The security environment has significantly changed over the past few years: Russia and China have expanded their influence and capabilities in the maritime domain, and we are now in an era of great power competition. Sailors and Marines working for U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa (CNE-A) in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations are on the front lines of this competition, working with allies and partners to deter Russia’s aggressive activities and China’s increasing influence in the European and African theaters.

To deal with the changing security environment, CNE-A is responding by executing dynamic force employment in the maritime domain, including sending a U.S. aircraft carrier into the Arctic Circle for the first time in nearly three decades, conducting dual carrier strike group operations from the Mediterranean Sea, continuing to conduct training with allies and partners, and increasing naval presence in other parts of Europe.

As a demonstration of its commitment to addressing the changing security environment, the U.S. Navy also re-established U.S. 2nd Fleet (C2F) in Norfolk, Virginia. And next week, C2F will lead its first exercise, Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) 2019, marking its first major engagement in the European theater.

This critical exercise aims to improve the maritime capabilities of our Baltic and NATO allies and partners. BALTOPS is an exercise in multi-organizational cooperation, and has been for 46 years. The ability of NATO allies and partners to work through their differences to come together as a cohesive unit of deterrence and defense is at the heart of why we began the exercise back in 1972.

For context, it is important to note that Russia has first-hand knowledge of BALTOPS as a former participant — Russia was invited to take part in BALTOPS in 1993 and was invited back, participating in the exercise for the next 14 years. The country was disinvited after its 2008 invasion of Georgia, a conflict that resulted in hundreds of casualties and displaced thousands of civilians from their homes. Russia was given a second chance and invited back in 2010 and participated until 2014, when it illegally annexed Crimea.

Russia was not the only former Soviet state to be included in BALTOPS. In fact, all the former Warsaw Pact members, as well as former Soviet states, were given a path to improved relations with NATO following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Almost every country in that group, including Russia, signed up through the Partnership for Peace program and accepted invitations from NATO aimed at normalizing relations. Today, some of our former adversaries are have become trusted and dependable allies or partners: Poland and Romania, to name two former Warsaw Pact members, and Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania to name three former Soviet states.

Over the course of its history, one of NATO's major achievements has been to unite former adversaries in a defensive alliance which has today made conflict between former enemies unthinkable. These exercises not only give us an opportunity to create and maintain enduring relationships, but also show why it is important to live and work side-by-side with our allies; committed to the security of the Alliance members.

CNE-A welcomes Vice Adm. Andrew “Woody” Lewis, commander, C2F and the members of C2F to the North Atlantic and Baltic Sea. C2F planned and will execute this year’s exercise, while working hand-in-hand with U.S. 6th Fleet (C6F), based out of Naples, Italy. As part of its re-establishment, C2F has operational and administrative authority over naval assets operating from the East Coast to the North Atlantic. C6F will continue to oversee maritime assets in Europe and Africa. Both fleets will work seamlessly in persecuting any threats that operate in North Atlantic and Arctic. Our two fleet commanders, Vice Adm. Lewis and Vice Adm. Lisa Franchetti, commander of C6F, have my full support as they work toward achieving this seamless, fleet-to-fleet cooperation.

BALTOPS is a critical step in maturing this new cooperation and will ensure we deny any adversary the ability to exploit the seams between our fleets. I could not be prouder of Vice Adm. Lewis and his dedicated staff’s accomplishment in recently achieving Initial Operating Capability, less than a year since Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson established C2F. C2F now has the capability to command and control subordinate units utilizing the functions and processes of the Maritime Operations Center and Maritime Headquarters, and will demonstrate this capability during BALTOPS.

BALTOPS will evolve and adapt to ensure we continue with the mission of maintaining peace and stability through collective defense. Participants may vary year to year, but the exercise’s purpose will never change. Our commitment to the Baltics and other NATO nations remains firm, and our actions match our words as we welcome Vice Adm. Lewis and C2F to the Baltics.

Adm. Foggo is the commander of Naval Forces Europe and Africa, and commander of Allied Joint Force Command Naples.