Northern European nations are swiftly seeking refuge under the protective umbrella of Washington’s security. Recent surges in defense agreements between the U.S. and allies in this region enable the rapid deployment of American troops, representing the latest countermeasure in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The newly established multi-year pacts with Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, inked this month, signify a significant transformation within NATO over the past two years. Member countries are racing to replenish arsenals after providing weapons to Ukraine and preparing for a new era of confrontation with Moscow.
At the core of these six defense security cooperation deals are guidelines facilitating the operation of U.S. troops in the respective countries for training missions. Additionally, they aim to streamline bureaucratic processes, allowing personnel and equipment to deploy swiftly in case of emergencies.
Charly Salonius-Pasternak, a prominent researcher at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, remarked, “This allows the U.S. to say: This entire region is one defense region. How can we work together, in planning, exercises, and deterrence operations? Now you can do it all in a rational way, rather than having to say — we can’t refuel in Sweden.”
Following Russia’s seizure of Crimea in 2014, Sweden and Finland began closer collaboration with NATO and individual nations, effectively establishing a de facto alliance presence in the High North. Positioned on the front line, these countries, along with their Baltic neighbors to the south, vigilantly monitor their Baltic coasts for Russian activity and welcome the increased U.S. presence.
Max Bergmann, the director of the Europe, Russia, and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, emphasized, “The key driver for all of these agreements is Russia’s invasion, concerns about European security, and needing to have more U.S. forces eastward, particularly in the Finland case.”
The most recent pact, signed with Finland on Monday, drew a quick response from Moscow, which summoned the Finnish ambassador to register a complaint. Finland’s entry into NATO in April posed a bitter pill for Moscow, altering the country’s non-aligned status and giving it NATO’s longest border with Russia, spanning 800 miles from the Baltic Sea to the Arctic.
Helsinki alleges that Moscow has weaponized migration along the Russian-Finnish border, encouraging migrants from other countries to attempt to cross into Finland. This has led to the closure of several crossing points on the Finnish side, prompting an urgent push to sign a security agreement with the United States.
Finnish Defense Minister Antti Häkkänen, during his visit to Washington to formalize the defense agreement, characterized the move as a “hybrid operation” by Moscow to destabilize Finland, stating, “Russia is using every tool they can.”
Recently, Vladimir Putin announced the resurrection of the Leningrad Military District, a long-defunct Russian military group bordering Finland, and the establishment of new military units in the region. These developments have intensified the call for the stationing of American troops on Finnish soil.
Finland’s historical balancing act between Moscow and the West ceased when Russian tanks entered Ukraine in February 2022. In response, Finland joined the NATO alliance along with Sweden, pending the votes of Turkey and Hungary on its membership.
The U.S. has already signed agreements with Iceland and Norway in previous years, establishing legal frameworks for stationing troops across all countries in Europe’s northern region. Nordic countries, including Iceland and Norway, share deep defense ties through the Nordic Defence Cooperation Agreement, removing barriers to defense cooperation.
Since 2022, Europe has witnessed historic changes, with Finland and Sweden overturning decades of neutrality. Denmark, this year, ended three decades of opting out of European Union defense cooperation, joining the EU’s Permanent Structured Cooperation agreement and the European Defence Agency.
An event at the Pentagon last Friday saw Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia updating agreements with Washington to reflect new NATO military deployment plans, Ukrainian troop training, and cyber cooperation projects. The broader focus on troop deployments was emphasized by the historic pact between Germany and Lithuania to station 5,000 German troops permanently in the Baltic nation.
Denmark, in its new 10-year deal with the U.S., described it as a “breakthrough in Danish defense.” Once approved by lawmakers, the agreement will allow U.S. military presence in air bases in Karup, Skrydstrup, and Aalborg.
Amidst these developments, political uncertainty in Washington, with former President Donald Trump leading in some polls, adds an element of unpredictability to the future. Anna Wieslander, director for Northern Europe at the Atlantic Council, sees the fresh defense agreements along the Baltic Sea as creating a region with a heavier U.S. presence for early reactions, intelligence, surveillance, and deterrence. She notes that allies, including the U.S., aim to move across borders, and the Nordics are preparing to operate jointly in air, land, and sea.