Analysts find that increasing NATO and U.S. military presence in Eastern Europe, including the Baltic States, is essential to countering Russia's aggressive foreign policy and discouraging it from further land grabs.
In a report for the Center for European Policy Analysis published this week, Edward Lucas and A. Wess Mitchell outline the shift Russia's actions have caused in the security situation in Europe and warn of the instability the multitude of Russian troops massed at Ukrainian borders could sow inEastern Europe unless decisively countered.
- The war in Georgia in 2008 and demonstrated Russia’s ability to conduct quick forays into the neighboring countries with impunity, but Ukraine has a crucial importance in Europe: it is the largest state with a population of 45 million and has vital energy transit lines.
- Several factors have contributed to Russia’s bold politics: the revanchist foreign policy under Vladimir Putin, the decrease of US military presence in Europe, Europe’s failure to offer an alternative to U.S. patronage, as well as the drop in defense spending due to the eurozone crisis and weak regional military ties.
- The downsizing of Western military presence has led to a situation where the security of the Eastern European states, including the Baltic States, relies more on trust than actual military strength. There are more U.S. forces in the Netherlands than in all Central and Eastern European nations combined and of the combined NATO strength of around 3 million troops, less than 10 percent are located in Central and Eastern Europe, the report notes.
- Article Five and the U.S./UK nuclear umbrella are ineffective against Crimea-style tactics, “nor does the Alliance have an effective defense against the energy blockades, economic sanctions and information warfare that make up Russia’s tactical triad in the region”, the authors write.
- Current Russian modernization plans emphasize the development of so-called “Anti-Access/Access Denial” (A2/AD) capabilities – advanced weapons designed to prevent NATO reinforcements from reaching frontline states, including Central and Eastern Europe’s “most vulnerable corner: the Baltic States” that all have large Russian minorities.
To counter these developments, the authors list eight specific steps, most notably, increasing the number of troops on the ground and enhancing regional air defenses.
Pauli Järvenpää, an analyst with the think tank International Center for Defense Studies, wrote in an article about the steps NATO and Estonia could take to improve its immediate defence capabilities: establishing a permanent U.S. military presence in Estonia with a mixture of key specialties; prepositioning, which would also have a deterrent value; updating its defense plans for Baltic States and sales of vital excess equipment to Estonia by larger Alliance members.