Leadership Claims at the "Wet Flank"

ROSTOCK/COPENHAGEN (Own report) - Under German command, numerous NATO member countries and close allies are participating in a naval exercise - that ends on Thursday - for the control of Baltic maritime routes. The Bundeswehr provides, by far, the largest contingent in this year's "Northern Coasts" naval exercise (September 3 to 19), taking place in the context of the escalating conflict between western countries and Russia. Due to this conflict, not only Eastern Europe, but the Baltic Sea, as well, has been gaining strategic importance. This is comparable to the Baltic Sea's importance during the Cold War. Germany is participating in NATO's remilitarization of the Baltic Sea, seeking to assume a regional leadership role and enhance its standing within NATO. The new Maritime Forces Staff, DEU MARFOR, based in the naval headquarters being set up in Rostock, also serves this purpose. In the future, it will be able to provide command for NATO, as well as EU wars.

Northern Coasts 2019

Around 3,000 troops from 18 nations are currently participating in the "Northern Coasts 2019" naval exercise lasting more than two weeks and extending from the straits connecting the Baltic Sea to the North Sea between the Danish and Swedish coasts up to the Bornholm island. It, thus, includes the narrowest and shallowest sections of the Baltic Sea's maritime routes. It is already a challenge for larger ships to maneuver in the Baltic Sea. In this environment, the multinational forces are training joint operations with 47 vessels, a submarine, seven aircraft and five helicopters. With 1,300 troops, the Bundeswehr, alone, accounts for nearly half of the soldiers and thus the largest proportion of personnel in the exercise. German forces provide seven ships, the submarine and one of the seven aircraft. In addition, mine clearance divers from the Naval Force Protection Battalion in Eckernförde are deployed and play a leading role in mine-warfare. Ashore, German soldiers are active in the logistics command and provide specialists for electronic warfare operations. This year, the multinational personnel and equipment are under the command of German Rear Admiral Stephan Haisch.

German Baltic Sea Leadership Claim

This is not the first time that the annual "Northern Coasts" maneuver carried out in late summer or in the fall, is under German command. Since the German Navy initiated the exercises in 2007, the command has rotated between Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Finland. However, there is nothing routine about this year's German command. The German admiral is commanding the multinational units with around 90 military personnel from the German Maritime Forces Staff (DEU MARFOR), including 20 of its members from other nations. DEU MARFOR is the preliminary result of a command level consolidation process of the German Navy. What had previously been the command staffs distributed between offices in Wilhelmshaven, Kiel, and Rostock have now - since last January 23 - been consolidated in Rostock as DEU MARFOR and supplemented with an international component. The command staff, now concentrated at a single location, currently consists of 100 posts, of which 25 are to be occupied by foreign allied personnel. Such a tight military cooperation is to be established and expanded, above all with the countries bordering on the Baltic Sea. "Northern Coasts 2019" is seen as the initial test run of the newly structured German Naval Command. Rear Admiral Haisch considers the successfully accomplished maneuvers to be "the first step toward a future NATO certification of the staff."[1] By 2025, the naval command in Rostock should have developed into a multinational headquarters - the so-called Baltic Maritime Component Command - with the German Naval Command as its "nucleus."[2]

Reversion to Great Power Confrontation Thinking

Today, "Northern Coasts" is being carried out in a fundamentally different environment. In 2007, the maneuver took place at a time, when the Baltic region had nearly completely lost its foreign and military-political relevance of the previous period of block confrontation. The German Navy's focus - and that of the Bundeswehr in general - had turned away from the Baltic and Europe toward "Out of Area" interventions, throughout the world, particularly in the Middle East and Africa. However, since the EU and NATO have re-escalated their relations with Russia back into great power confrontations, not only has the possibility of warfare in Eastern Europe regained greater significance, but since then, the Baltic has also revived a military significance, comparable to that of the block confrontation period. Both sides are competing for control of the economically important maritime routes through the Baltic Sea, which - as supply routes - are also of strategic military significance. It is precisely their struggle for control of the maritime routes and access to the Baltic Sea that the NATO countries and their allies are training for with their "Northern Coasts 2019" exercises. This year's scenario: an unnamed country - meaning Russia - occupies a Baltic island (probably Bornholm), hindering the NATO-block countries in their use of the Baltic maritime routes.

Baltic Sea Remilitarization

With this in mind, NATO has not only been reinforcing its Baltic Sea military maneuvers since 2014, but also continuously expanding its military structures. Berlin has essentially adopted this revision of strategy in its own strategy papers (german-foreign-policy.com reported [3]) - and is actively pursuing the Baltic region's remilitarization. This includes the "Enhanced Forward Presence" consisting of a NATO battalion being stationed in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland each - a decision taken in 2016 and implemented since 2017. As the so-called framework nation, Germany has the commanding role for the battalion in Lithuania.[4] This casts Germany - alongside Great Britain, Canada, and the USA - as one of the four countries playing pivotal roles in the elaboration of the permanent stationing of combat-ready troops near the Russian border. This year, Germany is again assuming a commanding role in NATO's "Spearhead" "Very High Readiness Joint Task Force" (VJTF), in whose development the Bundeswehr had played a leading role.[5] In addition, Berlin would like to have Rostock become the home base for NATO's command structure for naval operations throughout the Baltic Sea. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[6])

German Political Power Calculation

In doing this, Germany is strictly following its own national interests. Alongside its efforts to roll back Moscow's influence in Eastern Europe, and establish itself as the sole predominating regional power,[7] Berlin is also taking Eastern Europe's enhanced significance, as an opportunity to boost its own importance within NATO, as well as promote the militarization of the EU under German command. As stipulated in the July 2018 "Bundeswehr Concept," Berlin sees itself in the process of taking on a "key role in the [military] integration of allied partners." Furthermore, "national arrangements must be met and capacity ... provided complying with Germany's unique geographical position and thus its role for NATO and the EU as transit country, a Host Nation, or a potential rear staging area."[8] Therefore, Berlin hopes to strengthen its strategic significance in the West's conflict with Russia, as its means to reinforce its own power at the international level - both within NATO and the EU.


[1] "Nasse Flanke Ostsee" - Marine startet Übung "Northern Coast". Presse- und Informationszentrum Marine, 29.08.2019.

[2] DEU MARFOR - unersetzlich für die Deutsche Marine der Zukunft. Presse- und Informationszentrum Marine, 18.06.2019.

[3] See also Deutschlands globaler Horizont (I).

[4] See also Vormarsch nach Osten and In the Deployment Zone.

[5] See also 21st Century Warfare (I) and Even Closer to the Conflicts.

[6] See also Die Schaltzentrale für Ostseekriege.

[7] See also More Aggressive.

[8] Bundesministerium der Verteidigung: Konzeption der Bundeswehr. Berlin, Juli 2018.