Under the present regime in the Kremlin, Russia poses a serious threat to NATO, particularly to its eastern-flank Allies. It has labelled NATO as an adversary, developed a mix of capabilities required for confronting it, created and exercised offensive plans targeting the Alliance, and is engaged in provocative and irresponsible military behaviour towards it. The regime has shown its willingness and ability to use military force, or the threat of it, to achieve its political objectives and, in the case of Ukraine, flagrantly violated the existing international order and fundamental principles of European security. It has also shown a taste for high-risk opportunistic gambling and the ability, time and again, to surprise the West.
To prevent such a surprise from happening in the Baltic area, where the regional balance of conventional forces greatly favours Russia over NATO, the Alliance’s strategy and posture need to be adapted. While NATO Allies have only company size units rotating through the Baltic states, Russia is creating new divisions and armies and fielding cutting-edge capabilities in their vicinity. The report argues that NATO’s current posture, which is reliant on the reinforcement of the Baltic states, lacks credibility. The Alliance would be unable to deny Russia a military fait accompli in the region and, given Russia’s “anti-access/area denial” (A2/AD) capabilities, to rapidly deploy additional forces there. While sharing about 1,400 km of land border with Russia and Belarus, the Baltic states are linked to the rest of the Alliance only by a 65 km-wide land corridor from Poland to Lithuania. Twenty-five NATO Allies can be reinforced by NATO even if Russia activates its A2/AD capabilities, while the three Baltic states cannot.
The authors are concerned that many gaps – strategic, political, military and even psychological – are present in NATO’s deterrence posture in the Baltic area and need to be urgently addressed in Warsaw and beyond. The report considered it important to remind that deterrence has two key pillars – the political and the military – which must complement each other. Political deterrence messages will lack credibility without military capabilities and an effective defence strategy; military deterrence will not work without the political will to use those capabilities. The defence of the Baltic area is by no means a hopeless task, but many questions still need to be answered, and the authors put forward a number of recommendations on how the political and military aspects of NATO’s deterrence in the Baltic area could be strengthened and those worrying gaps closed. The Alliance’s decision-makers and general public must realise that the costs of building credible deterrence pale in comparison to the costs of deterrence failure.
Download: Closing NATO’s Baltic Gap (PDF)