Since the end of the Cold War, NATO has taken a threefold approach of collective defense, enlargement, and cooperative security to respond to the dramatic changes Europe has undergone since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. How to prioritize these different elements has been and still is disputed among the alliance’s twenty-nine members, all of which have their own, sometimes divergent, interests. At the heart of the alliance, however, lies the collective defense commitment to assist each other in the event of an armed attack.
For the past twenty years, as NATO has mostly pursued an open door policy toward Central and Eastern Europe, the alliance has grown by integrating former members of the Warsaw Pact, nonmembers who were previously friendly with the Soviet Union, and three former Soviet republics (the three Baltic states). The principles underlying enlargement are that new member states must choose freely to join NATO, that they fulfill a number of political and military criteria (such as having settled any ethnic or external territorial disputes, as well as being able to contribute militarily and financially to collective defense), and that their accession strengthens the alliance.1 In addition, NATO has fostered close cooperative ties with all other former Soviet republics and continues to champion their political independence. At the same time, NATO has engaged Russia to try to alleviate Moscow’s concerns about NATO enlargement and to pursue cooperation in areas of common security interest, such as mutual military risk reduction and counterterrorism. NATO insists that it does not seek conflict with Russia.2
NATO members have sometimes disagreed about which elements of this approach to prioritize; at times, fractures between different national positions have become very visible. For example, at NATO’s 2008 Bucharest Summit, the United States and some other allies pushed for Georgia and Ukraine to become members, directly challenging a core Russian interest. But France and Germany blocked this proposed accession, partly because they were concerned about Russia’s likely negative reaction and partly because they questioned the fitness of these states to join NATO and their potential to strengthen the alliance.3
Russia’s occupation of Crimea and subsequent deterioration in relations with NATO has again pushed the task of collective defense to the fore.4 At its 2016 Warsaw Summit, NATO allies underscored that Moscow is now considered to be a “challenge [to] the Alliance” and “a source of regional instability.”5 To meet this challenge, NATO agreed first and foremost to assure its easternmost allies and to enhance its means of deterring and defending against Russia. But allies also recognized the need to increase the resilience of all members and to seek dialogue with Russia.
For NATO, the Russian challenge presents multiple uncertainties, which exacerbate the potential for disagreement. For starters, NATO members have different views of Moscow’s intentions in the post-Soviet space and toward the alliance. Some officials from certain members—including the three Baltic states, Poland, and the United States—have repeatedly claimed that the Kremlin is “revanchist,” in the sense that it purportedly wants to redraw the map of Europe.6 They argue that Russia’s aggressive actions in Ukraineemonstrate Moscow’s willingness to use force in the former Soviet republics. They fear that Moscow could even use military force against the alliance, particularly the Baltic states. At a minimum, they see Russia as a challenger of the status quo—a view diametrically opposed to Moscow’s view of itself.
For NATO, the Russian challenge presents multiple uncertainties, which exacerbate the potential for disagreement.
In addition, the states that see Russia as revanchist are mindful of Russian domestic politics and how these forces interact with the tensions with NATO. According to a popular—and probably correct—theory, Putin, confronted with an ailing Russian economy, to some extent may need the friction with NATO, and particularly with Washington, to hold on to power.7 According to this theory, Putin’s efforts to foster nationalistic support to divert attention from Russia’s deep-seated domestic problems could even force him to militarily test the alliance one day.
Other NATO members—such as France, Germany, and Italy—seem rather skeptical that Moscow presents an immediate military threat to NATO and question the plausibility of Russia waging war against the world’s most powerful military alliance.8 Some former officials and analysts from these countries agree with the Kremlin’s view that NATO has moved too far east and understand how Russia could perceive NATO enlargement as a threat.9
This general disagreement about current and projected Russian intentions and interests is important because it exacerbates the potential for escalation for two quite different reasons. First, if NATO underestimates the threat from Russia, that may give Moscow reason to test the alliance’s resolve—maybe even by escalating to the use of military force against NATO’s weakest link, the Baltic states. In this case, an incorrect threat assessment by NATO could invite Moscow to deliberately escalate the already simmering general tensions with NATO and go a significant step further, perhaps by invading one of the Baltic states. Second, and conversely, if NATO overestimates the threat from Russia, its well-intentioned defensive measures may reinforce legitimate, as well as imagined, Russian security concerns. In this case, misreading the threat could lead NATO to create additional pressure on Moscow to up the ante, which could lead to both arms races and increased tensions—making escalation more likely. These two potential risks—of NATO doing too little and doing too much—create very specific escalation risks in the Baltic region, in both the conventional and nuclear realms.
If NATO underestimates the threat from Russia, that may give Moscow reason to test the alliance’s resolve— maybe even with military force against NATO’s weakest link, the Baltic states.
The Risks of Conventional Escalation
The regional imbalance between NATO’s and Russia’s conventional forces, NATO’s own deterrence loopholes, and the geography of the Baltics all make both deliberate and inadvertent escalation possible. Although NATO as a whole has much greater conventional military capabilities than Russia, Moscow enjoys a significant margin of conventional superiority in the wider Baltic region (see map). Russia has been heavily funding and modernizing its aging armed forces over the last decade, making them a credible force again. In addition, Moscow continues to expand its arsenal of long-range cruise missiles and other precision-guided munitions.
To be fair, Russian modernization efforts continue to experience serious setbacks, as a result of widespread corruption and mismanagement, for instance. The Kremlin’s goal of equipping 70 percent of its forces with the latest military equipment by 2020 is generally considered largely aspirational.10 Nevertheless, Western analysts assume that in case of an open military attack on one or more of the Baltic states, Russian forces would most likely overrun Baltic defenses within only a few days, presenting NATO with a military fait accompli.11
Recognizing these weaknesses, the NATO allies agreed at the 2016 Warsaw Summit to deploy four multinational battalions—a so-called Enhanced Forward Presence (EFP)—to the three Baltic states and Poland. NATO also agreed to increase the intensity and scope of its exercises in the region to deter Russian aggression and assure its eastern members. Separately, the United States has sent additional forces and military equipment under a U.S. national program known as the European Deterrence Initiative. (See Box 1 for a description of the forces deployed under the EFP and the European Deterrence Initiative.)
Box 1: NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence and the U.S. European Deterrence Initiative
NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence (EFP) consists of four battalion-sized battlegroups (totaling about 4,500 personnel) deployed in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland. Each battalion is led by a framework nation—the United Kingdom in Estonia, Canada in Latvia, Germany in Lithuania, and the United States in Poland. These framework nations contribute the majority of forces to each battalion. In addition to the framework nations, twelve other NATO allies participate in the EFP. NATO is also establishing eight small headquarters—the so-called NATO force integration units (NFIUs). One NFIU is located in each country in the region; these units are designed to serve as reinforcement hubs and to link NATO forces to their national hosts. The four EFP battlegroups are assigned to NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), but effectively have three lines of command: (1) NATO’s command structure; (2) national lines of command from contributing nations; and (3) the command line from the respective host nation. The EFP’s contributing nations and the four host states are in the process of determining common rules of engagement, specific to the regional deployments.12 In the event of a conflict, NATO’s Graduated Response Plan (known as Eagle Defender) would come into play; this plan contains its own detailed rules of engagement. In any case, even in the event of a conflict, SACEUR can only move forces in a very limited fashion—and not beyond borders without a North Atlantic Council executive directive.
Under the European Deterrence Initiative, the United States deployed a range of forces including an armored brigade combat team (of about 3,500 personnel) that continuously rotates through NATO’s easternmost member states. This deployment also includes a combat aviation brigade (of about 2,200 personnel), headquartered in Germany; a combat sustainment support battalion (of about 750 personnel), based in Poland with a logistics hub in Romania; and a support team in Lithuania. These steps have increased the overall number of U.S. combat brigades in Europe to three, while also pre-positioning stocks of military equipment for a fourth brigade.
NATO force deployments to Eastern Europe—the EFP in particular—are intended to increase pressure on NATO members to respond more forcefully in the event of combat. The logic behind this strategy is that involving NATO forces from a variety of nations in a conflict against Russia—and hence giving them a direct stake in the outcome—would help minimize pressure within the alliance to simply cede to Russia any territory it may take, thus strengthening deterrence and preventing deliberate Russian escalation.
However, the benefits of this multinational approach might be significantly overstated. As some Western analysts have pointed out, a limited, targeted Russian attack could implicate only a small subset of the nations that contribute to the EFP.13 If Russia were to solely attack, say, Latvia (which has about 5,300 active national personnel), its forces would face about 1,100 additional soldiers from Albania, Canada, Italy, Poland, Slovenia, and Spain—but Russia would not face British, French, German, or U.S. forces.14 In fact, given that the EFP base in Latvia is located in Ādaži, more than 200 kilometers from the Latvian-Russian border, even the Latvian EFP battlegroup would not necessarily be involved in the initial stages of combat if Russia were to attack and rapidly seize only a small part of eastern Latvia. Moreover, Russia has repeatedly shown that it can muster a force of up to 100,000 personnel in its Western Military District on relatively short notice.15 The small EFP force that would line up against them would essentially constitute a trip wire that could neither halt nor push back a serious Russian intervention. The main purpose of the EFP personnel would be to ensure that as many NATO allies as possible would be involved in combat, or to put it more bluntly, would die.16
The grim logic of this arrangement is that once the trip wire is pulled, NATO would be forced to retake the Baltic states if it were to not accept (temporary) defeat at Russia’s hands. In the event of a crisis or combat, the EFP could, according to current plans, receive two waves of reinforcements. The first to arrive would be NATO’s Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF)—also known as the Spearhead Force—which consists of, at most, 13,000 personnel. The Spearhead is the most rapidly deployable part of the Enhanced NATO Response Force (eNRF) the rest of which would follow later. At most, the complete eNRF consists of 40,000 personnel (including the Spearhead).17
Assembling, moving, and deploying those forces would take time. NATO estimates that it would take less than seven days to deploy the Spearhead.18 Little is known publicly about the readiness of the rest of the eNRF.19 Some experts believe that “between 30 and 45 days” would be needed “from notice to movement”—a timeline that does not include actual deployment.20 How long it would take European allies to muster additional credible forces for a potential third wave, given the atrophied state of some European allies’ forces, is even less clear.21 One study concluded that even British, French, or German forces would have a hard time providing a combat-ready heavy brigade at short notice.22
Of course, in the event of a crisis, it would be possible for individual NATO states, most notably the United States, to bypass NATO’s political command structure and intervene independently ahead of a NATO decision.23 However, doing so would come at the political price of rendering NATO’s collective decisionmaking in the North Atlantic Council (NAC) obsolete. Moreover, given the current U.S. administration’s ambiguous commitment to Article V, Washington’s willingness to intervene independently is questionable. In any case, all military crisis planning ultimately depends on NATO allies politically agreeing to use force to counter a potential Russian attack. While the decision to enter war with Russia would certainly not be an easy one, it would require a unanimous vote by the twenty-nine members of the NAC.24
NATO’s long reaction times create another problem—the risk of inadvertent escalation. In the event that Russia threatened a conventional attack, NATO decisionmakers would be under potentially enormous pressure to ready the Spearhead and perhaps also the eNRF as early as possible to prevent deliberate escalation. But Moscow could misinterpret these actions as an imminent threat, leading Russia to rapidly escalate in response.25 NATO could try to communicate the purposes behind its actions to Russia, but doing so persuasively could be difficult.
The current configuration has loopholes that might provide Russia with the opportunity for a military fait accompli, effectively taking a small part of Latvia. This increases the risk of deliberate escalation.
To make matters worse, the geography of the Baltics would not be conducive to NATO operations. Russia enjoys considerable strategic depth in its vast Western Military District and has a well-integrated railroad system to reinforce troops quickly in the event of a conflict. By contrast, NATO allies would have to fly or ship in reinforcements of personnel and military equipment—a much slower process.26 NATO has decided against pre-positioning equipment in the Baltic states; much U.S. equipment is, for example, based 1,500 kilometers away in Germany. Reinforcing by land would entail multiple challenges, ranging from NATO’s atrophied logistics or missing railway links in Eastern Europe to Russia’s abilities to hold NATO’s transportation nodes at risk.
Particularly the latter represents a serious problem for NATO. The flow of NATO’s reinforcements—by air, sea, and land routes—could be disrupted by Russia’s substantial modern anti-access and area denial (A2/AD) capabilities, which are centered in the Kaliningrad exclave and around Saint Petersburg. These capabilities include conventional and dual-capable guided missiles, anti-ship weapons, air defense systems, and several layers of modern radar.27 If accusations that Russia has violated the INF Treaty are correct, then Moscow might well also possess dual-capable intermediate-range missiles that could be used to target key transport nodes and pre-positioned equipment deep in Western Europe.
Taken together, the current EFP configuration has loopholes that might provide Russia with the opportunity for a military fait accompli, effectively taking a small part of Latvia. This increases the risk of deliberate escalation. Without the EFP directly involved in early combat, NATO members might find it hard to agree on immediate military counteractions. If Russia were to only threaten a conventional attack, the risk of inadvertent escalation might increase once NATO decides to deploy additional forces to the Baltics. Russia might simply misread NATO’s defensive move as offensive. Last but not least, in any crisis or open conflict with Russia, NATO would face serious but not insurmountable obstacles reinforcing its troops.
Doing Too Little vs. Doing Too Much
Some Western analysts have criticized NATO’s deterrence and assurance measures for not doing enough to meaningfully mitigate the risk of deliberate Russian escalation. They worry that NATO’s current policy may still leave Moscow tempted to test the alliance with its superior conventional forces unless NATO follows up with a strategy for overcoming Russian A2/AD capabilities and enabling swift reinforcement.28 Others have argued for the additional deployment of large-scale, mainly U.S. troops to the region to help bypass the reinforcement problem.29 According to war games conducted by the RAND Corporation, NATO would probably need seven heavily armed brigades (of about 35,000 personnel) permanently deployed in the region to prevent a Russian fait accompli and an additional nine to fourteen maneuver brigades (of up to about 70,000 personnel) as reinforcements to drive Russian forces back.30
Officials from the region have echoed some of these concerns. Baltic officials, in particular, argue in private conversations for additional deployments—particularly of U.S. forces—to their countries, though on a much more limited scale than proposed in the RAND study. They express an expectation that current deterrence and assurance measures are only the starting point for a larger effort aimed at modernizing and streamlining NATO’s overall command structure, and they maintain that the next steps must include efforts to permanently secure reinforcement routes, to have reinforcement personnel ready at all times, and to provide indigenous Baltic forces with advanced equipment, such as air defense systems, needed to win time in any war with Russia.31
These views are at odds with those of other NATO allies who have warned the alliance of unnecessarily increasing tensions with Russia by going beyond current deployments. Germany and France, in particular, seem to believe that the EFP is sufficient and that further military deployments are not an urgent matter.32 Conscious of cost considerations, they point to allies’ combined military and economic superiority and see the Russian conventional edge in the Baltics as only one side of the equation. After all, on the other hand, NATO states currently have 3.2 million personnel in their collective militaries, compared to 830,000 active Russian servicemen; moreover, the United States maintains, by far, the world’s largest and most powerful armed forces. In the words of the former head of Poland’s National Security Bureau, Army General Stanisław Koziej, “NATO is the most powerful military alliance in the world and has the largest military potential at its disposal, the deterrence power of which discourages any potential adversary from confrontation.”33 The allies that take this position receive support from NATO’s Southern European members, who would instead like to see greater attention focused on North Africa and the Middle East to counter threats such as mass migration and international terrorism.34
Further arguments against a more muscular NATO policy in Eastern Europe include recognition of Russia’s legitimate interest in securing Kaliningrad (which might be hard for Moscow to defend in a war with NATO35) and NATO’s ability to hold Russian A2/AD assets at risk, using assets that include dozens of advanced stealthy air-launched cruise missiles recently acquired by Poland.36 According to the U.S. chief of naval operations, Admiral John Richardson, “The reality is that we can fight from within these defended [A2/AD] areas and if needed, we will.”37
Proponents of a more cautious approach worry that NATO and Russia are entering a self-reinforcing cycle of mutual insecurity.
Proponents of a more cautious approach worry that NATO and Russia are entering a self-reinforcing cycle of mutual insecurity, with each side (mis)interpreting the actions of the other as potentially offensive in nature. They argue that the instability of an uncontrolled arms race, driven by a desire for more security, further increases general tensions with Russia and could ultimately lead to escalation.38 Germany, in particular, has spearheaded calls for NATO-Russian talks on confidence- and security-building measures (CSBMs) and arms control, building on NATO’s consensus decision at the 2014 Wales Summit to renew dialogue with Russia over the long term.39 Berlin argues that NATO should not forget that goal. Germany sees arms control measures for the wider Baltic region—such as mutual force limitations in the region and more transparency regarding large as well as snap Russian exercises—as useful tools for enhancing crisis stability and avoiding a renewed arms race.40
While recognizing Moscow’s aggressive policies over the last few years, proponents of arms control want to see an ongoing NATO commitment to hold on to the last remaining vestiges of the cooperative security regime with Russia. They fear that going beyond NATO’s current deterrence and assurance measures in the Baltic states and Poland could overload the NATO-Russia Founding Act of 1997, in which NATO pledged not to permanently station additional “substantial combat forces” on the territories of those states.41 NATO reiterated this pledge at the Warsaw Summit.42
For the time being, NATO seems focused on maintaining the delicate balance of assuring its easternmost allies, considering calls for caution, and signaling resolve as well as non-offensive intentions to Russia. The size of the EFP, in particular, is a concession to NATO’s more cautious allies to maintain alliance unity and to signal restraint toward Russia. At the same time, as a result of this concession, NATO has accepted the military and political hardship that would come with retaking the Baltics in the event of a potential Russian attack.
This consensus is, however, not necessarily set in stone. Any significant and permanent buildup of Russian forces close to Baltic territories, which has not occurred so far, or another Russian intervention in the post-Soviet space—in Belarus, for example—would strengthen arguments in favor of more NATO boots on the ground. Meanwhile, the longer that the status quo and its multiple escalation risks persists without further Russian military aggression, the stronger the voices within the alliance will grow to add a significant détente component to NATO’s current approach.
The Risks of Nuclear Escalation
Beyond the aforementioned risks of conventional escalation, additional escalation pathways extend to the nuclear realm of the NATO-Russia relationship. In its official documents, NATO is upfront and states that the alliance reserves the right to use nuclear weapons. At the same time, it concedes that “the circumstances in which any use of nuclear weapons might have to be contemplated are extremely remote.”43 However, that does not necessarily imply that the alliance would be unwilling to use nuclear weapons in the event of a crisis.
But words are only one part of the equation. The other is that NATO has put much less emphasis on its nuclear deterrent in Europe since the end of the Cold War. The alliance has forward-deployed an estimated 150 U.S. B-61 gravity bombs in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey.44 The gravity bombs deployed in Turkey are not operational as long as nuclear-capable aircraft are not stationed at the İncirlik Air Base. As noted before, Russia has an estimated 2,000 tactical nuclear arms, many of which are assumed to be stored in depots in the western (European) part of the country, and Moscow regularly conducts exercises to simulate the transition from conventional to nuclear warfare. That said, even though Russia now relies heavily on the threat of nuclear use, and even though NATO has reduced its reliance on nuclear arms, the alliance still threatens nuclear use to try and deter a Russian attack against the Baltics.45
There are, nonetheless, a range of views within NATO on its nuclear posture. To begin with, nuclear weapons are generally very unpopular in all of the five NATO states that host U.S. B-61 bombs; politicians in Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands have regularly responded to this domestic sentiment by seeking to remove these U.S. weapons.46 Moreover, some alliance members do not see an immediate need to take steps to bolster NATO’s nuclear posture in the wake of Russia’s annexation of Crimea. As a result, in recent years, member states have shied away from an open debate about NATO’s nuclear deterrent, and NATO’s nuclear policy has not been updated.
In fact, like Russia’s nuclear doctrine, NATO’s current nuclear policy contains quite an element of ambiguity as well. Would NATO be ready to use nuclear weapons in a conflict with Russia?
In fact, like Russia’s nuclear doctrine, NATO’s current nuclear policy contains quite an element of ambiguity as well. Would NATO be ready to use nuclear weapons in a conflict with Russia? The answer is far from obvious given the contradictions between the alliance’s official declaratory policy and members’ divergent views on nuclear arms. The resulting inadvertent ambiguity could in fact prevent escalation, for Russia might shy away from testing NATO’s nuclear resolve. On the other hand, this ambiguity could also invite deliberate nuclear escalation if Russia misreads it.
Doing Too Little vs. Doing Too Much
The intra-alliance debate over nuclear weapons is similar to the one over conventional forces. Critics who worry that NATO is doing too little perceive Russia as having more, and more readily available, capabilities, as well as, perhaps, greater resolve to escalate to nuclear use. They worry that NATO’s resolve to use nuclear weapons is undermined by powerful domestic opposition to nuclear arms in key member states and by the fact that NATO’s combined conventional forces are still superior to Russia’s (which is to say there might be no actual need for NATO to use its nuclear weapons).47 Some allies also criticize NATO for not making meaningful attempts to explain to their publics why nuclear arms continue to matter.48 The result of this lack of public discussion, they claim, is that NATO’s forward-deployed nuclear weapons are typically kept in such a way that they are weeks away from being ready to use.49 As a result, critics charge NATO with being unprepared for nuclear use.
Other points of criticism abound as well. For instance, NATO exercises do not practice the transition from conventional to nuclear warfare, as Russian exercises do. Another issue is that a minority of experts also views NATO’s numerical nuclear inferiority in Europe as problematic and is concerned that the existing imbalance will be further tipped in Russia’s favor if Moscow really is producing and deploying weapons in violation of the INF Treaty.50 Polish experts, in particular, have expressed additional concerns about the possibility of Russia secretly moving nuclear warheads for short-range missiles into Kaliningrad.51 Especially in light of Moscow’s alleged doctrine of escalate-to-deescalate, these critics believe that NATO would be left without an appropriate response if Russia were to escalate to nuclear use or even if it just threatened nuclear use following an attack on NATO territory.52 As a result, they worry that NATO’s nuclear deterrent might not be sufficiently credible to prevent deliberate Russian escalation.
Against this backdrop, the new 2018 U.S. Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) argues that to “credibly deter Russian nuclear or non-nuclear strategic attacks . . . the President must have a range of limited and graduated options, including a variety of delivery systems and explosive yields.”53 Such capabilities, the drafters of the NPR argue, would “pose insurmountable difficulties to any Russian strategy of aggression against the United States, its allies, or partners and ensure the credible prospect of unacceptably dire costs to the Russian leadership if it were to choose aggression.”54 In concrete terms, the NPR recommends new sea-based nuclear options, including low-yield nuclear warheads, designed to introduce additional tailored nuclear responses. Those proposals are most likely welcome in Eastern Europe, and particularly in Poland, where some analysts and officials have debated the option of making Polish F-16 fighter jets nuclear-capable to support NATO’s nuclear missions.55
Those who oppose efforts to strengthen NATO’s nuclear profile make a strong case that doing so would risk serious disunity because of the strong public opposition to nuclear weapons in many European NATO states. In response to the criticism that NATO lacks the capabilities necessary for deterrence, they point out that NATO is already tailoring its deterrent capability. In particular, the U.S. B-61s have a so-called dial-a-yield functionality that reportedly permits them to produce a yield as low as 0.3 kilotons or as high as 170 kilotons.56
Moreover, prior to the new NPR, Washington was already in the process of enhancing NATO’s nuclear deterrence capabilities. Starting in 2022, Washington will field a modernized version of the B-61 with improved accuracy and (again) adjustable yields.57 In addition, the new U.S. administration is proceeding with plans to acquire between 1,000 and 1,100 new air-launched nuclear-armed cruise missiles that, in the event of a crisis, could be deployed to Europe along with the necessary U.S. aircraft.58 Washington has also begun to reinsert a nuclear presence into some NATO exercises since the annexation of Crimea—including two exercises in the Baltic region—with the participation of nuclear-capable U.S. B-52 bombers.59
Those who oppose efforts to strengthen NATO’s nuclear profile claim doing so would risk disunity because of the public opposition to nuclear weapons in many European NATO states.
Moreover, critics underline the grave dangers that a U.S. doctrine based on limited nuclear use might pose to the general stability promised by nuclear deterrence.60 They argue that the introduction of smaller yield warheads might cause Russia to conclude that the United States is enhancing its ability to conduct a disarming first strike against Russia with minimal civilian casualties.61 Referring to Russia’s alleged doctrine of escalate-to-deescalate, then U.S. deputy defense secretary Robert Work and Admiral James Winnefeld stated in 2015: “Anyone who thinks they can control escalation through the use of nuclear weapons is literally playing with fire. Escalation is escalation, and nuclear use would be the ultimate escalation.”62 If Work’s and Winnefeld’s assumption is true, and if it applies to the United States and NATO as well, changing NATO’s nuclear posture to include further options for managing nuclear escalation might well outweigh the perceived benefits. Finally, proponents of a more cautious nuclear approach want to prevent allies from unnecessarily entering a new nuclear arms race with Russia, which could raise tensions and, hence, risk escalation and the unity of the alliance.
For the time being, NATO’s nuclear policy continues to follow this more cautious approach. But the NPR’s recommendation of introducing additional low-yield nuclear options to the U.S. arsenal might well trigger a debate among allies about possible adjustments of NATO’s nuclear doctrine. Current events, particularly the ongoing crisis over the INF Treaty, could lend additional credence to those urging NATO to take a fresh look at its approach to nuclear deterrence.
The Challenges Associated with Nonkinetic Operations
Moscow’s NGW strategy also forces NATO to look beyond, or more precisely, below, the nuclear and conventional rungs of the escalation ladder to the problems caused by Russia’s nonkinetic operations. Deterrence and assurance are not necessarily an effective remedy against these operations as many of them take place in the civilian realm and cannot be countered by classical military means. It is, therefore, necessary for NATO to embrace a holistic strategy that doubles down on resilience measures, aimed at mitigating nonkinetic escalation risks. Moscow’s nonkinetic operations against NATO member states have essentially two goals: (1) avoiding a large-scale military conflict with the alliance while, at the same time, (2) gradually undermining member states’ internal cohesion by puzzling and exhausting them, the ultimate aim being to coerce allies into accepting unfavorable political outcomes, such as giving up on promoting the independence of the other former Soviet republics.
The diverse range of Russia’s nonkinetic toolbox makes it challenging for NATO states to identify one single action, such as Russian sponsorship of anti-government groups, as sufficiently serious to demand a strong response and, then, for member states to decide what that strong response should be. Nevertheless, this form of low-level attacks in nonmilitary domains and by non-attributable or low-visibility actions can further exacerbate general tensions between NATO and Russia and could potentially create the conditions for a crisis. This problem is particularly apparent in the three Baltic states.
Moscow’s disruptive propaganda and disinformation campaigns targeting the three Baltic states have been in operation for more than a decade.63 All three of these states are home to ethnic Russian minorities, which constituted 25 percent of Estonia’s population, 26.9 percent of Latvia’s, and about 5.8 percent of Lithuania’s in 2011 respectively.64 Most of these groups are fairly well integrated, and problems generally do not arise in daily life. But they continue to value their Russian roots, language, and family or business ties. Moreover, their relationship to the Baltic majorities is often fraught because of mutual historical grievances about the Soviet occupation of the Baltic states and the breakup of the Soviet Union. Almost all of these Baltic Russian minorities receive their daily information entirely through Russian state-sponsored media, which incorrectly describes the three countries as “failing states” with huge economic and political problems that are unfit to serve as proper homes for the Russians living there, not least because their Baltic majorities purportedly have stark anti-Russian feelings.65
Since 2014, these efforts to negatively manipulate Russian minorities in the Baltics, which sometimes border on outright hate speech, have accelerated. With the arrival of the first units of the EFP, Russian propaganda increased. For example, in February 2017, a source, believed to be Russian, reported the alleged rape of a Lithuanian teenager by a group of German soldiers.66 Even though the Lithuanian authorities quickly rebutted this untrue story, potential mistrust between the Baltic populations and the multinational NATO forces might undermine the former’s general acceptance of the latter and thus impede their defensive value for the Baltic states.
The danger of nonkinetic Russian operations in the information space stems from their deliberate as well as inadvertent effects and the difficulty of defending against them. The deliberate effect is to prevent reconciliation efforts between the many ethnic groups populating the Baltic states and to present authorities with manifold internal problems, such as fighting a constant uphill battle against hardening mutual prejudices. But the inadvertent effects could go much further, since the constant seeping of propaganda and disinformation into the collective consciousness of Russian minorities could at some point lead to a domestic crisis, perhaps sparked by a totally mundane event, such as local rivalries between different groups of youth turning into violent protests. In the wake of such an incident, the Kremlin could face mounting domestic pressure to intervene if Russian minorities were involved.
The danger of nonkinetic Russian operations in the information space stems from their deliberate as well as inadvertent effects and the difficulty of defending against them.
Baltic officials and experts have a range of views about the likelihood of such a scenario. The majority describe Russia’s leverage as rather limited, particularly in comparison to how much it held over Georgia and Ukraine prior to its interventions in those countries. There are experts, however, who warn against underestimating the Kremlin’s destabilization efforts because the consequences of these efforts being successful could be quite dire.67 Either way, Russia’s employment of nonkinetic operations, even though deliberately aimed at avoiding large-scale escalation, could inadvertently lead to that exact outcome.
The big challenge for NATO is that deterring these operations with classical military means is almost impossible, particularly since Russia relies on a wide range of nonkinetic operations across multiple nonmilitary domains—such as cyberattacks, criminal activities like fostering corruption, and intelligence operations aimed at probing border security measures.68 Responding with conventional—let alone nuclear—deterrence threats is not credible because such traditional military defense measures are highly disproportionate. A related risk is that because Russian nonkinetic operations can fly under the radar, NATO members might pay too much attention to nuclear or conventional escalation scenarios and fail to give adequate attention to Russian nonkinetic operations.
One of NATO’s responses so far has been to focus on strengthening the resilience of its members to nonkinetic operations. Resilience aims to lessen the impact of a future shock by preparing states to manage a crisis such as a sudden, sustained nationwide electricity outage.69 Societies can prepare for large-scale evacuations by regularly practicing this contingency and by storing supplies in case an emergency occurs. In concrete terms, Lithuania has started to raise public awareness about the possibility that Russia may stage a military attack and has widely disseminated small handbooks to its people on how to act in such an event.70
Like deterrence, resilience is preventive, but the latter operates without making a threat. In the words of Patrick Turner, NATO’s assistant secretary general for operations, “we can only confront today’s security challenges effectively if we strengthen our civil preparedness alongside our military preparedness.”71 But although NATO’s resilience efforts include securing critical civilian infrastructure, such as electrical grids and power stations, against cyberattacks or sabotage as well as defending against cyber intrusions that might hurt local economies, the alliance’s primary concern still centers around preventing the disruption of military deployments to ensure effective deterrence and defense.72
What remains open to debate is how to tailor resilience measures in the Baltics to reduce the vulnerability of Russian minorities against Russian propaganda and disinformation. So far, allies have viewed resilience as a primarily national responsibility that NATO can support by, for instance, cooperating with the European Union.73 Some allies are concerned that concentrating too much on resilience might run the risk of losing sight of NATO’s traditional core missions of deterrence and defense.74 A report authorized by the Latvian National Defense Academy exemplifies such sentiment, concluding that “Russia’s influence in Latvia is limited.”75 Some experts, meanwhile, view Russian nonkinetic operations as a mere repetition of “Soviet-style” propaganda that has already been shown to fail.76 Still others argue that in an increasingly interconnected world, it would be extremely difficult to comprehensively defend against the NGW’s inherently boundless approach, and so they advocate good governance and appropriate minority rights.77
All in all, even though NATO’s approach to resilience is much less controversial within the alliance than its deterrence and assurance policies, the alliance shies away from playing a larger role in seeking to foster civilian resilience in the three Baltic states, including efforts to address the potential vulnerability of the Russian minorities there. To be clear, the alliance could be tested in the future. For example, EFP forces could become a high-priority target of Russian nonkinetic operations, such as protests in front of military barracks, sabotage, or terrorist activities. Such operations could be aimed at undermining public acceptance of the EFP, both in the countries that provide the forces and in their host countries.78
Having said that, so far none of the allies in the Baltics have experienced any concerted or sustained large-scale, nonkinetic, Russian attack across multiple domains that could seriously test the effectiveness of existing national resilience measures. In the absence of such a reality check, NATO allies face the challenge of identifying all the domains that could lend themselves to escalatory Russian actions so as to keep up with Moscow’s creativity in conducting nonkinetic operations, while avoiding the over-securitization of almost all parts of everyday life.
The Risk of Accidental Escalation
Russia has stepped up military brinkmanship vis-à-vis NATO members and other nonmember states in Europe since the annexation of Crimea in 2014. Brinkmanship, as a tactic aimed at intimidating the opponent, entails the risk of accidental escalation, if (for instance) adversarial forces operate in close proximity. Like Russia’s nonkinetic operations, the risk of accidental escalation cannot be addressed by deterrence. Instead, managing accidental escalation requires NATO allies to more actively pursue good communications and risk-reduction measures.
In the past few years, Moscow has repeatedly violated the national airspaces of countries in Northern Europe, such as the Baltic states, as well as those of non-NATO members like Finland and Sweden.79 In response, national or NATO aircraft usually approach the offending Russian jets and drive or escort them back. The immediate tactical aim of the Russian pilots conducting such maneuvers is to test the readiness of national air defenses. Close military encounters involving Russian forces also happen in international airspace and over international waters. In these environments as well, Russian pilots have exhibited risky behavior, by getting very close to surveillance planes or ships, for instance. Especially early on in the Ukraine crisis, there were even cases in which civilian aircraft were endangered.80 Ultimately, the strategic goal behind these dangerous tactics is to intimidate Russia’s neighbors and remind them that Moscow is a capable military power.
Like Russia’s nonkinetic operations, the risk of accidental escalation cannot be addressed by deterrence.
Quite often, these tactics create the risk of accidental escalation. For example, a Russian fighter aircraft deliberately came extremely close to a U.S. destroyer over the Baltic Sea in 2016.81 Even though Russia maintains a highly professional air force, a technical glitch or human error in such situations could lead to an unintended accident causing the deaths of multiple NATO military personnel. Hasty overreactions can lead to fatalities as well. In 2015, the Turkish military shot down a Russian jet after issuing multiple warnings for Russian aircraft not to continue violating Turkish national airspace. In the wake of that incident, tensions between Moscow and Ankara ran high, as each side accused the other of misbehavior.82 The larger risk behind such dangerous maneuvers and incidents is that they could happen in an already tense political environment. Akin to the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, an accidental military incident with fatalities could lead to domestic calls for retaliation that could, in turn, spark a larger military crisis that neither side might be able to contain.
Preventing accidental escalation calls, first and foremost, for responsible behavior. But absent the political willingness to show such behavior, improved communication can help. Before an accidental crisis, good communication can help prevent one from occurring in the first place. During an accidental crisis, reliable communication channels can help the parties involved deescalate the situation and perhaps contain the immediate political fallout. In addition, commonly agreed-upon rules of the road, such as a mutual expectation to switch on aircraft transponders at all times, perhaps embodied in bilateral and multilateral CSBMs, could help mitigate the risks of accidental escalation.
NATO allies have sought to pursue talks with Russia on risk-reduction measures and general responsible airmanship, but these efforts have stalled as the two sides have not been able to agree on the best way forward.83 NATO has suggested that Russia first change its behavior, after which the two sides could institute a political process for updating risk-reduction procedures under Chapter III of the Vienna Document, an agreement on CSBMs under the auspices of the multinational Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Because NATO suspended practical cooperation with Russia in 2014 in reaction to the annexation of Crimea, alliance members would prefer the OSCE as a forum, so as to avoid a dedicated military-to-military dialogue with Moscow. Contrary to this preference, Moscow has started to demand direct and exclusive consultations with NATO. Further complicating matters, the Ukraine crisis has interrupted continuous NATO-Russian military-to-military channels of communication at the working level.
Even though the number of incidents has gone down in recent months, NATO is aware that current conditions still create the risk of accidental escalation.
Some experts have suggested dusting off, inter alia, two bilateral U.S.-Soviet agreements from the Cold War: the Agreement on the Prevention of Incidents On and Over the High Seas (INCSEA) and the Agreement on the Prevention of Dangerous Military Activities (DMA). Both agreements were designed to regulate military forces operating in close proximity so as to reduce the risk of accidents and miscalculations by, for instance, avoiding mock attacks simulating the use of weapons against aircraft or ships.84 These agreements also contain important military-to-military communications channels, such as annual review meetings, joint military commissions, and the continuous maintenance of open communications channels based on agreed-upon call signs and radio frequencies.85 While the DMA is largely underused—the U.S.-Russian consultation commission has met only twice since the agreement was concluded in 1989—U.S.-Russian INCSEA meetings are taking place.86 In addition, eleven other NATO members have INCSEA-like arrangements with Russia in place. The problem is that in the wider Baltic region, neither Poland nor the three Baltic states have INCSEA arrangements with Russia.87
Even though the number of incidents has gone down in recent months, NATO is aware that current conditions still create the risk of accidental escalation. Officially, risk-reduction efforts are considered a priority for NATO—under the headline of general engagement with Russia—as stated in the 2016 Warsaw Summit declaration.88 However, there seems to be disagreement within the alliance about the terms of engagement with Moscow and the nature of potential deliverables. These disagreements and a general lack of Russian cooperation create the risk of putting off efforts to address the problem of accidental escalation.
1 See NATO, “Study on NATO Enlargement,” September 3, 1995, http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/official_texts_24733.htm.
2 In the words of then secretary of state Hillary Clinton: “NATO must and will remain open to any country that aspires to become a member and can meet the requirements of membership. But we do not seek to create divisions between neighbors and partners. Russia’s confidence in its security enhances our own.” Hillary Clinton, “Remarks on the Future of European Security,” U.S. Department of State, L’Ecole Militaire, Paris, France, January 29, 2010, https://2009-2017.state.gov/secretary/20092013clinton/rm/2010/01/136273.htm.
3 Adam Taylor, “That Time Ukraine Tried to Join NATO — and NATO Said No,” Washington Post, September 4, 2014, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2014/09/04/that-time-ukraine-tried-to-join-nato-and-nato-said-no/?utm_term=.e29db604ee64.
4 Previously, some allies had argued that NATO should focus on out-of-area stabilization operations, particularly in Afghanistan and the Middle East.
5 NATO, “Warsaw Summit Communiqué.”
6 See Michael Weiss, “The President Who Dared to Call Putin’s Russia What It Is: A Terrorist State,” Daily Beast, March 18, 2016, https://www.lrp.lt/en/press-centre/president-in-the-media/the-president-who-dared-to-call-putins-russia-what-it-is-a-terrorist-state/24879; Lisa Ferdinando, “Work Hails U.S-Norway Ties, Expresses Concern About ‘Revanchist’ Russia,” DoD News, May 19, 2016, https://www.defense.gov/News/Article/Article/777051/work-hails-us-norway-ties-expresses-concern-about-revanchist-russia/; Matthew Day, “Poland to Increase the Size of Army by 50 Per Cent to ‘Guarantee the Integrity,’” Telegraph, November 26, 2015, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/poland/12019815/Poland-to-increase-the-size-of-army-by-50-per-cent-to-guarantee-the-integrity.html.
7 Eugene Rumer, Richard Sokolsky, Paul Stronski, and Andrew S. Weiss, Illusions Vs Reality: Twenty-Five Years of U.S. Policy Toward Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia (Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2017), http://carnegieendowment.org/files/CP_300_Rumer_Sokolsky_Weiss_Task_Force_Final_Web.pdf.
8 Without publicly stating it, some of those states’ officials seem to see some, though not all of the alliance’s easternmost members’ concerns as overblown, partly driven by domestic considerations or primarily as understandable historical reflexes to the experience of Soviet occupation.
9 As for Germany, see Matthew Karnitschnig, “NATO’s Germany Problem,” Politico, August 17, 2016, http://www.politico.eu/article/natos-germany-russia-problem-german-foreign-minister-frank-walter-steinmeier/.
10 Elbridge Colby, Russia’s Evolving Nuclear Doctrine and Its Implications (Paris: Foundation for Strategic Research, 2016), 5, https://www.frstrategie.org/publications/notes/web/documents/2016/201601.pdf.
11 Several war games conducted by the RAND Corporation in 2016 supported that assumption. See David A. Shlapak and Michael W. Johnson, Reinforcing Deterrence on NATO’s Eastern Flank: Wargaming the Defense of the Baltics (RAND Corporation, 2016), https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/research_reports/RR1200/RR1253/RAND_RR1253.pdf. Several analysts have subsequently criticized the RAND study for basing its conclusion on unrealistic assumptions such as overly short mobilization times for the Russian military. See Michael Kofmann, “Fixing NATO Deterrence in the East or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love NATO’s Crushing Defeat by Russia,” War on the Rocks, May 12, 2016, https://warontherocks.com/2016/05/fixing-nato-deterrence-in-the-east-or-how-i-learned-to-stop-worrying-and-love-natos-crushing-defeat-by-russia/. Interviews the author conducted with Baltic and NATO officials revealed skepticism toward the conclusions of the RAND study.
12 In the case of the German forces in Lithuania, the standard is technically a code of conduct, not rules of engagement.
13 See Martin Zapfe, “Deterrence From the Ground Up: Understanding NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence,” Survival 59, no. 3 (June-July 2017): 147–160.
14 France declined to become a framework nation, citing strained resources. See Martin Zapfe, “Threatened From Within? NATO, Trump and Institutional Adaptation,” in Strategic Trends 2017: Key Developments in Global Affairs ed. Oliver Thränert and Martin Zapfe (Zurich: ETH Zurich Center for Security Studies, 2017), 78, http://www.css.ethz.ch/content/dam/ethz/special-interest/gess/cis/center-for-securities-studies/pdfs/ST2017-04-Zapfe.pdf.
15 Ian J. Brzezinski and Nicholas Varangis, “The NATO-Russia Exercise Gap,” Atlantic Council, February 23, 2015, http://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/natosource/the-nato-russia-exercise-gap.
16 This phrase has been borrowed from Thomas Schelling, who described the purpose of U.S. and allied forces in West Berlin during the Cold War as a “garrison in Berlin . . . as fine a collection of soldiers as has ever been assembled, but excruciatingly small. What can 7,000 American troops do, or 12,000 Allied troops? Bluntly, they can die. They can die heroically, dramatically, and in a manner that guarantees that the action cannot stop there.” Thomas C. Schelling, Arms and Influence (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2008), 47.
17 Ringsmose and Rynning, “Now for the Hard Part,” 133.
18 NATO Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, “NATO Response Force / Very High Readiness Joint Task Force,” January 2016, http://www.shape.nato.int/nato-response-force--very-high-readiness-joint-task-force.
19 NATO, “NATO Response Force (NRF) Fact Sheet,” 2017, http://www.jfcbs.nato.int/page5725819/nato-response-force-nrf-fact-sheet.
20 Zapfe, “Deterrence From the Ground Up,” 153.
21 One example is the German Bundeswehr. According to its General Inspector’s annual readiness assessment of major weapons systems, 30 to 70 percent of those systems, depending on the armed services branch, are temporarily or indefinitely broken. Kai Biermann and Julian Stahnke, “Kaputte Truppe,” [Broken Forces] ZEIT Online, April 20, 2017, http://www.zeit.de/politik/deutschland/2017-04/bundeswehr-bestand-ausruestung-panzer.
22 Michael Shurkin, The Abilities of the British, French, and German Armies to Generate and Sustain Armored Brigades in the Baltics (Washington, DC: RAND Corporation, 2017), https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/research_reports/RR1600/RR1629/RAND_RR1629.pdf. This is one of the reasons allies pledged in 2014 to increase their defense spending to reverse the trends of under-equipment and inoperability.
23 Jüri Luik and Henrik Praks, Boosting the Deterrent Effect of Allied Enhanced Forward Presence (Tallinn: International Center for Defense and Security, 2017), 12, https://www.icds.ee/fileadmin/media/icds.ee/doc/ICDS_Policy_Paper_Boosting_the_Deterrent_Effect_of_Allied_EFP.pdf.
24 Zapfe, “Deterrence From the Ground Up,” 153.
25 Kulesa and Frear, NATO’s Evolving Modern Deterrence Posture, 9.
26 This is due to a lack of interconnected railroads between NATO member states in the region. However, plans are under way to connect the three Baltic states and Poland through a common rail link—called Rail Baltica—to be completed by 2030.
27 On the impact of Russian A2/AD deployments, see Alexander Lanoszka and Michael A. Hunzeker, “Confronting the Anti-Access/Area Denial and Precision Strike Challenge in the Baltic Region,” RUSI Journal 161, no. 5 (2016): 12–18.
28 See Fabrice Pothier, “An Area-Access Strategy for NATO,” Survival 59, no. 3 (June-July 2017): 73–80; Ringsmose and Rynning, “Now for the Hard Part.”
29 According to remarks by Michael Carpenter, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for Ukraine and Russia under former president Barack Obama before the U.S. Congress in May 2017: “Having armor especially on the eastern flank of the Baltic states would be a large deterrent for Russia, especially manned by Americans as opposed to the multinational brigades.” Tara Copp, “More US Forces Needed in Europe to Deter Russia, Experts Say,” Stars and Stripes, May 17, 2017, https://www.stripes.com/news/more-us-forces-needed-in-europe-to-deter-russia-experts-say-1.468865#.WScAm2dG6fH. See also David Shlapak, Deterring Russian Aggression in the Baltic States: What It Takes to Win, Hearings Before the House Armed Services Committee, Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces, 115th Cong. (2017) (testimony of David Shlapak, on March 1, 2017) https://www.rand.org/pubs/testimonies/CT467.html.
30 Shlapak, Deterring Russian Aggression in the Baltic States.
31 According to interviews the author conducted with officials from Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland in April 2017.
32 See Ringsmose and Rynning, “Now for the Hard Part.”
33 Elisabeth Braw, “Behind Putin’s Nuclear Threats,” Politico, August 18, 2015, http://www.politico.eu/article/nato-putin-russia-nuclear-weapons-ukraine-war/.
34 Ringsmose and Rynnin, “Now for the Hard Part.”
35 Pothier, “An Area-Access Strategy for NATO,” 75.
36 For a good mission description of the JASSM-ER cruise missile ordered by Poland, see Hans Kristensen “Forget LRSO; JASSM-ER Can Do the Job,” FAS Strategic Security blog, December 16, 2015, https://fas.org/blogs/security/2015/12/lrso-jassm/.
37 The full quote of John Richardson reads as follows: “A2AD is inherently oriented to the defense. It can contribute to a mindset that starts with how to operate from beyond the red arcs – an ‘outside-in’ approach. The reality is that we can fight from within these defended areas and if needed, we will. Inside-out, as well as outside-in, from above and from below – we will fight from every direction.” John Richardson, “Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson: Deconstructing A2AD,” National Interest, October 3, 2016, http://nationalinterest.org/feature/chief-naval-operations-adm-john-richardson-deconstructing-17918?page=show.
38 Particularly Germany’s position as described in Karnitschnig, “NATO’s Germany Problem.”
39 The so-called Steinmeier Initiative, named after former German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
40 Wolfgang Richter, Sub-regional Arms Control for the Baltics: What Is Desirable? What Is Feasible? (Hamburg: Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg, 2016), http://deepcuts.org/images/PDF/DeepCuts_WP8_Richter_UK.pdf.
41 NATO, “Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security Between NATO and the Russian Federation,” Paris, France, May 27, 1997.
42 NATO, “Warsaw Summit Communiqué,” paragraph nine.
43 NATO, “Deterrence and Defense Posture Review,” May 20, 2012, http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/official_texts_87597.htm.
44 Hans M. Kristensen and Robert S. Norris, “United States Nuclear Forces, 2017,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 73, no. 1 (2017): 48–57.
45 NATO, “Warsaw Summit Communiqué.”
46 See “New German Government to Seek Removal of US Nuclear Weapons,” Deutsche Welle, October 25, 2009, http://www.dw.com/en/new-german-government-to-seek-removal-of-us-nuclear-weapons/a-4824174.
47 Braw, “Behind Putin’s Nuclear Threats.”
48 This view was expressed by Polish officials and defense experts in interviews with the author.
49 According to NATO, its dual-capable aircraft “are available for nuclear roles at various levels of readiness—the highest level of readiness is measured in weeks.” NATO, “NATO’s Nuclear Deterrence Policy and Forces,” December 3, 2015, http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/topics_50068.htm#.
50 Kroenig, “Facing Reality.”
51 One Polish expert described this possibility as “crossing a red line” in an interview with the author. On February 5, 2018, Vladimir Shamanov, the head of the Russian lower house’s defense committee, confirmed that Russia had deployed Iskander ballistic missile systems to the Kaliningrad region. Russia has not issued a statement pertaining to the possible deployment of nuclear warheads to the region. “Russia Can Deploy Iskander Missiles in Kaliningrad Without Informing NATO – MP,” Sputnik, February 15, 2018, https://sputniknews.com/russia/201802151061688100-russia-nato-iskander-missiles-kaliningrad/.
52 Colby, Russia’s Evolving Nuclear Doctrine and Its Implications.
53 Department of Defense, Nuclear Posture Review 2018 (Washington, DC: Department of Defense, 2018), 30, https://media.defense.gov/2018/Feb/02/2001872886/-1/-1/1/2018-NUCLEAR-POSTURE-REVIEW-FINAL-REPORT.PDF.
54 Department of Defense, Nuclear Posture Review 2018, 31.
55 Interviews by the author with Polish officials and defense experts.
56 Hans M. Kristensen, “B61-12: The New Guided Standoff Nuclear Bomb,” Presentation to Side Event The Future of the B61: Perspectives From the United States and Europe, Third Preparatory Committee Meeting for the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, United Nations, New York, May 2, 2014,” https://fas.org/programs/ssp/nukes/publications1/Brief2014_PREPCOM2.pdf.
58 Steven Pifer, “Cancel the Long-Range Standoff Missile,” Brookings Institution, June 28, 2017, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2017/06/28/cancel-the-long-range-standoff-missile/.
59 Braw, “Behind Putin’s Nuclear Threats.”
60 Dianne Feinstein, “There’s No Such Thing as ‘Limited’ Nuclear War,” Washington Post, March 3, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/theres-no-such-thing-as-limited-nuclear-war/2017/03/03/faef0de2-fd1c-11e6-8f41-ea6ed597e4ca_story.html?utm_term=.92fa8d5ccaee.
61 Under the Obama administration, the United States reserved the right to employ nuclear weapons “to defend the vital interests of the United States or its allies and partners.” Department of Defense, Nuclear Posture Review Report 2010(Washington, DC: Department of Defense, 2010), https://www.defense.gov/Portals/1/features/defenseReviews/NPR/2010_Nuclear_Posture_Review_Report.pdf. The new 2018 NPR goes further, stating that “The United States would only consider the employment of nuclear weapons in extreme circumstances to defend the vital interests of the United States, its allies, and partners. Extreme circumstances could include significant non-nuclear strategic attacks. Significant non-nuclear strategic attacks include, but are not limited to, attacks on the U.S., allied, or partner civilian population or infrastructure, and attacks on U.S. or allied nuclear forces, their command and control, or warning and attack assessment capabilities.” Department of Defense, Nuclear Posture Review 2018, 21.
62 Nuclear Deterrence in the 21st Century, 114th Cong. (2015) (Statement of Robert Work Deputy Secretary of Defense and Admiral James Winnefeld Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff before the House Committee on Armed Services June 25, 2015), http://docs.house.gov/meetings/AS/AS00/20150625/103669/HHRG-114-AS00-Wstate-WinnefeldJrUSNJ-20150625.pdf.
63 See Ozoliņa, Societal Security.
64 Statistical Office of Estonia, Central Statistical Bureau of Latvia, and Statistics Lithuania, 2011 Population and Housing Censuses in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, 2015, https://www.stat.ee/dokumendid/220923.
65 See Bērziņa, “The Possibility of Societal Destabilization in Latvia,” 7.
66 Teri Schultz, “Why the ‘Fake Rape’ Story Against German NATO Forces Fell Flat in Lithuania,” Deutsche Welle, February 23, 2017, http://www.dw.com/en/why-the-fake-rape-story-against-german-nato-forces-fell-flat-in-lithuania/a-37694870.
67 Interviews by the author with Latvian and Lithuanian security officials and experts.
68 See the case of the Estonian intelligence official who was seized and dragged onto Russian territory by Russian intelligence in 2014. Julian Borger, “Estonia Says Official Seized by Russia Was Lured Into FSB Trap,” Guardian, September 8, 2014, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/sep/08/estonia-russia-fsb-trap-eston-kohver.
69 For more general definitions of the concept of resilience, see Philippe Bourbeau, “Resilience and International Politics: Premises, Debates, Agenda,” International Studies Review 17, no. 1 (2015): 374–395; Jon Coaffee, “Constructing Resilience through Security and Surveillance: The Politics, Practices and Tensions of Security-Driven Resilience,” Security Dialogue 46, no. 1 (2015): 86–105; Daphna Canetti et al., “What Does National Resilience Mean in a Democracy? Evidence From the United States and Israel,” Armed Forces & Society 40, no. 3 (2014): 504–520. For possible applicability in the current European security context, see Claudia Major and Christian Mölling, A Hybrid Security Policy for Europe. Resilience, Deterrence and Defense as Leitmotifs (Berlin: German Institute for International and Security Affairs, 2015), http://www.swp-berlin.org/fileadmin/contents/products/comments/2015C22_mjr_mlg.pdf.
70 Lithuanian Ministry of National Defense, Prepare to Survive Emergencies and War: A Cheerful Take on Serious Recommendations (Vilnius: Ministry of National Defense, 2015), https://kam.lt/download/50720/ka%20turime%20zinoti%20praktiniai%20patarimai%20en--el.pdf.
71 NATO, “Allies Take Further Steps to Enhance Resilience,” March 28, 2017, http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/news_142645.htm?selectedLocale=en.
72 Jamie Shea, “Resilience: A Core Element of Collective Defense,” NATO Review, 2016, https://www.nato.int/docu/Review/2016/Also-in-2016/nato-defence-cyber-resilience/EN/index.htm; NATO, “Commitment to Enhance Resilience,” Warsaw, Poland, July 8, 2016, http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/official_texts_133180.htm.
74 See the Estonian position described in Nadia Schadlow, “The Problem With Hybrid Warfare,” War on the Rocks, April 2, 2015, https://warontherocks.com/2015/04/the-problem-with-hybrid-warfare/.
75 Bērziņa, “The Possibility of Societal Destabilization in Latvia,” 7.
76 See Bettina Renz and Hanna Smith, Russia and Hybrid Warfare – Going Beyond the Label (Helsinki: University of Helsinki, 2016), http://www.stratcomcoe.org/download/file/fid/4920.
77 Heidi Reisinger and Alexander Golts, Russia’s Hybrid Warfare – Waging War Below the Radar of Traditional Collective Defense (Rome: NATO Defense College, 2014), https://www.files.ethz.ch/isn/185744/rp_105.pdf.
78 Martin Zapfe, ‘Hybrid’ Threats and NATO’s Forward Presence (Zurich: ETH Zurich Center for Security Studies, 2016), http://e-collection.library.ethz.ch/eserv/eth:49703/eth-49703-01.pdf.
79 Thomas Frear, Łukasz Kulesa, and Ian Kearns, Dangerous Brinkmanship: Close Military Encounters Between Russia and the West in 2014 (London: European Leadership Network, 2014), https://www.europeanleadershipnetwork.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Dangerous-Brinkmanship.pdf.
81 Julian Borger, “Russian Attack Jets Buzz US Warship in Riskiest Encounter for Years,” The Guardian, April 13, 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/apr/13/russian-attack-planes-buzz-uss-donald-cook-baltic-sea.
82 “Turkey’s Downing of Russian Warplane – What We Know,” BBC, December 1, 2015, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-34912581.
83 Julian E. Barnes, “NATO Approves Talks With Russia on Baltic Air Security,” Wall Street Journal, December 19, 2016, https://www.wsj.com/articles/nato-approves-talks-with-russia-on-baltic-air-security-1482172348. In response to the Russian proposal to hold talks on air safety, NATO invited representatives of the former Baltic Sea Project Team (BSPT) and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to brief the NATO-Russia Council. See NATO, “NATO-Russia Relations: The Facts,” June 15, 2017, http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/topics_111767.htm.
84 See John H. McNeill, “Military-to-Military Arrangements for the Prevention of U.S.-Russian Conflict,” International Law Studies 68 (1994): 575–581; Deep Cuts Commission, Strengthening Stability in Turbulent Times (Hamburg, Moscow, Washington: Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg, 2015), http://deepcuts.org/images/PDF/Second_Report_of_the_Deep_Cuts_Commission_English.pdf; Deep Cuts Commission, Back From the Brink: Toward Restraint and Dialogue Between Russia and the West (Hamburg, Moscow, Washington: Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg, 2016), http://deepcuts.org/images/PDF/Second_Report_of_the_Deep_Cuts_Commission_English.pdf.
85 See McNeill, “Military-to-Military Arrangements for the Prevention of U.S.-Russian Conflict,” 578.
86 Łukasz Kulesa, Thomas Frear, and Denitsa Raynova, Managing Hazardous Incidents in the Euro-Atlantic Area: A New Plan of Action (London: European Leadership Network, 2016), https://www.europeanleadershipnetwork.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/ELN-Managing-Hazardous-Incidents-November-2016.pdf.
88 See NATO, “Warsaw Summit Communiqué.”