At the turn of the last century, the idea of having to protect Gotland from a foreign invasion appeared so far-fetched to Swedish judgment that they decided to demobilize the Baltic Sea archipelago.
The Swedish Armed Forces have returned; they are training alongside US forces, not just to protect the 58,000-person island, but also to retake it from a foreign enemy.
The Scale of the Exercise
As part of a NATO drill in the Baltic Sea, US Marines performed air drops and beach assaults on the Swedish island of Gotland.
Though the yearly BALTOPS drill isn’t undertaken in reaction to a specific threat, this year’s version takes place in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has increased tensions with the United States.
Approximately 7,000 military troops and 45 ships from 14 NATO nations, as well as Sweden and Finland, participated in the exercise.
Despite their non-alignment status, the two Nordic nations have routinely exercised with NATO allies; their administrations chose to seek membership in the western defense pact in the aftermath of the Ukraine crisis.
#Marines and @USNavy Sailors with the @22nd_MEU have finished the first week of Exercise Baltic Operations #BALTOPS22 alongside 14 @NATO allies and 2 NATO partners, Sweden @swedense and Finland @Ulkoministerio. #BALTOPS22 has more than 45 ships, 75 aircraft, and 7,500 personnel. pic.twitter.com/70auGxay3U
— David H. Berger (@CMC_MarineCorps) June 12, 2022
Gotland, which is strategically placed in the southern section of the Baltic Sea, has been subjected to foreign invaders in its past; the most recent was in 1808 when Russian soldiers briefly controlled the island.
However, once the Cold War ended, Sweden decided to refocus its military forces on overseas peacekeeping missions, rather than territorial defense; it believed the chance of Russian assault was so distant.
The Gotland unit was disbanded in 2005 as Sweden’s army was reduced.
The invasion of Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula by Russia in 2014 prompted a reassessment, and in 2018, a new unit was founded on Gotland.
Around 400 Swedish troops are currently stationed continuously on the peninsula. Following Russia’s incursion on Ukraine, further troops are expected.
Many Gotlanders, however, believe Sweden would be unable to protect the island by itself.
Sweden, which has remained outside of coalitions since the Napoleonic Wars, submitted an application for NATO membership with Finland last week, in a historic move.
This week, NATO’s current 30 members will meet to examine the problem. Turkey vowed to stymie the applications because of the two nations’ alleged backing for Kurdish separatists.
During the application process, Finland and Sweden requested security guarantees from the US and additional NATO nations.
The Alliance Must Rally
The Joint Chiefs of Staff, U.S. Gen. Mark Milley, said it was crucial for NATO members to “demonstrate support with both Finland and Sweden” as the BALTOPS drills began last week in Stockholm.
Busy in the Baltic…@HMSDefender is leading a multinational task group in the Baltic during #NATO exercise #Baltops22. The Type 45 destroyer recently carried out a replenishment with USNS Patuxent to keep her ready for action.
— Royal Navy (@RoyalNavy) June 12, 2022
The strategic relevance of Gotland, a favorite summer vacation location for Swedes, is frequently considered in connection to the Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia, as well as Lithuania.
They are especially concerned about Russian aggression in the aftermath of the Ukraine war.
Gotland lies approximately 100 kilometers (60 miles) from the Swedish mainland and 160 kilometers (100 miles) from the Latvian coast.
“The point is, depending on who controls the island, you make feeding and sustaining the Baltic nations a lot simpler or a lot more difficult,” Mikael Norrby, an Uppsala University scholar, told the Associated Press.