In response to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine in 2014, NATO has revitalised its core business of deterrence and defence and adapted it to today’s political and geostrategic circumstances.
In the Baltic region, the most visible expression of this effort has been the deployment of the enhanced Forward Presence battlegroups in Poland and the three Baltic states. These are, in turn, backed up by a readiness and reinforcement strategy, which NATO has also strengthened through the adoption of a number of measures agreed by the Allies.
But deterrence is a complex matter that involves political, diplomatic, military, economic, cyber, information-related, and other aspects. In the Baltic region, the constraints of geography coupled with the proximity of the region to Russia pose particular challenges to NATO’s approach. The region remains a focus of tensions between Russia and the West and the three Baltic states are still NATO’s most vulnerable members. Moscow, meanwhile, pretends that it is particularly threatened in the Baltic region, where it regards the territory of the Baltic states as a potential bridgehead of American power projection and presents NATO’s deterrence measures as a deliberate, unprovoked and unjustified build-up of forces around its periphery.
Two interdependent developments in the period since 2014 have pointed to a particular need to re-examine the credibility of NATO’s posture as it pertains to the Baltic region: first, Russia’s continued programme to achieve conventional military superiority in its western direction; and second, its recent deployment of new mobile, land-based, intermediate-range, nuclear-capable missiles. The former has given Russia has a substantial numerical advantage in ground forces in the Baltic region which give Moscow the option of executing a rapid land-grab attack before NATO could react. The latter could be used to try to decouple Europe from the extended nuclear deterrence provided by the US, paralysing NATO decision making and undermining the Allies’ resolve.
Full and expeditious implementation of all decisions taken at Warsaw and Brussels to strengthen NATO’s deterrence and defence posture is therefore imperative. In this policy paper, we recommend some steps that NATO should take in order to strengthen the deterrent effect of NATO forces and to ensure that timely reinforcement of its peripheries is feasible. In the light of a US Congressional request for a detailed assessment from the Pentagon on whether to expand US military presence in the Baltic states, we pay particular attention to the role of US forces in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.