U.S. think tank RAND: Currently postured, NATO could not defend Baltic states

RAND researchers have conducted a series of wargames to examine the threat Russia may present to the Baltic republics and found that as currently postured, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization could not defend the territory, according to a RAND report titled “Reinforcing Deterrence on NATO’s Eastern Flank. Wargaming the Defense of the Baltics,” by David A. Shlapak and Michael Johnson.

“Russia’s recent aggression against Ukraine has disrupted nearly a generation of relative peace and stability between Moscow and its Western neighbors and raised concerns about its larger intentions. From the perspective of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the threat to the three Baltic republics of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania — former Soviet republics, now member states that border Russian territory — may be the most problematic of these. In a series of war games conducted between summer 2014 and spring 2015, RAND Arroyo Center examined the shape and probable outcome of a near-term Russian invasion of the Baltic states. The games’ findings are unambiguous: As presently postured, NATO cannot successfully defend the territory of its most exposed members,” the analysts said.

“It can be hoped that Russia’s double aggression against Ukraine is the result of a unique confluence of circumstances and that it does not portend a more generally threatening approach to the West. However, President Putin clearly appears to distrust NATO and harbor resentments toward it. His rhetoric suggests that he sees the Alliance’s presence on Russia’s borders as something approaching a clear and present danger to his nation’s security. Aggressive acts, angry—even paranoid—rhetoric, and a moderate but real military buildup combine to signal a situation where it may be less than prudent to allow hope to substitute for strategy,” the RAND researchers said.

According to the report, Russian forces knocking on the gates of Riga and Tallinn in two or three days would present NATO leaders with a set of highly unattractive options.

“The leaders and people of the Baltic states, who would need to decide whether to defend their capitals, would confront the first quandary. Quality light forces, like the U.S. airborne infantry that the NATO players typically deployed into Riga and Tallinn, can put up stout resistance when dug into urban terrain. But the cost of mounting such a defense to the city and its residents is typically very high, as the residents of Grozny learned at the hands of the Russian Army in 1999–2000. Furthermore, these forces likely could not be resupplied or relieved before being overwhelmed. Whether Estonia’s or Latvia’s leaders would choose to turn their biggest cities into battlefields—indeed, whether they should—is, of course, uncertain,” the report reads.

The second and larger conundrum would be one for the U.S. President and the leaders of the other 27 NATO countries. A rapid Russian occupation of all or much of one or two NATO member states would present the Alliance with three options, all unappetizing.

Even a successful counteroffensive would almost certainly be bloody and costly and would have political consequences that are unforeseeable in advance but could prove dramatic. Any counteroffensive would also be fraught with severe escalatory risks. If the Crimea experience can be taken as a precedent, Moscow could move rapidly to formally annex the occupied territories to Russia. NATO clearly would not recognize the legitimacy of such a gambit, but from Russia’s perspective it would at least nominally bring them under Moscow’s nuclear umbrella.

The second option would be for NATO to turn the escalatory tables, taking a page from its Cold War doctrine of “massive retaliation,” and threaten Moscow with a nuclear response if it did not withdraw from the territory it had occupied. This option was a core element of the Alliance’s strategy against the Warsaw Pact for the duration of the latter’s existence and could certainly be called on once again in these circumstances.

The third possibility would be to concede, at least for the near to medium term, Russian control of the territory they had occupied. Under this scenario, the best outcome would likely be a new cold war, with the 21st century’s version of the old “inner German border” drawn somewhere across Lithuania or Latvia. The worst be would be the collapse of NATO itself and the crumbling of the cornerstone of Western security for almost 70 years.

Full article: U.S. think tank RAND: Currently postured, NATO could not defend Baltic states (UNIAN)

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