"Reinforcing Deterrence on NATO's Eastern flank"

RAND published a study about the defence of the Baltic NATO members ...

David A. Shlapak and Michael W. Johnson, RAND Corporation

... in which they essentially repeated what I thought and wrote about the issue for years.

2015-10 The EU should do something about Baltic security
2015-10 The Baltic Sea and Baltic Defence
2015-08 Strategic QRF
2015-04 Oh, really?
2013-05 Bündnisverteidigung / collective defence
2010-05 Defence policy thoughts for (very) small powers 
2010-03 The first (and only?) phase that counts

Their conclusion is slightly different, owing to their different position.

I'm an European, but they're Americans consulting (for pay) an American military bureaucracy that benefits from increased size, budget et cetera. Their conclusion is thus that a few additional U.S.Army brigades deployed in Eastern Europe are a fine answer, while my conclusion is that turning German army brigades into quick reaction forces that are REALLY quick would be the ideal solution. It seems we agree that the Polish army cannot provide the solution because it would in a Baltic defence scenario be largely busy protecting Warsaw against the East (Belarus) and North (Russian brigade(s) in Kaliningrad Oblast).

The obvious answers are thus in my opinion that we need to improve choice of roads in the narrow corridor between Warsaw and Vilnius, make German army brigades REAL fast-moving on road (even if this means the tank battalion follows a day or two later) and at least Lithuania should improve its ground forces (especially artillery, anti-armour and battlefield air defences).

The known poor readiness and low ambition about the rapidity of even a designated quick reaction battalion shows that the German army isn't even coming close to excelling at collective defence - possibly a consequence of two decades emphasis on nonsensical great power games deployments. RAND can be excused for looking at pre-positioned U.S.Army brigades based on this background, of course.



  1. Far cheaper deterrence to post a platoon of German and another platoon of American infantry in each Baltic country. Maybe make a Sergeant's fishing hole / survival camp or something.

    These hostages would ensure a full NATO response (which hugely outspends Russia on "defense" anyway) and pretty much ensures "deterrence".

    1. You didn't sound serious, but pretending it was:
      The U.S. Army trainers in Georgia didn't exactly deter the advance of the Russian army past South Ossetia deep into Georgia back in 2008.
      And I'm on record being no friend of the "tripwire forces" idea in general AT ALL.

  2. I think some really interesting points about the analysis are raised here:
    and this seems a far better summary:

    1. Well, I'm on record agreeing with him about the naval and port situation. I also think that air bases in Poland would be troublesome, though I'd rather advise to use roads in Poland rather than staying as far back as Germany, which appears to be his idea.

      I don't agree that an attack from Belarus is a reasonable scenario. To keep Belarus "neutral" and thus an immune base for long-range radar while still fixating Polish brigades east of Warsaw makes sense. An involvement of Belarus also requires political agreement in Minsk (which is unlikely, since Putin's neoimperialism threatens Belarus' independence and thus its regime that appears to create a dynasty). It also adds to the difficulties of keeping the intent to invade secret.
      The distances for the coup de main aren't very much increased by keeping Belarus neutral.

      No matter what wargaming format is used (hex or not), such wargaming and simulations depend first and foremost on the correctness of assumptions. I think RAND was rather more optimistic than appropriate concerning the duration of organised, delaying resistance.

      I agree that a few good minds could have produced a fine report as well, but I understand that involving many people improves the odds of finding those few good minds. Years ago I contacted a German military expert for a possible Baltic Defence study (he was interested), but quickly gave up on the idea when I learned that thinking about collective defence for real was not politically correct at the time.
      I'm sure we two could have made up a similar report within a week, but my idea back then also included a trip to look at the terrain first hand during winter time to access where mechanised troops could succeed well.

      Terrain and seasonal issues are underrepresented in both RAND and Gardiner's contributions. RAND focused on formations and time, Gardiner on hardware and past exercises/military history.

      The U.S.Army would doctrinally write in a third, different pattern: Mission, enemy, terrain, troops, time, civilians (METT-TC). RAND neglected "terrain" and "civilians" (in the published version).

    2. Thank you for such a detailed reply!

  3. Would it be possible to have common equipment with the Baltic States? On their own, each of them is not capable of financing a complete panoply of armaments. They could benefit from being nodes of a network of cooperation of more powerful European nations (German tanks, British helicopters and so on). This would allow to preposition items and have additional local repair crews, making the administration of reinforcements less complex.

    1. The Swedes and NATO members have dumped a lot of old equipment into the Baltics, just as was common practice to dump old stuff into Turkey during the Cold War.
      This doesn't quite sound sensible for the only area of NATO that's facing a realistic threat, but it's better than buying only expensive new hardware with their tiny budgets.

    2. Last generation equipment is a start, but what about having them as sharing partners of hardware that is still being used by major members and would be deployed in case of a problem?

    3. Look at the study: Most people who raise their voices on the subject will promote more funds, more personnel, more tools for the own nation's military.
      There's no lobby for doing the right thing. There's a lobby for special interests.

      NATO could turn the Baltic members into Israel-like military bulwarks that could easily defend themselves for four weeks; it would require subsidies and a decade.

      That's not what the people are interested in. German officers and military experts will seize the opportunity to mobilise funds for spares, upgrades and more battalions. American officers and military experts seize the opportunity to call for a couple new brigades. UK officers and military experts would likely call for improving their para formations, particularly against tanks and artillery.

      That's how the world works.

  4. If i must be betrayed and loose Aleppo, my eyes might ask yours, what did you do to save us ?
    Between friends, we forgive; but we do not forget.

  5. How do you see a possible NATO membership for Sweden and Finland would affect the Baltic situation?

    Especially Swedish military is a shadow of it's former glory, but compared to the Baltic states these countries have significant resources. OTOH NATO would have to defend a long border with Russia, OTOH there would more troops and territory within the alliance.


    1. Sweden and Finland AND the Baltic countries are already allied with each other.

    2. Yes, but considering the scenario of Sweden outright joining NATO, wouldn't be a bit different ? Having the entire air-war operated from Scandinavia. Like outright having Tankers and AWACS over Sweden/Norway. THAAD systems deployed against Iskander and whatnot ...

    3. Sweden was safe as a neutral Country during the Cold War, why would they join NATO now? I doubt the Intervention Club novelty is that attractive.
      One wouldn't be able to intercept any Missiles going after Polish Targets with defences installed in Sweden. Sweden would be Little more than an airbase, and would greatly widen the front width for the air war.

      Tankers and AEW&C aircrafts as well as other ISR aircraft typically have Long range and endurance and could easily be flown from safe German bases.

      It's much more interesting to think about how to limit a limited war than how to expand it. What are the benefits of keeping Belarus neutral? What would be the benefits of declaring Kaliningrad Oblast neutral? What would be the benefits of giving up South Ossetia or Abchasia just weeks Prior to a Baltic campaign? What about declaring a no-use of air power, threatening nuke and ballistic missile use if NATO used air power?
      What about attacking the Baltics during wintertime, when the Baltic Sea is frozena nd almost all Baltic ports are inaccessible without icebreaker support?

      Escalation is simple, but limiting a campaign to Russia's benefits while getting away with it by playing with Western fears might be artful.

  6. Counting one's attack strategy on Baltic ports freezing is risky business. It's now mid-February and with the exception of northernmost Gulf of Bothnia virtually all of Baltic Sea is icefree.

    Also, if need be, defender may very well use ice breakers.

    Your point of Russia trying to limit the conflict is interesting, but that's why getting Sweden and Finland within NATO defence plans would be useful for the West. I presume in the event of Baltic invasion Russia would try to scare the crap out of both Finland and Sweden and thus limit their assistance to the Baltic trio.


    1. I thought it goes without saying that any attack on NATO members would qualify as "risky business" anyway. yet in worst case the ports would be fully usable, which is no worse than them being fully usable during summertime. Except in wintertime there's the additional invader's benefit that swampy ground, rivers and lakes don't qualify as much as obstacles as during summertime.

      Finland has a history of being non-offensive towards the Russians. They got away with a white peace in 1944 because they had claimed to be no threat to Leningrad and stayed true to it.
      I think they still stick to this proven grand strategy. There's about zero per cent probability of Finland being an offensive asset even if they joined NATO.