The specter of nuclear war in Europe has returned under the regime of Vladimir Putin in Russia. Russia’s large-scale exercises incorporate the scenarios of a limited nuclear strike against NATO as part of Moscow’s “escalation to de-escalate” concept. Russia has acquired an edge over NATO in tactical nuclear weaponry and is expanding the range of tactical delivery systems. Moscow’s political rhetoric includes nuclear threats toward the West. NATO’s range of response options to such threats and limited nuclear war scenarios has shrunk considerably, and the Alliance to lacks the collective will to call those threats a bluff. Because of Russia’s regional superiority in conventional forces and its anti-access/area denial capabilities, the Baltic area is particularly vulnerable. Despite deployment of Enhanced Forward Presence units to the eastern flank members, NATO still relies on deterrence by punishment to prevent the possibility of Russian military attack in the area. But Russia’s posture and capabilities could allow it to seize the Baltics, establishing a relatively quick fait accompli that it then defends by issuing nuclear threats. To prevent Russian miscalculation of the Alliance’s determination – a miscalculation that could lead to a major war – NATO needs to build credible conventional deterrence in the Baltic area, making it impossible for Russia to seize any of these countries quickly.
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