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Strategic Challenges in the Baltic Sea Region: Russia, Deterrence, and Reassurance

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Strategic Challenges in the Baltic Sea Region: Russia, Deterrence, and Reassurance, edited by Ann-Sofie Dahl. Georgetown University Press, 2018, 181 pp.

Released in the last year, Strategic Challenges in the Baltic Sea Region: Russia, Deterrence, and Reassurance, edited by Ann-Sofie Dahl, offers a recent and multiperspective analysis on the current state of security around the Baltic Sea. This work is one of a few (e.g., Borders in the Baltic Sea Region: Suturing the Ruptures, edited by Andrey Makarychev and Alexandra Yatsyk) to speak on the recent developments in Baltic Sea security since Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014, from increased Baltic air policing to Trumpian foreign policy. Each of the book’s three parts examine Baltic Sea security through a different lens: the West and Russia, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) allies, and NATO’s Nordic partners. Using essays from a dozen expert academics and practitioners, the editor emphasizes the Russian threat to European security and the critical role NATO plays in preventing and responding to Russian aggression. The list of contributors Dahl assembled for this work provides a diversity of thought and experience that gives this book its standout credibility.

“Part I: The West, Russia, and Baltic Sea Security” highlights the Russian threat in the Baltic Sea and the indispensable role the West, specifically the US, plays in response. The contributors to this section are  Robert Lieber, PhD, a professor of government and international affairs at Georgetown University; Gudrun Persson, PhD, an associate professor at the Slavic Department of Stockholm University; Jamie Shea, PhD, the NATO deputy assistant secretary-general for emerging security challenges; and Christopher Coker, PhD, a professor of international relations at the London School of Economics.

“Part II: NATO Allies and Baltic Sea Security” outlines the roles that Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Germany, and Norway play in Baltic Sea security. The perspectives on enhancing the security environment come from authors from several countries: Andres Kasekamp, PhD, a professor at the Munk School of Global Affairs and chair of Estonian studies at the University of Toronto; Mikkel Rasmussen, PhD, a professor of political science at the University of Copenhagen; Justyna Gotkowska, coordinator of the Security and Defence in Northern Europe project at the Warsaw-based Center for Eastern Studies; Claudia Major, PhD, senior associate in the International Security Division at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs—Berlin; Alicia von Voss, coordinator for a research project on northern security issues at the German Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin; and HÃ¥kon Saxi, PhD, a senior fellow with the Norwegian Defence University College and the Norwegian Institute for Defence Studies.

“Part III: NATO’s Nordic Partners” debates whether Sweden and Finland should join NATO or remain partners. The following authors contribute their expertise: Johan Raeder, a defense adviser at the Embassy of Sweden in Washington, DC; Dahl, PhD, an associate professor of international relations and nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council; and Karoliina Honkanen, a ministerial adviser in the Finnish Ministry of Defense.

Three key arguments made in Strategic Challenges in the Baltic Sea Region are the necessity of the US’s commitment to Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, the responsibility of European states for their own security, and increased cooperation (even an alliance) among NATO and their Nordic partners. While some are quicker to make recommendations than others, each contributor walks the reader through their argument by taking a careful look at the strengths and weaknesses of each option on the table. Is NATO relevant today, or is it not? Does positioning more NATO troops in Eastern Europe enhance security by deterring Russian military adventurism, or undermine it by provoking a Russian response?

Dahl’s own chapter on Sweden and Finland represents the depth of analysis found throughout the book. She argues that the biggest advancement NATO’s Nordic partners can make in Baltic security is to join NATO as full members, a hotly debated stance that has become more accepted in both Sweden and Finland since the annexation of Crimea. Dahl begins by describing the relationship between Sweden, Finland, and NATO in the past two decades and continues by furnishing a few reasons for and against the two partners joining NATO. Reasons for include denying Russia the ability to use Swedish or Finnish land and sea for antiaccess/area denial in future conflict, as well as enhancing NATO deterrence measures in the Baltic, such as participation in the NATO Enhanced Forward Presence and the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force. Dahl plainly states the risk involved with poking the Russian bear, which has made threats against Sweden and Finland, even conducting exercises simulating nuclear strikes against their capitals, to bully them away from NATO. Each contributing author provides a satisfying amount of background and debate on his or her topic, and pages of endnotes after each chapter support further research.

While this book provides a clear description of the Baltic security environment with well thought-out recommendations, a revanchist Russia that strives for unpredictability and employs hybrid warfare limits those recommendations’ future relevancy. In arguing for increased responsibility from European states in their own security, Dahl curiously does not caveat the Baltic States’ role to conventional weapons. Given the weight NATO’s nuclear umbrella carries in Russian deterrence, the reader could be led to believe that Dahl’s argument encompasses proliferation of nuclear weapons to NATO allies, a stance that NATO strongly opposes. The product of Strategic Challenges in the Baltic Sea Region is not a list of sure-fire ways to find peace with Russia in Europe, but is instead an analysis of the Baltic situation that would benefit any reader. Written clearly and for a wide audience, Dahl’s work would be of interest to anyone looking to expand his or her knowledge of the new strategic front line between the West and Russia.


2nd Lt Nathaniel J. Lewis, USAF
JBSA-Randolph, Texas

The views expressed in the book review are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense.

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