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Fracturing alliances - from Hormuz Strait to the Baltic Sea

The ongoing escalation of hostilities in the Strait of Hormuz may have effects far beyond the middle east. The capture of the British flagged oil tanker Stena Impero by the Iranians forced the UK to step up their presence in the region.

HMS Monmouth a Type 23 Frigate

The reinforcements the Royal Navy was able to send to the Persian Gulf were hardly enough to escort the number of tankers in need of protection. The present day 80-ship Royal Navy no longer rules the waves and is actually struggling to deploy enough combat ships to cover the existing commitments, let alone to take on a possible fight against the Iranian navy or even provide the dozen or so escorts needed.

The British government then sent a proposal to create a European naval mission to escort the vital tanker traffic through the Hormuz. The response frhciting the wish to avoid further escalations as the main reason, both also have limited amount of shirps and other operations to cover.

USA, under the Trump administration, has declined to escort non-US assets through the strait. The British government, that is currently in turmoil over leadership change and Brexit, are also vary about the US intentions on Iran as some elements of the Trump administration are perceived as hawkish.

The problems of creating an ad-hoc alliance for the tanker escort mission by a founding NATO-member and major sea power like the UK, must look rather troubling for the European nations that are relying for such, out side of the NATO article no 5, arrangements to survive in a future crisis.

Finland imports 77 % of its goods and exports 90 % via the Baltic Sea. Its not unforeseeable that someone, for example Russia, would like to impose a naval blockade or random captures of merchant vessels to put pressure on the Finnish government. The Finnish Navy alone, even in its future form with 4 ocean-going corvettes and 4 Hamina-class FACs, can hardly succeed in escorting the merchant traffic past Kaliningrad and at the same time securing the territorial waters.

Hamina-Class FAC with a Finnish army NH-90

This issue is further worsened by the inadequate naval power in the regions bigger NATO-members. The German Navy is struggling to keep its ships operational and the Polish Navy is also desperate to get its ships modernized. The Swedish Navy, while technically in good condition, is still rather small to fend of the Russian Navy and special operations forces it is able to field in this kind of an ambiguous situation.

If the mighty UK is having problems at creating a naval mission to protect a globally vital waterway, how likely it is that Finland could succeed to build a coalition to keep the local waterways open?

Russian Baltic Fleet on parade, ©REUTERS / Anton Vaganov


It’s highly likely that several nations have already taken notice of this reluctance to commit forces to countering naval hybrid operations. The hesitation alone has most likely reduced the threshold for such operations for aggressive states like Russia and China. With such operations they have the ability to pressure individual governments and to drive wedges into the pre-existing fractures in alliances built to contain them.


The western democracies should perhaps build a standing system, within the NATO framework, on how to keep the vital shipping lanes open, even in the situations that do not warrant activating the Nato Article 5. Without such structures and preparations these situations may fall into victims of national politics and bickering between the allies over secondary matters.

-Petri Mäkelä

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