Traversing the Norwegian Sea this week are numerous NATO and Swedish ships, conducting some of the largest ever anti-submarine exercises.
This is the first time non-NATO nation Sweden has participated in an exercise like this, and their inclusion into the exercises is telling, as is the location.
The Norwegian Sea, rugged and shallow, is one of the most formidable seas to navigate and the excessive sound pollution in the water makes detecting submarines even harder.
It is unsurprising, then, that exercises to detect and combat submarines under these difficult circumstances are extremely helpful.
However, it is only necessary if one believes that a situation involving combatant submarines will arise in the area.
That NATO has put so many resources into this, and that Sweden has been invited and moreover accepted the invitation, tells a lot about the beliefs of NATO commanders concerning potential military actions in the region.
Why they feel this way is very clear: Russia has not been subtle about its aggressive tendencies surrounding the its border, nor its anti-NATO sentiment.
Additionally, Finland and Latvia both reported Russian submarines in the area, and Russian aircraft frequently violate Nordic and Baltic airspaces.
These violations and incursions by Russian submarines into neutral, national waters, are worrying to the small Baltic states, who rely on Nordic defenses and support from NATO to deter Russian aggression.
The exercises are meant to alleviate Baltic, and to some extent Nordic, fear that their western allies in NATO won’t protect them in the event of Russian aggression.
The fear isn’t unfounded. Many of the powerful European NATO states, particularly Britain and France, are falling into apathy concerning the events unfolding in Eastern Europe.
Indeed, the UK wasn’t even present at the Minsk summits regarding the Russian incursion into Ukraine.
The exercises were preceded by an official exchange between Finland and Russia, in which Finland condemned Russian movements, labelling them as the biggest security threat.
Russia responded by declaring that Finland and Sweden’s close relationship with NATO was of special concern to Russia.
Given the recent history of the area, both of these statements make a great deal of sense, and indeed both are likely true.
Russia, in a response to what they view as unnecessary aggression by the Western powers, has been slowly increasing their effective military buffer zone.
Sending planes further, violating the airspace of their neighbors, and the incursion into Ukraine are all attempts to increase the area separating Russia and NATO.
NATO and former Eastern Bloc countries are now beginning to push back. This exercise is just one of several power plays NATO, and particularly the US, has made in the area in conjunction with regional allies.
This past March, the 2nd Cavalry Regiment rode 1,100 miles from Poland to Germany, and moved through every Baltic state, as well as other regional allies.
This show of force was meant to demonstrate both to Russia and our allies that the US has capacity and the will to defend the region.
Accessing NATO’s list of 2015 press releases at its Allied Command Operations website will yield result after result of military exercises, training, and reinforcement of Eastern Bloc states.
This month alone, six military operations, including the anti-submarine exercise, have been initiated in Norway, Sweden, Estonia and Romania.
Numerous Russian bomber incursions into US and NATO airspaces have also been documented, ranging from Alaska to the UK to Finland.
With this background, it’s clear that the exercise currently being executed in the Norwegian Sea is just another step in the complicated and tense dance between NATO and Russia.
The question then is, will this dance maintain its complicated but peaceful waltz, or devolve into a messy and potentially violent mosh pit?