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Expert on NATO Calls for Permanent Alliance Military Presence in Baltics As Hedge Against Russia Military Action

Estonian troops conduct a march past during the Opening Ceremony for Ex STEADFAST JAZZ on the Drawsko Pomorskie Training Area, Poland, on Nov. 3, 2013. NATO Photo

Estonian troops conduct a march past during the Opening Ceremony for Ex STEADFAST JAZZ on the Drawsko Pomorskie Training Area, Poland, on Nov. 3, 2013. NATO Photo

A leading analyst on NATO policy called for the alliance to place a permanent military presence in Baltic member states as a hedge against a more active Russian military.

Speaking Tuesday at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., Jorge Benitez of the Atlantic Council said that so far NATO’s response in its exercise of military preparedness to Moscow’s threats against Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, in particular, and other front line states, in general:

  • Lack speed in political decision-making and force deployment;
  • Lack size “so they’re not intimidating” to Russia and remain less costly to members;
  • And show weakness in readiness—from German air transport, to combat ratings of U.S. ground forces, to the availability of precision munitions.

Using the alliance’s Trident Juncture exercise last year as an example that involved about 30,000-40,000 NATO forces, “Russia sees over 80,000-100,000 deployed” in exercises calling for movement in 24 hours, marking a difference in scale and speed.

He called for a permanent military presence in the Baltic States to “show there are no second-class members” of NATO. That presence could be met with the establishment of the European equivalent of the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., with a permanent Opposing Force to train the alliance’s armored forces, as well as first-responding light forces, which would have to meet a conventional military crisis on the continent.

Benitez also said NATO should give back to the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) the flexibility to use “the crisis management power he had before,” that was used to train and use the Rapid Response Force in the wars that followed the break-up of Yugoslavia in the mid 1990s.

As for taking care of their own security needs, he suggested that the three Baltic countries contribute a battalion and Poland a brigade for a new rapid-response force under SACEUR’s authority.

Marius Laurinavicius, a Lithuanian defense analyst now at the Center for European Policy Analysis, said, the real Russian threat is conventional, not hybrid warfare as is being seeing in Ukraine. He added Moscow’s military actions in Georgia in the recent past and Syria now “are very different” from what many NATO leaders believe will happen.

NATO leaders cite Russia’s disruption of Estonia’s communications in a dispute a few years ago as an example of its willingness to use hybrid warfare in the Baltic rather than conventional military force to get its way. He dismissed that thinking by saying “I don’t think so.” What Moscow actually did then was “disrupt lives for several days or a week or so” and ran the risk of retaliation for little gain, a situation it would face in the future.

Putin’s Kremlin is “is really opportunistic” and willing to take advantage of the moment to advance its interests—such as opening a corridor to the Russian-speaking enclave at Kaliningrad, a large seaport on the Baltic between Poland and Lithuania.

He said another key difference between the Baltic nations and Ukraine, in addition to their membership in NATO, is “we are ready to fight . . . ready to fight back” conventionally and in hybrid warfare, having changed their laws to better respond.

Even in a conventional conflict where NATO reinforcements would be slow to arrive, Russia would face military challenges, Luke Coffey of Heritage said in answer to a question: “Things do start to go wrong” as they did in 2008 in Georgia when its forces had not reached Tbilisi in a week. “I think sometimes we give the Russian military too much credit.”

Ann-Sophie Dahl of the Center for Strategic and International Studies said although the Baltic nations— about the size of Missouri in territory and population—are largely isolated from the rest of NATO by geography, they are covered by Article 5 of the treaty. The article says if one nation is attacked the others will respond. Sweden and Finland, two non-aligned nations, “don’t get the same guarantee.”

“There’s real aggression in the Baltic Sea” with Russian overflights and submarine patrols, she added, noting that Moscow is doing that at the same time as it is carrying out air strikes in Syria.

As for Sweden and Finland joining NATO, “we shouldn’t expect to change that any time soon,” but both are talking with the alliance and its members on how better to cooperate in shared defense.

“You really need to have the troops on the ground” in the Baltic to deter and defend, Coffey, who served as an infantry officer, said. He asked “When are we going to train on sending tens of thousands of troops” to Europe to exercise on the military equipment we have re-positioned on the continent in the wake of Russia’s seizure of Crimea, meddling in Ukraine and threats to the Baltic states?

 

  • but some American taxpayers will whine: We are paying for Europe’s defense.

    • Ctrot

      I’d rather my tax dollars pay for Europe’s defense than for Ms Welfare Queens 5th out of wedlock child.

  • disqus_zommBwspv9

    what was that comment in the 2012 presidential debate, about someone’s 1980’s thinking.

    • Secundius

      Current Russian Army is a Disaster, Russian Troops there are there ONLY for Three Squares and a Cot to Sleep On. Desertion Rate EXCEEDS 10%. Russian Troops that Invaded the Ukraine Republic, WERE Hand-Picked/Cream of the Crop. Not from the Regular Standing Russian Army…

  • WRBaker

    Back in 1987 and as a former Baltic naval analyst, I wrote The Baltic Sea: Peacetime Abstinence, Wartime Dilemma, for the USNI that was unpublished. A relatively small, multi-mission capable force of hydrofoils (or other fast ships) bears consideration for the Baltic, as well.

    • John B. Morgen

      Are you referring to 30 planned Pegasus class hydrofoils (PHM)?

      • WRBaker

        The first couple of them started to come into service during that time.

        • disqus_zommBwspv9

          That would be great, but naval forces in the Baltic have only provided amphib support in the pass. The Russians during the great patriotic war ran hundreds of amphibious landings in the Baltic. but there needs to be boots on the ground and Armored Fighting vehicles like M1 Abrams, etc. say a solid American combat unit of 30 to 50 thousand to offset the Russian garrison of 100,000 just across the border. That would only leave NATO to field 30 thousand to put in the Baltic states. The Germans could put a CORP on their eastern border as a reserve.

          • WRBaker

            Agreed, but a mix of SSM and SAMs would help. The situation on the ground (where a conflict would be won) is worse than the old Fulda Gap scenario, too.
            A recent study puts it at between 36 and 60 hours for Russian units to take
            Tallinn and Riga. US and Baltic troops (with US air) couldn’t stop the Russians – as Nato’s ground forces are no match for Russia’s battalions.

        • John B. Morgen

          It is a shame that the program was never completed, but only six PHMs of Pegasus class were completed. The Navy really needs good missile FAC in the Fleet

      • disqus_zommBwspv9

        do you have a iink for that

        • John B. Morgen

          There’s no web link as I know of about the subject, however, I have known about the PHM program since the early 1970’s. If you have a copy of Norman Friedman’s book on “U.S. Small Combatants.” and go to chapter 15 (The PHM), pp 378-389. Or if you have a copy of Janes’ Fighting Ships 1971 to 1972, or even 1973 to 1974 edition. Both Janes’ editions have good information about the PHMs; better than the latter editions. The Pegasus class was the first attempt by the Navy to put into production as the most effective hydrofoil FAC class.

  • Curtis Conway

    The world of Reality recognizes Russian combat training taking place in the Middle East. Burning up old inventory, and replacing with new, just like they did with their mobile ICBMs while creating modern art in the upper atmosphere in the Northern lattitudes. Honing those skills, and that equipment, for . . . what?

  • disqus_zommBwspv9

    So, do take the two combat brigades from Germany and Italy and move them to the Baltic States or, bring a unit like the 12th ACR and a couple of Armor Infantry brigades to the Baltic States. How many tanks does America have in Europe now. 100, 200.

    • Secundius

      Current Levels is ~1,000 Strykers, ~250 M1A2 Abrams, and ~227 British Challengers…

  • publius_maximus_III

    The following quote is from a Rand Corporation report — “Reinforcing Deterrence on NATO’s Eastern Flank | Wargaming the Defense of the Baltics” by David A. Shlapak and Michael W. Johnson:

    “Further gaming indicates that a force of about seven brigades, including three heavy armored brigades—adequately supported by airpower, land-based fires, and other enablers on the ground and ready to fight at the onset of hostilities—could suffice to prevent the rapid overrun of the Baltic states.”

    Sorry, not gonna happen – seven brigades at 3,000-5,000 men each, would be 21,000 to 35,000 troops stationed in perpetuity in three Eastern European countries we care not a whit about. They should never have been brought into NATO to start with – not one is anywhere near the North Atlantic (the first half of NATO).

  • John B. Morgen

    Our NATO Baltic members should have been reinforced by NATO, soon after the new members were voted into NATO. NATO should stationed a full fighter squadron or wing, among with one or two panzer divisions; plus, a squadron of fast attack craft or frigates.

    • Secundius

      @ John B. Morgen.

      Back in June 2015, Two Heavy Armor Brigades (~5,000-Boots) from Germany. Were sent to Reinforce Troop Elements of the Following NATO Countries Estonia, Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Roumania…

      • John B. Morgen

        Are these units stationed in the Baltic?

        • Secundius

          @ John B. Morgen.

          Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland ARE. BOTH Bulgaria Roumania is a Black Sea Countries…

          • John B. Morgen

            The NATO members need to rearm and increase their armed forces; including, the United States because what we are seeing is an advent of the old Soviet Union. A better armed Russia, and maybe with better political leadership.

  • disqus_zommBwspv9

    guess everyone here has forgotten about Kaliningrad which is occupied by the Russians since 1945. Poland on one side and Lithuania on the other side. Ice Free Baltic port for the Russian Navy, What if Putin gets and itch and decides annex Lithuania? Bet the Russians can run a 100,000 troops in there with little notice. So Lets Station a Marine Brigade in Lithuania.