NATO’s Biggest Military Exercise in Decades Welcomes Sweden and Finland

NATO's Biggest Military Exercise in Decades Welcomes Sweden
Some 90,000 military personnel are involved in the months-long exercise, taking place across Europe's eastern flank

NATO’s Biggest Military Exercise in Decades Welcomes Sweden and Finland

In a departure from past practices, NATO’s military exercises now explicitly reference Russia, a shift underscored by the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine. Exercise Steadfast Defender, NATO’s largest drill since the Cold War’s conclusion, aims to deter Russia, involving 90,000 military personnel across Europe’s eastern flank. The exercise also serves as the inaugural test for NATO’s new military plans, emphasizing swift troop and equipment deployment to support allies under attack.

While there were concerns about the alliance’s unity under former President Donald Trump, the commitment of the United States remains integral to NATO’s collective defense. Exercise Steadfast Defender unfolds in stages, with the initial phase set in the remote Finnmark region of northern Norway, near the Norwegian-Russian border. Despite the fictional invasion scenario, there’s a historical resonance, with a local resident expressing a determination to defend against potential threats, reminiscent of World War II.

This exercise marks a historic moment as it includes the full participation of Sweden and Finland, newly integrated NATO members. Troops from these countries express enthusiasm for joining the world’s largest military alliance, highlighting the sense of security and the deterrent effect NATO has on Russia. Politically, Sweden and Finland celebrate their NATO membership as a significant, albeit unintended, consequence for Moscow.

While acknowledging that Russia isn’t an imminent threat, there is a growing perception that it could target a NATO member in the long term. Military leaders and politicians, including Sweden’s Lieutenant General Carl-Johan Edstrom, caution that Russia’s ambitions extend beyond Ukraine, emphasizing the need for NATO to strengthen its armed forces in the coming years.

Vice-Admiral Doug Perry, a senior US military leader overseeing the exercise, underscores the notion that the European continent is already at war, primarily witnessed in Ukraine. He advocates for evaluating Russian behavior and capability, emphasizing the need for NATO preparedness. Finland and Sweden’s recent NATO membership reflects a response to this perceived threat, aligning with the understanding of Nordic nations and Baltic States, which, due to their proximity to Russia, exhibit a heightened awareness of potential dangers.

The Nordic states, including Sweden and Finland, are increasing defense spending, in contrast to some European counterparts facing recruitment challenges. Nordic nations, with conscription deeply ingrained, exhibit a collective commitment to defense, fostering a populace well-prepared for such exercises. As NATO adapts to evolving geopolitical dynamics, exercises like Steadfast Defender serve not only as practical readiness measures but also as strategic statements in the face of potential future threats.

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