Aftermath of the South Ossetian War('s hottest phase so far)

The Western nations have realized that Russia's government is now self-confident again. We cannot treat Eastern Europe policy as a low-priority project anymore, it requires some serious attention and effort to achieve further successes in face of Russia.

There's a lot that can be done about the countries whose status is in question; Georgia, Ukraine, Moldavia. Even Belarus might become a hot spot if sometime its government loses power. The strategy formulation for this area will be very challenging.
One option that I would prefer would be a buffer zone of neutral states (comparable to Finland) between NATO and CIS.

But it's not only about the countries that are neither firmly integrated into NATO nor the Russian influence zone.

We have some 'new' NATO allies in Eastern Europe, and never publicly discussed how to secure them against Russia. The NATO border was sufficiently deterring in the past, but the feeling of insecurity seems to be present - especially in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.
This is understandable despite Poland's and Lithuania's distance to the Russian mainland because Belarus is politically extremely close to Russia.

A forward deployment of alliance forces as done during the Cold War when occupation troops in Germany were turned to forward-deployed alliance troops would be a costly option. This option could be used as deterrent, as a price for Russia to pay if it steps over the Rubicon somewhere. Russians don't like foreign armies close to Moscow at all.

To secure Poland requires relatively few efforts in my opinion:
The Polish army needs to be competent in delaying actions, have a good morale and readiness. The German, French, Dutch, Belgian and Danish armies need to be competent in conventional warfare on Polish soil, have a good readiness, good land-bound long-range logistical capabilities and be prepared for quick deployments by rapid deployment exercises (unheralded, whole division and annual if possible).
That should be enough deterrent to secure Poland.

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are more challenging; these countries and their armies are rather small. It's unlikely that they could sustain (on their own) an army strong enough to delay an invasion long enough for reinforcements to save the day.
Forward deployment of allied forces would be a simple answer, but that's not really preferable in my opinion.
I suggest to apply the same concept as for Poland, but with some additional physical obstacles in the defensive plan and with enough military aid to enable these alliance members to sustain an army that's strong enough for a long delay of an invasion (they have really only a short distance to trade before they would lose their capital). The logistical supply for the reinforcements should be pre-deployed and supplied by sea. This is especially challenging in Estonia because the Baltic Sea freezes there during the winter.

To add the Baltic states to NATO did certainly not enhance the old alliance member's national security. Such moves do really deserve much more thorough public discussions.

The present situation is that we have the alliance obligation to protect the Eastern NATO members. That should be done in reality, not just on paper. It's about time.

Sven Ortmann

edit 2008-10-14:
Two interesting articles
"Nato commanders to draw up plans to defend ex-Soviet bloc members from Russia"
"NATO split over Baltic defense"

edit 2008-12-15:
I made a more detailed analysis of the Baltic scenario. The seaports are surprisingly capable, but there are very few icebreakers and the only permanently free harbor is Klaipeda - easily rendered useless by ground forces direct fire and not very far north. It could help for a counter-offensive, but not in the initial delay& stopping phase.
The river Daugava in Latvia was difficult to cross in past wars - another argument for an invasion during winter.
The seaports will likely not play a major role, just like naval actions in general would have little utility.
The road connection between Poland and Lithuania needs to be improved.
I'll likely post the analysis sometime in the next few months.


  1. Very interesting post, I had the same thoughts in the past days. Is NATO´s AMF(L) still active? Just like in the Cold War they could be used as a fire brigade to buy time. Another problem with the Baltic states is that their forces are light with no heavy assistance(although I heard rumors that at least one country considers to build up one tank or mixed mechanized battalion for the purpose of knowledge in this area). But I agree that the question of how to defend the borders against a conventional heavy force seems not to be on the agenda of NATO or it´s governments...Afghanistan and the peace-keeping missions on the Balkans certainly clouded many minds. Hopefully that cloud will drift away after what happened with Georgia.

  2. Hi,
    it's nice to see someone from WHQ again!
    (as long as it's not Goschi or Praetorian)

    The Allied Europe Command Mobile Force had never the size to do more than power projection AFAIK.
    Its C2 elements were disbanded in 2002 IIRC and the land forces component is only a brigade-sized puzzle of 14!!! nationalities.
    My guess is that it's not exactly designed to stop a Russian-style offensive (poor cohesion, air-mobile), but to show alliance commitment at a hot spot.

    I remember reports that the AMF readiness and availability suffered from the expedition demands of the member states.

    I remember reports about member states losing interest in both NATO and EU multinational units because they wanted to have these for their national participation in expeditions like Afghanistan/Iraq.

    The Georgia war might be a health wake-up call. It's sad that this required several thousand dead instead of being a self-evident insight based on analysis alone.

  3. It´s really a shame that NATO turned into a more and more political alliance and lost the focus of it´s military power. I really wonder if there is any kind of serious planning for a conventional conflict threatening the exterior borders of NATO. And looking at them one doesn´t get the best of feelings. The southeast border of Turkey and so of NATO (alot seem to forget about that fact) with Syria, Iran, Iraq, Armenia, Georgia...not the most stable and friendly countries to have borders with-as was shown now. The Russian minority in the Baltic could again be a cause for troubles in the future. I don´t want to paint this picture too black...however it´s not as light as many politicians might see it.

  4. Hmm, Turkey is stronger than all its neighbours. The area isn't stable or peaceful, but there's no probable scenario for an attack on Turkey in my opinion.
    The Baltic states and even Poland are a very different case, though.
    Their armed forces aren't impressive.
    Poland's forces are roughly half as numerous as Germany's, and they go for an all-volunteer army, will have few reserve personnel by 2015-2020.

  5. Poland can have additional depth if they set up military bases in Germany and Germany forward deploys in Poland with lots of joined training. That will also have economic benefits of European integration due to getting to know each other for the time out of the military (look at the economic growth in these countries!).
    In the Baltic, we do have already a token small airforce sent by various European nations.

    The essence is organizing a European defence with troops from all European NATO countries stationed in the border regions and troops from the broders going to the core - for more training in interoperation. I don't think we need Cold War permanent deployment levels, but the credible challenge posed not only by the locals, but all their allies is a pretty good deterrence against would-be agressors and good for integration of militaries and nations into an alliance. This drive should not be limited to the Eastern border against Russia, but on a wider scale (like the German permanent presence on Sardinia) for the benefit of mutuality in defence and really knowing each other in depth (testing and exchanging ideas and concepts) - possible with the current professional volunteer forces in Europe, unlike the prior conscript forces.

    Why we have to defend, has a lot to do with attitudes, there are Russians living in the Baltic states and they do suffer from Baltic nationalism. From a Russian perspective, this offers a popular casus belli. Deploying German troops with Russian roots can help a lot to make the Baltic Russians perceive more than nationalist oppression. Together with a stronger common defence, we must strengthen our European values that NATO falls short off with their history of military dictatorships in the alliance.

    Stronger defence for the Baltic states is in my opinion a real reason to pick up the amphibious warfare ideas during the founding times of the German post-WWII navy. Such an amphibious approach certainly differs from the giant US gators and would be rather along the lines of Dutch, Danish and down to Israeli (float with a tank on it) amphibious approaches. Germany could contribute via fast ferries.