With US and EU sanctions having little appreciable impact on the policies of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and parliamentary elections in Ukraine setting the stage for a government in favor of Ukrainian unity, many observers are wondering what the next steps must be for Europe, the US, and NATO.

In Washington, the integrity of the Euro-Atlantic security pact and the future of NATO strategy in light of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine has been the topic of a number of high level discussions, as leaders come together to chart a common course. The most recent such dialogue took place at Johns Hopkins University on October 7th, and featured the thoughts of the Foreign Affairs minister of Lithuania Linas Linkevičius. Lithuania’s role as one of the three Baltic states with significant Russian populations and close proximity to Russia means that its experience is key to understanding how Western leaders must confront the newest challenge to Europe.

Given the nature of the current conflict, Linkevičius largely focused on the ways in which it is possible to strengthen defense cooperation between the Baltics, the United States, and the Nordic countries that also border Russia. At the same time, he stressed other important issues such as energy security and prospects in the Arctic region and the High North, which, due to rapidly accelerating climate change and the pace of natural resource development, pose potential security challenges as well.

The central question, for Linkevičius and others, that ties these issues together is: what are the options for cooperating and advancing a common vision of a Europe “whole, free, and at peace” as originally envisioned?

With US and EU sanctions having little appreciable impact on the policies of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and parliamentary elections in Ukraine setting the stage for a government in favor of Ukrainian unity, many observers are wondering what the next steps must be for Europe, the US, and NATO.

In Washington, the integrity of the Euro-Atlantic security pact and the future of NATO strategy in light of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine has been the topic of a number of high level discussions, as leaders come together to chart a common course. The most recent such dialogue took place at Johns Hopkins University on October 7th, and featured the thoughts of the Foreign Affairs minister of Lithuania Linas Linkevičius. Lithuania’s role as one of the three Baltic states with significant Russian populations and close proximity to Russia means that its experience is key to understanding how Western leaders must confront the newest challenge to Europe.

Given the nature of the current conflict, Linkevičius largely focused on the ways in which it is possible to strengthen defense cooperation between the Baltics, the United States, and the Nordic countries that also border Russia. At the same time, he stressed other important issues such as energy security and prospects in the Arctic region and the High North, which, due to rapidly accelerating climate change and the pace of natural resource development, pose potential security challenges as well.

The central question, for Linkevičius and others, that ties these issues together is: what are the options for cooperating and advancing a common vision of a Europe “whole, free, and at peace” as originally envisioned? After Russia’s illegal annexation of the Crimea, continued intrusions into Ukraine, provocative military activities towards the Baltic States, tactics of intimidation, cyber attacks in Estonia, use of energy as political tool, and control of media assets both in Russia and countries of the former Soviet Union, a coordinated strategy can’t come soon enough.

To begin with, the 2014 NATO Summit took important steps in emphasizing NATO’s eastern flank and northern borders, but more must be done. There is a need for a more sustained multinational presence of NATO forces with specialists in cyber security, intelligence, air-to-ground fire support, anti-tank and anti-air defense systems. These specialists and forces should also engage in regular exercises with regional allies and partners. The establishment of Host Nation Support (HNS) arrangements in the Baltic States could also facilitate more rapid and adequate response to unpredictable and quickly developing events and raise the region’s deterrence threshold by supplying with military equipment and other kinds of military ammunition.

It is also important to move forward with a new phase of NATO relations for Sweden and Finland. These two Nordic states add geographic space to the alliance, which would enhance NATO credibility with its Baltic members, while each country would be more secure as a full NATO member.  Meanwhile, Sweden and Finland can become Premier Interoperable Partners (PIP) – going beyond the 2014 NATO Summit offerings and exploit the fullest capacity a new NATO opt-in model.

The creation of a common Nordic-Baltic energy market and increased cooperation and integration with the United States on energy security should also be seriously considered. The Nordic-Baltic region should work together strategically on energy issues – in order to truly reduce Russia’s ability to wield its energy supplies in a coercive manner, it is necessary to integrate Nordic-Baltic energy systems and diversify energy supplies. Norway and Denmark, in particular, should step in and use their experience with off-shore oil and gas exploration. These states can assist the Baltic region in exploring their seabed for commercially profitable hydrocarbons, decreasing the vulnerability of the Baltic’s region energy sector and help to better manage future security challenges.

At the same time, NATO links can enhance the Arctic security architecture and further develop the new Arctic Economic Council with a focus on sustainability issues. The Arctic region is another strategically important issue in Baltic-Nordic cooperation given its considerable oil and gas resources - it also contains a port with ice-free waters, and hosts the Russian Northern Fleet. Russia is the only state which is non-NATO member Arctic state. Given Russia’s size, location, and aggressive behavior, it plays a great role in shaping the security environment in the High North.

There is also the e-Pine agenda (Enhanced Partnership in Eastern Europe) which can be expanded and strengthened by extending e-Pine consultations to include other relevant agencies beyond foreign affairs ministries, facilitating US engagement in regional projects, and creating and providing sustained funding for a joint US-Nordic-Baltic Center that would connect experts of the nine countries for specific tasks and solutions. E-Pine partners should make an effort, together with NATO and EU allies, to work with Ukraine and other Eastern Partnership countries to improve societal resilience to corruption, as well as limit disruption of financial, cyber, and energy networks through placing emphasis on prevention and response.

As recent events in Ukraine demonstrated, Allied government need to be prepared to resolve disruptive shocks and unforeseen situations. All of these steps could be implemented with through the leadership of a committed US-Nordic-Baltic partnership focused on increasing defense coordination, cybersecurity cooperation, and the ongoing sharing of research and expertise. In this way, Europe’s northernmost reaches can serve as, in the words of Minister Linkevičius, a “firewall of principles” in the face of external threats.