Why America Should Deploy the U.S. Navy to the Baltics
Great power competition has created an opportunity for the United States Navy to bolster alliances and partnerships, hone its capabilities, and deter a resurgent Russia through increased operations in the Baltic region. America should boost its naval activity specifically in the Baltic Sea, the North Sea, the Norwegian Sea, and in North Atlantic approaches to these waters. Also, the U.S. should pursue a strategy of persistent regional maritime presence as a means to advance national interests through unscheduled, and short notice, deployments, and patrols by U.S. warships.
The National Security Strategy reaffirmed that “a strong and free Europe is of vital importance” while the National Defense Strategy went even further, stating the need to “fortify” NATO and work with European allies and partners to deter “Russian adventurism” and aggression. America’s Navy fleet structure is already changing to address dynamic challenges from Russia but is not a substitute for sending forces forward. Increased naval operations in the Baltic would signal steadfast U.S. commitment and provide a mobile force capable of addressing regional maritime challenges. Furthermore, the benefits of having naval forces in the area and ready to respond with scalable defense options are undeniable.
Allies and partners have been vocal in requesting increased U.S. involvement in the region. Poland proposed permanent basing of American forces by offering America infrastructure and financial incentives. Also, both Sweden and Finland expressed willingness for greater participation in exercises and operations with America. More overtly, Germany also suggested it is open to the local basing of U.S. Navy ships, and Lithuania has solicited the deployment of American air and maritime defenses. These requests come at a time when there is no policy of continuous naval presence despite several security concerns and calls from American allies for U.S. deployments. Additionally, these requests come on top of reports suggesting that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has several command and readiness issues that an adversary could take advantage of.
The U.S. Navy is combat capable, incredibly versatile, and well suited for independent deployments. America is well suited to maintain a persistent presence with at least one cruiser or destroyer in the area – overlapping and varying the duration of deployments and patrols to minimize gaps. Ideally, these deployments would also increase U.S. naval strength to two, three, or more ships when practical. American cruisers and destroyers have already demonstrated the ability to integrate with multi-national forces and should be prioritized over other warships. These two classes of ships should be the focus of any deployment because of their ability to perform a wide range of missions (although littoral combat ships could be considered once they are ready). Constant or near constant operations by cruisers and destroyers would improve air and maritime awareness while bolstering air and ballistic missile defense, surface and anti-submarine warfare, cruise missile assets, and enable a broad range of military actions.