November 17, 2020

Is There a Serious Security Threat to NATO’s Eastern Flank Nations Until Joe Biden’s Inauguration?

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden removes his face mask to speak about the U.S. economy after attending a briefing in Wilmington, Delaware, U.S., November 16, 2020.
U.S. President-elect Joe Biden removes his face mask to speak about the U.S. economy after attending a briefing in Wilmington, Delaware, U.S., November 16, 2020.

There is almost no doubt that former Vice President Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. has won the US presidential elections, although counting of votes has not yet finished in many states, and president Donald Trump continues to refuse to acknowledge defeat.

Trump is attempting to reverse the outcome of the elections by lawsuits and recounts. He claims that the elections were “stolen”, although that is precisely what he is attempting to achieve in order not to leave the White House.

Five hundred and thirty-eight electors from 50 states and the District of Columbia will cast their votes on 14 December, and the president-elect will be sworn into office on 20 January 2021. The two months between now and Biden’s inauguration are almost evenly split into the pre-Electoral College phase—in which Trump will certainly spare no efforts to create confusion and discredit the results of the elections—and a pre-inauguration phase, in which Trump will probably try to get the most out of the final days of his presidency. The option of Trump recognising defeat in a statesmanlike fashion and becoming constructive is unfortunately very improbable.

Most European allies and Canada, as well as NATO’s Secretary General, congratulated Joe Biden on his victory and are looking forward to working with him and further strengthening the Alliance. However, the two months until 20 January could prove quite challenging and painful for European NATO members, particularly the Baltic states and other nations on the Eastern Flank. The worst-case scenario would be chaos in the US provoked by Donald Trump and his most ardent (and armed) supporters, which would not allow America to take action—if needed—in Europe. Trump would hardly care and Biden would be unable to act.

Russia is now busy planting its “peacekeepers” in and around (a corridor from Armenia to) what is left of Nagorno-Karabakh, which might be—cynically speaking—a blessing for geographically exposed NATO members such as the Baltic states. But the Kremlin’s calculations may change rather quickly if a promising opportunity arises, given that Russia has rehearsed different types of military action against NATO’s Eastern Flank for many years. NATO member states from Estonia to Romania, and the allied troops deployed on their territory, must be particularly vigilant and alert during the coming two months.

Joe Biden’s election victory is not good news for Moscow. The transition period is quite short, but it offers Russia the possibility to exacerbate the relentless opposition and frustration of Trump’s supporters. For example, the fake news about tens of thousands of dead people “casting votes” (obviously only for the Democratic candidate) went viral. In addition, the outgoing president took very dangerous steps in the aftermath of the elections by sacking the defence secretary, Mark Esper, and other top officials in the Pentagon.

In conclusion, the entire transatlantic region urgently needs more reassuring news from America, in addition to Joe Biden’s apparent victory. China has cautiously congratulated Biden, but Russia refuses to acknowledge his election win because of Trump’s “ongoing legal processes”. The Kremlin will clearly lose an asset in the White House. Moscow’s and Putin’s attitude could hint at preparations for a further escalation of tensions between Russia and the US. Why not use this precious time before the president-elect takes office—and control of the nuclear button?