltic states), or partly remilitarized their territory (Gotland, Finnmark), while strengthening their defense partnerships on a bilateral basis or within different regional cooperation groups (Nordic Defense Cooperation, Nordic Baltic 8 or Northern Group).
Despite their long-term military build-up, these countries cannot face alone the security challenges posed to the Baltic space, and call therefore upon the solidarity of their allies and partners.
Increase in France’s strategic and operational partnerships
As a reaction to the deteriorating strategic context since 2014, France has increased its presence in the region.
It maintains a regular dialogue with its Baltic and Nordic partners, and develops cooperation bilaterally. Each year, it holds, with Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania, the French-Baltic security seminar, a forum of discussion between parliamentarians, decision-makers from Ministries of Defence and Ministries of Foreign Affairs, as well as academic experts.
Since 2015, France has also signed intergovernmental agreements with the three Baltic states and Denmark, four letters of intent with Poland, as well as a framework paper with Finland. These agreements aim at increasing our strategic exchanges and fostering interoperability between our armed forces. In doing so, France confirms that it shares the security interests of its partners and is willing to remain involved in the region.
At multilateral level, France also works together with some of its partners in the region (Denmark, Estonia, Finland and Germany) to develop a common strategic culture within the European Intervention Initiative (EI2), which was officially launched in June 2018.
Within NATO, France has taken part in the eFP, since its inception in 2017, according to the decision taken at the Warsaw Summit to rein- force the Alliance’s deterrence and defense posture. France deployed a contingent to Estonia in 2017, then to Lithuania in 2018. It will be once again deployed to Estonia in 2019. In 2015, French land forces had already deployed fifteen Leclerc Main battle Tanks to Poland in the framework of the Puma exercise.
Since 2014, France has actively contributed to NATO assurance measures in Northern Europe by deploying the three components of its armed forces.
France was the first country to act by deploying, from 2014, four Rafale to Poland, then by participating each month to air surveillance missions over Romania and Poland with a E-3F «Sentry» aircraft (AWACS).
France’s involvement is not new. It has constantly taken part in NATO Air Policing missions over Estonia, Lithuania and Poland. France is the second largest contributor to Air Policing missions with seven deployments since 2007. From April to September 2018, it deployed four Mirage 2000-5 fighter aircrafts to Estonia for monitoring, control and identification missions in the framework of the enhanced Air Policing mission.
- French commitment in the Baltic space
France also ensures a regular presence in the Baltic Sea by deploying annual maritime surveillance patrols. In 2018, it took command of the NATO Maritime Component, which enables the projection of a command platform within five days. Last but not least, it participates in about ten military exercises each year in Northern Europe with air, land, and maritime assets.
To sum up, 4,000 French soldiers from all armed forces are mobilized each year since 2014 to carry out about twenty activities on the Eastern flank, principally in this area, for an annual cost of 40 to 50 million euros. This momentum will be maintained in 2019.
All Europeans, all committed
France shares numerous strategic interests with its Baltic partners. This leads to common deployments, mainly to Africa and the Middle East, as the major security challenges on the Southern flank, namely the fight against terrorism and the management of migratory flows, affect Europe as a whole. All the states bordering the Baltic Sea are engaged either in the Levant, or in Africa. In the Sahel region, they take part in the fight against terrorism and the stabilization of the region, alongside France, in the framework of MINUSMA (UN mission in Mali) and EUTM Mali (EU Training Mission). Estonia is also participating in the French operation Barkhane with 50 deployed soldiers since summer 2018.
In Lebanon, Finland has replaced a French company of the UNIFIL Force Commander’s Reserve (UN mission) with 300 soldiers following France’s invocation of article 42.7 Treaty of the European Union in 2015.
In order to fight against migrant trafficking in the Mediterranean Sea, all our partners in the region that are also EU members, with the exception of Denmark because of its opt-out from the CSDP, participate in operation Sophia.
Beyond such commitments, France’s interests must be assessed in the light of the increasingly intertwined nature of the European nations’ interests. Converging threats against Europe, including terrorism that has affected most of the territories of the Baltic space (Denmark, Finland, Germany, Norway and Sweden), and the in- depth dialogue between Europeans concerning strategic priorities, are gradually shaping a growing number of fundamentally shared interests (2017 French Defense and National Security Strategic Review).
- European Baltic Sea States’ contribution to external in 2018