A stampede of stupid ideas

Politicians who didn't spend much time trying to understand war are getting attention for 'creative' ideas about how to protect the Baltic countries against Russians.

Yay, an excuse to bash!

First the easy one:
Supposedly, to bolster the air policing would help just in case Putin sends troops into the Baltic states by aircraft. (I expect a suggestion to deploy Patriot missile batteries there to pop up in the next few days.)

Now let's think about the scenario. An Il-76 aircraft with about 200 Russians on board takes about 5-15 minutes to enter NATO air space and make a touchdown on an airfield or grass field.
Air policing in the conventional sense (5 minute alert readiness, then interception with afterburner) could simply not react in time if the Il-76 followed a civilian airliner flight plan over Russian airspace. To notice that something is fishy (and not just one of the hundreds de-sensitizing mock approaches of the previous weeks) would take minutes alone. Even one air policing flight per Baltic capital wouldn't suffice.

Besides - and this applies to missile batteries as well - who is willing to shoot at an aircraft like that, with a few minutes for decision-making? Think about this at night - visual identification would be unavailable or only available close-up.

Here's a less obvious, but more promising approach: Have a few rapid reaction force battalion battlegroups which can engage a handful of Speznaz on the ground within a few hours anywhere in the Baltics (= about what they need anyway, just at a more paranoid readiness), and prepare the national police forces to serve as first responders for critical reports  about invaders (= for free).
Second, prepare all airfields to block a runway within a few minutes. This may be as inexpensive as an additional drill for the airport's firefighters (= for free).

Another stupid suggestion:
A permanent deployment of multinational (NATO) forces in the Baltic countries.

This triggered two allergies of mine: "multinational"* and "tripwires".

(That's a great thing about having blogged for seven years; sometimes you only need to add links instead of writing hundreds of words.)

Again, a deployment of tripwire forces is the most obvious, most superficial option - and in my opinion also very, very stupid. The "multinational" is the icing on the cake.
Facing off Russians is not the same as having the mightiest alliance ever staging a get-together with detachments form many air forces for a live fire exercise over beat-up of Yugoslavia.
We did those things jointly to foster friendship, test interoperability, share experiences, and because of a badly misguided attempt to justify NATO. The multinational formations (corps, brigade) are symbolic, for know-how exchange, interoperability and stuff.
Any effort to face off Russia is in a different league.

I won't claim that the Russians would attack a multinational NATO corps in the Baltics, but such a concentration of stupidity would certainly not be a cost-effective way of protecting the alliance.

I expect more stupid suggestions in the weeks to come.

Maybe you consider my suggestion from 2010 (before it was cool to be worried about the Baltic countries) as stupid:

Time would be a critical component of any (...) invasion plan. They would need to create a strong signal that discourages invasion planners by indicating that a quick invasion is too difficult.
The speed of an invasion could (...) be hampered by small and large landscape-shaping and infrastructure projects. The terrain can be shaped to be more of a problem to an invader (although trees grow slowly, for example) and the road network could be modified to be more easily blocked along possible invasion routes.

Intra-alliance politics could also be important. NATO could invest in much better road connections between the Baltic states and Poland (to enable a quicker reinforcement and thus cut the invader's time table even more).
The richer, bigger allies could also subsidise Baltic armies in order to create army strengths way beyond the capability of the small countries themselves. That's certainly cheaper than forward deployment of allied brigades.

NATO defence planning for the Baltic countries did not commence until 2009, and was made public by Cablegate in December 2010:

Germany 'was not particularly eager' to see such NATO contingency plans, but on the other hand the GWB administration considered the Baltics to be a mere UN General Assembly vote and auxiliary troops pool ...


*: A multinational Baltic corps capable of partial operation with only one Baltic government's authorization might make sense, though. Most Baltic troops can be expected to use Russian for multinational communication, so at least the language issues would be avoided. There's little to be gained by it, though.

P.S.: I wonder what they will come up with against the threat of a hovercraft-borne invasion from a frozen Baltic Sea. A hovercraft (there are two) could legally move up and down only three nautical miles off the coast. Maybe they propose a multinational NATO coastal artillery corps?


  1. I second much of what you're saying. The Russians have of late demonstrated a strategic tendency towards strategic fait accompli; the only practical deterrence for neighbouring nations who feel at risk is a robust indigenous military response capable of withstanding sudden strikes; this means dispersed arming points, headquarters, a national culture of defence, et al. Finland for example is quite well placed to implement such a strategy, as they've been doing it for decades, and they further improve their position by being one of the few nations who actually talk *to* the Russians rather than *down to* the Russians, as equally sovereign nations rather than the scolding-a-mentally-handicapped-child approach that the West takes with its heavy-handed, completely self-unaware pulpit situated on the moral high ground.

    In order to defeat a fait accompli in an area (the Baltic zone) saturated with Naval Infantry and Air Assault Force units, you have to implement procedures such as you've described here, SO. Simply put it has to become clear that any sudden landing will be opposed violently and immediately, regardless of whether or not the "polite armed men" are wearing any national or unit insignias.

    I disagree with the minutiae on one point; I do not believe that the police can provide an effective first response without being significantly upgunned, which has repercussions. Simply having police cruisers and their occupants shot to pieces achieves absolutely nothing, especially when those law enforcement personnel may have secondary roles as military reservists (as is not uncommon in Canada, at least) or will be vital in their own, current, capacity during a conflict or immediately following. If you instead were referring to tactical response units (SWAT teams) then that's a different matter entirely; add a couple infantry-like contact drills to their repertoire and you're good to go. Arguments about "that would make them clumsier in law enforcement" means that you're not training them correctly or they're too stupid to respond appropriately, again, either problem is personnel based, not doctrine based.

    1. Paratroopers and the threat thereof tend to produce very much confusion. Rumours about paratrooper landings are likely to spread once a vulnerable country goes into paranoid mode. This happened in the Netherlands 1940, for example.

      The police was merely meant as a by default dispersed and relatively trustworthy source for confirmation or denial of rumours.
      It would be embarrassing (and dangerous) to go into national if not alliance crisis alert only because an innocent aircraft with technical problems had made an emergency landing on a road, too.

      The military - typically largely massed at least at battalion level for economies of scale - would only be able to confirm/deny within up to two hours (and possibly much slower during winter time).

  2. I agree with the sentiments of assisting/training the locals to provide a first robust defense against invaders but my caveat - only for countries with a unified local populous.
    I believe a major issue with the Ukraine is no-one in the West (or in their own government) knows how many of the military and/or police are loyal to this government, or the last; to the Ukraine as a whole or support partition. In this case, we could end up arming potential adversaries when it all goes south.
    Given the history, I think much of that region and the baltic states have some level of this within their own boarders.