Maritime security in Europe is facing a new reality

The year 2022 ushered in another array of significant and diverse maritime security challenges for Europe: the sabotage of the Nordstream pipelines; the mysterious rupture of submarine fibre-optic cables near France and the United Kingdom; Russian aggression toward NATO ships; a Black Sea grain shipment deal to end a Russian naval blockade in Ukraine; and the announcement of a significant Chinese investment stake in a Hamburg terminal, one of Europe’s busiest shipping hubs.

Over the past decade, China and Russia have transformed Europe’s maritime security seascape through their military basing access and port investments across maritime Europe — from the Baltic and Black Seas to the Mediterranean.

As in other regions, the two countries seek to undermine the Western-dominated political and economic order that has existed since the end of the Cold War. They appear to be more aligned with each other than in prior historical moments and have even exercised together in the European theatre through joint naval exercises.

The war in Ukraine may continue to sew tension in the relationship, but even so — and despite Moscow’s blunders and setbacks in Ukraine — Russia remains as an important naval spoiler and aggressor across maritime Europe; it continues to access regional maritime bases from the Baltic and Black Seas to the Mediterranean (Kaliningrad in the Baltic, Crimea and Novorossiysk in the Black Sea, and Tartus in the eastern Mediterranean.)

By comparison, China has created a “softer” security element with its investments in European ports and terminals. According to some estimates, China now controls approximately one-tenth of all European port capacity. But these ports and terminals could become more securitized with additional investments and reinforcements in the future.

Given the two countries’ continued ambitions, Europe will need to prioritize and manage these emerging challenges for the region’s long-term security and stability — from Russian traditional naval posturing and power projection to China’s dual-use geoeconomic port investments, Russian oceanic research, and the rise of seabed warfare.

To read and download the full report, sourced from Brookings Foreign Policy, visit:

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