The Sovereignty of Freely Associated States in the Free and Open Indo-Pacific – 6/10/19

A free and open Indo-Pacific is one of the national security strategic objectives of the United States. According to the Department of Defense, this strategic objective is grounded in a set of overarching principles that includes respecting the sovereignty and independence of other nations.

The Compact of Free Association (COFA) Act of 1985 may have brought about an end to American trusteeship over the Republic of the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia. However, the United States Government continues to produce official documents that suggest that the Freely Associated States are not sovereign. For example, the Department of Defense recently classified the “Marshall Islands” under “US / US Territories” in the Base Structure Report – Fiscal Year 2018 Baseline. 

According to The Indo-Pacific Strategy Report, the United States has “an enduring commitment to uphold a free and open Indo-Pacific in which all nations, large and small, are secure in their sovereignty and able to pursue economic growth consistent with accepted international rules, norms, and principles of fair competition.” Unfortunately, those official documents that suggest that the Freely Associated States are not sovereign undercut that commitment, which in turn risks negatively influencing the support of COFA citizens for the national security strategic objectives of the United States.

Michael Walsh is a Research Fellow in the Department of Southeast Asian Studies at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. The opinions expressed are his own.

The United States Needs an Integrated COFA Strategy – 5/11/19

For decades, the United States has maintained special relationships of free association with the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of Palau. These special relationships were brought into existence by international agreements called Compacts of Free Association (COFAs).

Under these international agreements, the Freely Associated States are recognized as sovereign states with the authority to conduct their own foreign affairs. However, the United States has authority for their defense and security. It also has the power to limit the conduct of their foreign affairs with respect to defense and security matters. Separately, most of their citizens have the right to a special class of immigration privileges in the United States, as well as the right to serve in the armed forces of the United States. In addition, the United States has an obligation to provide economic assistance to the Republic of Palau until fiscal year 2024, to the Republic of the Marshall Islands until fiscal year 2023, and to the Federated States of Micronesia until fiscal year 2023.

Over the next few years, the United States is expected to start renegotiating the terms of these special relationships. The executive branch should take this opportunity to redefine the relationship between Free Association activities and the vital interests of the United States.

First, the executive branch needs to develop a National Free Association Strategy. This strategy should represent a single coordinated effort to harmonize the full range of activities that are to be carried out across the United States government in order to achieve the strategic vision of the National Security Strategy through free association agreements with other sovereign states.

Second, the executive branch needs to establish a governance model to execute the National Free Association Strategy. This governance model should establish a dedicated mechanism for coordinating the full range of Free Association activities across the United States Government. This dedicated mechanism should also be tasked with monitoring the extent to which the stated objectives of the National Free Association Strategy are being realized by the United States government.

Third, the executive branch needs to establish an overarching policy on Free Association activities. This policy should not only assign responsibilities and stipulate procedures for the execution of Free Association activities with Free Association Partner entities. It should also establish a common definition for Free Association Partners and Free Association activities to be used by executive agencies.

Fourth, executive agencies need to establish specific policies on Free Association activities that fall under their mandates. These policies should align with the National Security Strategy and National Free Association Strategy. They should also mandate the use of the common definition for Free Association Partners and Free Association activities within their agencies.

If the executive branch makes these strategic investments, then the United States government will be in a better position to renegotiate the economic and programmatic assistance that it provides to the Freely Associated States. This will also put the relevant ambassadors and country teams in a better position to determine the bilateral policy goals and program priorities at each of these overseas posts.

Michael Walsh is a Research Fellow in the Department of Southeast Asian Studies at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. The opinions expressed are his own.

Note: This article originally appeared on The Diplomat.

Major Communication Breakdown During Chinese Live-Fire Exercises in Djibouti – 11/28/17

On 23 November, the Chinese military conducted live-fire exercises with ZTL-11 amphibious assault vehicles at the Maryam Training Area in the Republic of Djibouti. These exercises were closely followed by Western militaries based in Djibouti. This is not because these militaries currently see the Chinese military as an immediate threat in the region. Rather, it is because they view the Chinese military as another force with which they have “to share a common operating space.” Western militaries therefore perceive that it is in their strategic interest to keep a close eye on any Chinese military activities on the continent. 

In this context, it is perhaps not surprising that reports of what actually transpired during the live-fire exercises are beginning to trickle out. Yesterday, foreign military officials revealed that they were not only surprised that the Chinese military conducted the exercises outside of the normal hours at the range. They also felt that the Chinese military did not have the proper authorization to conduct the exercises in the first place. This led to intense speculation over what statement the Chinese military was trying to make with these exercises.

Earlier today, new information came to light that casts a shadow over these concerns. According to a foreign military official, the Chinese military was provided authorization to conduct these exercises by the Djiboutian Government. Afterwards, the Djiboutian Government attempted to notify the French military prior to the exercises. However, there was a “technical issue that delayed the reception of the fax.” So, the French Forces in Djibouti were not aware that the Chinese military had the authorization to conduct the exercises until the last 24 hours. This was problematic. The French Forces in Djibouti are ultimately responsible for overseeing the Maryam Training Area. So, other Western militaries were in the dark about whether the Chinese military had the authorization to conduct the exercises until this morning.

If the latest reports are true, then this coordination problem not only provides a powerful indictment of the current status of the range coordination process. It also exposes the day-to-day challenge of trying to coordinate the military activities of the many foreign military forces operating in Djibouti. It is therefore in the best interest of the Djiboutian Government and the overseas military bases in Djibouti to start working toward developing a new mechanism for addressing these problems. Of course, this will be difficult in light of the many competing interests of the foreign military forces in Djibouti. The Djiboutian Government and the overseas military bases in Djibouti will therefore need to be extremely creative when trying to work out a legally valid solution to these problems.

Michael Edward Walsh is a Research Fellow for African Studies at The Johns Hopkins University SAIS. This article is derived from his ongoing research project on counter-piracy operations off the Horn of Africa and Southern Arabia.

Image Credit: compacflt via Flickr CC

Reported Unauthorized Use of Djiboutian Range Fuels Speculation on Chinese Intentions in Africa – 11/27/17

Last week, the Chinese military conducted live-fire exercises at a range in the Republic of Djibouti. News of these exercises made headlines across China and around the world. Images of the soldiers and tanks participating in the exercises were also widely shared on social media

According to media reporting, Chinese military officials maintain that the purpose of these exercises was to put their strategies to the test. They also point out that these exercises are consistent with their stated commitment to ensure that their soldiers stationed in Djibouti conduct regular military exercises on par with their colleagues stationed back home. Meanwhile, Chinese military experts suggest that these exercises were not just a way to showcase the Chinese military on the world stage. They may also be a prologue to more complex drills to be carried out later this year.

Any live-fire exercises by the Chinese military will be closely followed by Western militaries in Djibouti. This is not because Western militaries see the Chinese military as an immediate threat in Eastern Africa. Rather, it is because Western militaries view the Chinese military as “an opposing force” with which they have “to share a common operating space.” It is perhaps not surprising then that reports of what actually transpired during the live-fire exercises are beginning to trickle out. For example, a foreign military official recently revealed that the Chinese military was observed using the range outside of their scheduled permit for use. According to the foreign military official, this may have been an intentional affront to the French military who manages the ranges. If so, then the Chinese military may have been trying to make the statement that they have effectively replaced the French military as the dominant military force in the country.

In an opinion article for the Global Times, Su Tan suggests that last week’s live-fire exercises aroused concern because of “persistent speculation over China’s intentions.” Unfortunately, the Chinese Government has done very little to assuage concerns over the intentions of the Chinese military in this part of the world. Moreover, the People’s Liberation Army Security Base in Djibouti remains shrouded in secrecy since it opened in August. And, the Chinese military has been aggressive in their interactions with their American counterparts since their first live-fire exercise in September. In this context, last week’s live-fire exercises were bound to fuel further speculation over China’s intentions in the region. The reported use of the range outside of their scheduled permit of use only adds more fuel to that fire.

Michael Edward Walsh is a Research Fellow for African Studies at The Johns Hopkins University SAIS. This article is derived from his ongoing research project on counter-piracy operations off the Horn of Africa and Southern Arabia.

Note: This article was re-distributed by the DefenceWeb – Africa’s Leading Defence News Portal.

Image Credit: unmissmultimedia via Flickr CC

DefenceWeb Features Analysis of Japanese Military Base in Djibouti by Michael Edward Walsh – 11/24/17

On 24 November 2017, DefenceWeb published analysis on the upcoming expansion of the Japan Self-Defense Force Base in Djibouti by Michael Edward Walsh. The report was also featured on the Africa Security Monitor as part of the Overseas Military Bases in Africa Initiative.

Downloadable Copies: Islands Society & DefenceWeb

About Michael Edward Walsh
Michael Edward Walsh is a research fellow for African Studies at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. Separately, he is also president of the Islands Society and director of the Overseas Military Bases in Africa Initiative. Over the last decade, Mr. Walsh’s work has appeared in dozens of international news outlets and think tank publications. He has also received a number of awards, including the Vivian Award from the National Press Club and a Certificate of Appreciation from the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff.

About the Islands Society
The Islands Society is a “Top-Rated” American 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Its mission is to inspire and empower islanders to participate in foreign affairs and overseas engagements in order to affect positive change in their local communities. The nonprofit therefore develops and implements projects that are designed to help islanders realize their full potential on the world stage.

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Image Credit: OMBAI

CSIS Features Fieldwork Report on People’s Liberation Army Security Base in Djibouti by Michael Edward Walsh – 11/24/17

On 17 November 2017, The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) published a fieldwork report on the People’s Liberation Army Security Base in Djibouti by Michael Edward Walsh. The report was later featured on the Africa Security Monitor as part of the Overseas Military Bases in Africa Initiative.

Downloadable Copies: CSIS & Islands Society

About Michael Edward Walsh
Michael Edward Walsh is a research fellow for African Studies at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. Separately, he is also president of the Islands Society and director of the Overseas Military Bases in Africa Initiative. Over the last decade, Mr. Walsh’s work has appeared in dozens of international news outlets and think tank publications. He has also received a number of awards, including the Vivian Award from the National Press Club and a Certificate of Appreciation from the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff.

About the Islands Society
The Islands Society is a “Top-Rated” American 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Its mission is to inspire and empower islanders to participate in foreign affairs and overseas engagements in order to affect positive change in their local communities. The nonprofit therefore develops and implements projects that are designed to help islanders realize their full potential on the world stage.

Website
Facebook
Twitter

Image Credit: OMBAI

The Expansion of the Japan Self-Defense Force Base in Djibouti – Michael Edward Walsh

Last year, Japanese officials revealed that the Japanese Government would lease additional land to expand the Japan Self-Defense Force Base in Djibouti. According to media reporting at the time, the expansion of the base is intended to serve as a counterweight to the expanding strategic footprint of China in Africa and the Middle East. The Japanese Government still plans to lease additional land to expand the Japan Self-Defense Force Base in Djibouti. In fact, the Japanese Government hopes to finalize a lease on the additional land within a week or so. However, the Japanese Government does not intend to build on this land until the next fiscal year. This is due to cyclical budgetary constraints. Once the lease is finalized, it will be interesting to see whether the expansion of the base will lead to a further expansion of the functions of the base. At the end of the day, the Japan Self-Defense Force Base in Djibouti serves as an important mechanism for advancing the normalization agenda of the Abe Administration. The expansion of the base therefore not only provides an opportunity to further expand the functions of the base. It also provides an opportunity to further reform Japanese security policy.

The Japan Self-Defense Force Base in Djibouti

The Japan Self-Defense Force Base in Djibouti is the first Japanese overseas military base since World War II. Opened on 5 July 2011, the base is located on the northwest side of the Djibouti-Ambouli International Airport. Unlike the French Naval Base of Djibouti, the Japan Self-Defense Force Base in Djibouti does not provide docking for naval ships. It is also considerably smaller than the American and French expeditionary bases at Djibouti-Ambouli International Airport. However, the base does provide the Japan Self-Defense Force with direct access to a joint civilian/military-use airport. It also provides the Japanese Self-Defense Force with easy access to the American, French, and Italian expeditionary bases. This is useful in supporting multinational operations.

Overseas Military Bases at Djibouti-Ambouli International Airport (Source: OMBAI)

The Function of the Japan Self-Defense Force Base in Djibouti 

The Japan Self-Defense Force Base in Djibouti was specifically designed to support counter-piracy operations in the immediate vicinity of the Gulf of Aden. The primary function of the base remains to provide support for counter-piracy operations. However, the Japanese Government now supports counter-piracy operations beyond just the immediate vicinity of the Gulf of Aden. In fact, the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Forces regularly conduct counter-piracy operations in a block of the Indian Ocean south of the island of Socotra Island, Yemen and east of the Puntland State of Somalia. These operations are in support of Combined Task Force 151 (CTF-151).

Approximate Location of Expanded Japanese Counter-Piracy Operations South of Socotra Island, Yemen (Source: OMBAI)

The function of the base has also expanded beyond support for counter-piracy operations. In recent years, the Japanese military has used the base to support peacekeeping operations in South Sudan. The Japanese military has also used the base to support the emergency evacuation of Japanese citizens from South Sudan. More recently, the function of the base expanded to support for multilateral non-combat exercises. In fact, the base was used to a joint-nation noncombatant evacuation operation (JN-NEO) exercise less than two months ago. This exercise was initiated by the Japanese Government. And, it marked the first time that the base has supported this kind of activity. 

The Expansion of the Japan Self-Defenses Force Base in Djibouti

The Japan Self-Defense Force Base in Djibouti was not designed to support current operational demands on the base. That is one of the main reasons why the Japanese Government is pursuing the lease of additional land that can be used to expand the base. According to foreign military officials, the Japanese Government has already identified an approximately 3-hectare parcel of land that they intend to lease. This land is part of an empty lot adjacent to northeast side of the current base. The Japanese Government has largely settled on the terms for the lease. In fact, the Japanese Government is close to finalizing the lease with the Djiboutian Government. The Japanese Government hopes to be able to do so in the next week or so. However, the Japanese Self-Defense Force is not in a position to immediately build upon the additional land due to cyclical budgetary constraints. For this reason, it is unlikely that the base facilities will be expanded before the next fiscal year.

Empty Lot Partially Sought by the Japanese Government (Source: OMBAI)

The Politics of the Japan Self-Defenses Force Base in Djibouti

If the expansion of the Japan Self-Defenses Force Base in Djibouti moves forward, it will be interesting to see whether the expansion of the base will be followed by an expansion of the functions of the base. As pointed out in a separate article, Japanese military activities in Eastern Africa are a significant element in Abe’s “historical mission” to amend the Japanese Constitution. In recent years, the Abe Administration has used counter-piracy operations in the Western Indian Ocean, peacekeeping operations on the African continent, emergency evacuation operations from Africa countries, and multilateral exercise in Djibouti to advance incremental changes in Japanese security policy. The Japanese Self-Defense Force Base in Djibouti enables these kinds of activities in Africa and the Middle East. The base therefore serves a higher political purpose. It is an important mechanism for advancing the normalization agenda of the Abe Administration. In this light, the expansion of the base not only provides an opportunity to further expand the functions of the base beyond support for counter-piracy operations. It also provides an opportunity to further normalize Japanese security policy beyond the reforms that have already taken place.

Michael Edward Walsh is a Research Fellow for African Studies at The Johns Hopkins University SAIS. This article is derived from his ongoing research project on counter-piracy operations off the Horn of Africa and Southern Arabia.

Note: An edited version of this article was re-published by DefenceWeb – Africa’s Leading Defence News Portal.

A Fieldnote on How the American Military Views the Chinese Military in Djibouti – Michael Edward Walsh

The Chinese military on August 1 formally opened its first overseas military base in Doraleh, Djibouti. According to the Chinese government, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) base in Djibouti will be used to support peacekeeping and humanitarian missions in Africa and the Middle East. However, there are strong indications that the base will also be used to facilitate surveillance activities across the region and beyond. The Chinese base therefore raises significant operational security concerns for U.S. military officials stationed at U.S. military installations in Africa and the Middle East. Some even worry that the Chinese base “could provide a front-row seat to the staging ground for American counterterror operations in the Arabian Peninsula and North Africa.” Nevertheless, officials stationed at Camp Lemonnier—the U.S. naval expeditionary base in Djibouti—do not appear to view the Chinese military as a strategic threat to the U.S. military in the Horn of Africa, and see it in a more nuanced light.

The Current Situation

Over the past three months, I have been conducting field interviews with U.S. military officials stationed at Camp Lemonnier as part of my doctoral research on counter-piracy operations off the Horn of Africa. Those interviews reveal that, rather than a strategic threat, those officials view the PLA as an opposing force with which the U.S. military has to share a common operating space. The U.S. military is therefore trying to find ways to increase cooperation with their Chinese counterparts. However, little progress has been made to date. To some extent, this is because Chinese military officials have been overly aggressive in their interactions with their U.S. counterparts. Until that changes, U.S. military officials express doubt that they can make much progress on achieving that increased cooperation in the Horn of Africa region.

The Short View

Over the past few months, U.S. military officials acknowledge that there have been a number of interactions between officials at Camp Lemonnier and Chinese military officials at the PLA base in Djibouti. However, these interactions have been strictly limited to the most senior officials. On the U.S. side, they have typically been limited to three senior military officials. Because of the aforementioned aggressive behavior, the U.S. military now requires two or more senior U.S. officials to be present during any interactions with their Chinese counterparts. In addition, according to the interviewed U.S. officials, Chinese military officials have also been responsible for a number of unspecified “probing attempts” against the U.S. base. These attempts have significantly increased since the first live fire military drills at the PLA base a few weeks ago. Based on these observations, U.S. military officials are doubtful that their Chinese counterparts are interested in promoting increased cooperation with the U.S. military in the Horn of Africa region.

The Long View

Based on my field interviews, it appears that U.S. military officials are genuinely committed to finding ways to promote increased cooperation with their Chinese counterparts. However, it also appears that the officials are increasingly frustrated by the way that Chinese military officials approach their interactions with their U.S. counterparts. It therefore appears unlikely that there will be a major breakthrough in military-military cooperation between China and the United States in the Horn of Africa region in the near-term. Nevertheless, such cooperation could be possible in the long-term if Chinese military officials demonstrate less-aggressive behavior.

Note: This article was first published by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Center for Strategic & International Studies.

Michael Edward Walsh Invited to Give Lecture at Camp Lemonnier – 8/14/17

Tomorrow, Michael Edward Walsh will presenting a guest lecture to senior military personnel assigned to the Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa. The lecture is part of the Horn of Africa Experts Speaking Series organized by the Department of Defense.

About Michael Edward Walsh

Michael Edward Walsh is a research fellow for African Studies at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. Separately, he is also president of the Islands Society and director of the Overseas Military Bases in Africa Initiative. Over the last decade, Mr. Walsh’s work has appeared in dozens of international news outlets and think tank publications. He has also received a number of awards, including the Vivian Award from the National Press Club and a Certificate of Appreciation from the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff.

About the Islands Society

The Islands Society is a “Top-Rated” American 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Its mission is to inspire and empower islanders to participate in foreign affairs and overseas engagements in order to affect positive change in their local communities. The nonprofit therefore develops and implements projects that are designed to help islanders realize their full potential on the world stage.

Website
Facebook
Twitter

Image Credit: Marines via Flickr CC

Islands: At the Forefront of Baltic Security in the 21st Century – Derek Bolton

In recent years, foreign policy experts have been reminded of the strategic importance of the Baltic Sea region. Faced with a severe deterioration in NATO-Russia relations, the NBP9 states – the Nordic Five (i.e., Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden), the Baltic Three (i.e., Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania), and Poland – have been forced to reconsider their political, economic, and strategic relations with other states around the world. Those with the most at stake in Russian relations with the West are responding to this development, including the United States, Russia, and the European Union. But, their efforts have been largely shrouded from public view.

Part of the problem is that the major stakeholders have little incentive to be transparent about their policy approaches. Over the last year, the rise of Daesh (i.e., ISIS) has displaced public interest in Russian intervention in Eastern Europe and the Caucus. And, the recent attacks in Paris have only added fuel to the fire.

Nevertheless, the Baltic Three have publicly warned world leaders against overlooking the shift in Russia’s relations with its neighbors. As Estonian President Thomas Hendrik Ilves noted, they do so at their collective peril, “I would say that I think we all concerned about this sort of falling behind or some kind of development in which we stop paying attention to Crimea, or we even forgive the annexation because of the newer threats. We cannot allow that to happen.”

Of course, the Baltic Three are not alone. Victoria Nuland, U.S. Assistant Secretary for the State Department Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs recently stated, “Even as we focus on ISIL, we must not forget that barely two years ago, almost one million Ukrainians …demand that their government give them what we have: human dignity, democracy, clean government, justice… Now we have to help Ukraine see it through. We must maintain pressure on Russia and its separatist proxies to complete the unfinished commitments of Minsk.” And, the Ministers of Defense from Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark and Iceland signed on to a joint op-ed on Nordic defense cooperation that was published in the Oslo daily Aftenposten in August. In that post, they argued,

“The Russian aggression against the Ukraine and the illegal annexation of Crimea are violations of international law and other international agreements. Russia’s conduct represents the gravest challenge to European security. As a consequence, the security situation in the Nordic countries’ adjacent areas has become significantly worsened during the past year…. we must be prepared to face possible crises or incidents”

It is important to note that such calls from world leaders do not only stem from concerns about further Russian intervention in Ukraine. Consider the Aftenposten OpEd. It portrays Ukraine as a potential indicator for Russian aggression in other states, including those on the Baltic Sea. And, this is stoking debate over Russian relations among foreign policy experts across the region. For example, Wilhelm Unge of Säpo recently claimed, “Russia is the biggest intelligence agent in Sweden … they are interested in really everything — political, economic, technical and military information… It is one of the few countries that has the very broad intelligence interest in Sweden.”

Of course, Baltic Sea residents have quite a few reasons to be concerned. For example there was the incursion into the waters off Stockholm by a foreign submarine, widely believed to be Russian. And, some claim that Eston Kohver, a convicted Estonian spy in Russia, was in fact kidnapped on Estonian soil. Although he was swapped for convicted Russian spy Aleksei Dressen, that prisoner exchange did little to allay fears in Tallinn.

Moreover, Finland and Sweden have repeatedly complained of Russian fighter jet incursions into their airspace. For Finland, anxiety over these incursions are heightened by military drills along its border and the assertion of former Putin assistant Andrei Illarionov that the Russian President would, in an ideal world, like to reclaim Finland. Although regional experts largely agree that military intervention is unlikely, many in Helsinki continue to fret land purchases along their border with Russia, and close to military installations, by Russian citizens.

Whether or not these concerns are founded remains open to debate. But, they are fueling major shifts in the Nordic defense posture. In the event of a crisis, Nordic defense initiatives will need to focus on the islands of the Baltic Sea region. This was made evident during widely reported Russian war games that appeared to simulate the invasion of Finland, Norway, Denmark and Sweden. In these war games, the islands of Gotland, Åland and Bornholm seemed to feature prominently. And, analysts have concluded, “If carried out successfully, control of those territories would make it all but impossible for NATO allies to reinforce the Baltic states.”

To help explain why, let us turn to Ari Shapiro. In an early 2015 piece with Keir Giles of Chatham House, he noted, “Northern Europe is a complicated chess board and Gotland is a crucial square. Just to the east of this island are the Baltic states – Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania… the United States and the Baltics are NATO members. That military alliance says an attack on one member is an attack on all. But Sweden is not part of NATO, which means the island of Gotland isn’t either. And whoever controls Gotland has the Baltics in their crosshairs.”

While Shapiro puts the emphasis on Gotland, Åland is of equally strategic importance. As Kimie Hara writes, “The islands’ proximity to the Swedish mainland creates an obvious danger for Sweden from a military bases in the hands of a hostile power. The Islands hold the key to control of the Gulf of Bothnia, and their demilitarization and neutralization has significance for the security of not only Sweden, but also the region.”

It is perhaps not surprising then that we have already seen a shift in defence strategy across the region. For his part, Finnish Defense Minister Jussi Niinistö has called for a reappraisal of defense policy vis-à-vis Åland, claiming that Russia still does not recognize the region’s neutral status. Meanwhile, Sweden has begun to station troops on Gotland and recruiting home-guard volunteers after a 10-year hiatus. This has been coupled with further investment in naval capabilities that will be stationed out of Gotland. There are even discussions between the Nordic states of jointly purchasing a missile defense system on the island.

As Baltic islands continue to grow in importance and play a greater feature in foreign affairs and Nordic defense, it will be in the national interests of the major stakeholders in Russian relations with the West to engage local communities across the Baltic Sea. This includes investing in subnational initiatives led by subnational organizations that target sub-national identities. Fostering regional integration and ensuring voices in the Baltic Sea region are not only understood, but also represented, in foreign policy is more important now than arguably any time during the Cold War.

Derek Bolton is the Managing Director of the Baltic Islands Society. He is also a Young Leader at Pacific Forum CSIS and a Non-Resident Fellow at the Center on Island Security. Prior to pursing a PhD at the University of Bath, he served as a Research Associate at Global Co Lab Network, where he worked to foster greater international cooperation on Science and Technology (S&T) between Americans and Europeans.

Commentaries and responses on the Islands Society Blog represent the views of the respective authors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed. Please send any responses to pr@islandssociety.org. Our editors will consider any and all responses for future publication.

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