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Strategic Estimate of the Baltic Region Research Paper

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Updated: Aug 14th, 2022

Introduction

In recent key events, Russia warned to respond if Finland and Sweden joined North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the U.S. permanently placed its forces in Poland. Russia also opposed USMC participation in ARCHIPELIGO and Finland’s and Sweden’s participation in the largest NATO exercise since the cold war: TRIDENT JUNCTURE. Three countries accused Russia of jamming GPS signals during the NATO event. The country staged live-fire missile drills in the Baltic Sea following a leaders’ meeting with President Trump and has added over 70 formations to Western Military District from 2016.1

Strategic Environment

The fundamental adversary forces include Russia, Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), and Belarus, while the friendly forces include NATO, the three Baltic States, European Union, and Poland. There are neutral forces, namely Finland, Sweden, and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). 2 I discuss the interests, objectives, and other characteristics of these forces under this section.

Russia cites NATO’s expansion as a threat warranting its response through additional forces deployment and exercises. Russia competes through cyber-attacks and intrusions, aircraft intercepts and overflights, ethnic agitation, and simulated attacks. It builds a coastal defense that includes missile battalion, army, and tank regiments while constructing new garrisons in the Western Military District. 3 Kaliningrad oblast is Russia’s naval and land power to assert itself in the Baltic Sea area. Forces in the oblast possess Bastion and Iskander SSM, posing a significant A2/AD threat. The oblast’s air defense has S-400 and S-300 with over 250 KM range and powerful radars detecting 6000 KM.4

Russia seeks to dominate the region, attain cultural and economic independence from the West, and great power status. It plans to destroy the U.S. and Europe link, undermine sanctions support by creating fissures in the E.U. and NATO, remain dominant over energy, and destabilize potentially threatening governments.5 Current U.S. programs in Russia include cooperation in their 2018 withdrawal from the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF), combating terrorism and other transnational threats, countering narcotics, implementing the START treaty, and militarily communicating to de-conflict Syria. Additionally, the U.S. holds bilateral and multilateral sanctions against Russia. 6

Belarus’ economy heavily depends on Russia since they signed the 1999 two-state union treaty. Lukashenko, Belarus’ president since 1994, uses authoritarianism and a centralized economy to consolidate power while restricting civil, press, speech, political, assembly, and religious freedoms. The country is a transshipment for illicit drugs for Western Europe, Russia, and the Baltics, with high forced labor and sex trafficking levels.7 Belarus wants to prevent Russia from annexing part of or the whole country and avoid Russian economic blackmail. Belarus’ interests include retaining independence from and aligning its military and economy with Russia. Lukashenko also seeks to retain his power and regime’s survival. 8

The CSTO fails to meet NATO’s military capability as members reconsider their status due to civil wars in Crimea, Syria, Ukraine, and CSTO’s silence in 2010’s uprisings in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. The CSTO started in 1992 to facilitate and encourage security collaboration in the former Soviet Union by perceiving an attack on a member as an attack against all members. The withdrawal of Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Uzbekistan in 1999 weakened it. CSTO boosted its prestige by creating the 2009 Collective Rapid Reaction Force and exercising more frequent military activities.9

Estonia homes NATO’s Baltic air policing, U.K.-led battle group, and the NATO Cyber Center for excellence since it is the region’s most wired country. The country has a 24.8% ethnic Russian population in Narva city, causing tension around language and citizenship laws. Russia can use the opportunity to intervene while pushing other agendas. 10 Estonia’s interests are maintaining its sovereignty, independence, and security, attaining development in the E.U. region, and establishing good relations with its neighbors. Its objectives include defending itself against Russia, modernizing the military, developing economic relations, and cooperating with NATO and its allies in defense. U.S. programs in Estonia focus on increasing military professionalism and improving interoperability with NATO. 11

Strategic Direction

To successfully compete with Russia, the U.S. must use all its national power and rise in the international order while preserving European security. The U.S. is constantly pursuing national interests, including protecting its people and way of life, maintaining economic security, advancing its influence, and upholding peace through strength. It will protect the people by deterring Russian aggression and influence, strengthening NATO alliances, combating terrorism, and assuring navigation freedom. To maintain economic security, the U.S. has to reduce energy dependence on Russia by supporting other supplies and transit routes.12

U.S. policies in the Baltic Sea region include Enhanced Partnership in Northern Europe (E-PINE), European Deterrence Initiative (EDI), NATO, and European Union. E-PINE is a cooperation framework between Baltic and Nordic states and the U.S., providing the states with healthy societies, vibrant economies, and cooperative security. EDI enhances U.S. responsiveness, deterrence, and readiness in Europe. EDI’s implementation involves five elements: increased NATO presence, training and exercise, prepositioning, improved infrastructure, and better partnerships. NATO improves interoperability, command structure, infrastructure, and cooperation with allies, deters Russia’s aggression against allies, and reduces barriers to forces’ movement in the Baltic region. European Union focuses on enhancing economic cooperation and growth and democratic processes in the Baltic region. Additionally, U.S. provides congressional support for EDI and Baltic States. 13

Strategic and Operational Challenges

Possible flash points for the Baltic Sea region include threats of Russian aggression against Baltic states, attacks against allies in the lower end of the competition spectrum, hazardous activities by naval and air forces, development of A2/AD threats oblast, and lack of military transparency. The U.S. must prepare NATO to meet such attacks and develop a robust infrastructure that facilitates forces’ movement around the region.14

Potential Opportunities

Russia’s aggression has created opportunities for the U.S. by energizing Europeans to invest in security through higher capabilities and budgets and search for energy supplies alternatives, creating an opportunity for US LNG exports. The U.S. also reconsidered reducing military presence from the European region. The increased aggression is pushing neutral forces, Finland and Sweden, into considering cooperation with NATO.15 In this section, I discuss three options that the U.S. has over Russia’s threats.

The first option is to enhance E-PINE in the region, using more informational, diplomatic, and economic strategies (Appendix A). The second option is to increase the Baltic region’s permanent military presence, which is a mainly military strategy with little diplomatic effort (Appendix A). The third option is to increase rotational forces, gather intelligence, and support economic development in the region, balancing military, economic, and informational strategies with little diplomatic effort (Appendix A).

Assessment of Risks & Mitigation

There are three significant risks, including Russian assertiveness or reckless actions, NATO’s hesitancy to respond, and Russian hybrid warfare against allies. While reckless actions are a likely risk, NATO’s unresponsiveness and Russia’s hybrid war are unlikely. Both risks involving Russia’s attacks are critical, but NATO’s failure to respond is a serious risk. In the final assessment, Russia’s assertiveness is high, hybrid warfare attacks are moderate, and NATO’s response hesitancy is low.16

Conclusion and Recommendations

In conclusion, the U.S. must prepare and respond to Russia’s aggression to ensure the Baltic Sea region remains stable and peaceful. In recent key events, Russia warned to respond if Finland and Sweden joined North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the U.S. permanently placed its forces in Poland. The fundamental adversary forces include Russia, Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), and Belarus, while the friendly forces include NATO, the three Baltic States, European Union, and Poland. There are neutral forces, namely Finland, Sweden, and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The U.S. is constantly pursuing national interests, including protecting its people and way of life, maintaining economic security, advancing its influence, and upholding peace through strength. U.S. policies in the Baltic Sea region include Enhanced Partnership in Northern Europe (E-PINE), European Deterrence Initiative (EDI), NATO, and European Union. The available options are to enhance E-PINE in the region, increase the Baltic region’s permanent military presence, or to increase rotational forces, gather intelligence, and support economic development in the region.

Evaluation Criteria Option #1 Option #2 Option #3
Deter Russian aggression 1 3 2
Enable the NATO alliance 2 3 1
Democratic standards are encouraged 2 1 3
Preserve US strategic partnerships 3 0 2
Counter transnational threats 1 3 2
Ensure postured and ready forces 2 3 2
Total 11 13 12

Figure 1. Comparison of Options 1, 2, and 3.

There are three options that the U.S. can pursue to respond and prepare for Russia (Figure 1). According to the comparison table, the military option will be more effective and efficient in dealing with Russia. The presence of a heavy military increased exercises and activities, and direct confrontation with Russia will deter its aggression. The increased training and information gathering will strengthen the NATO alliance in the region. However, democratic standards in the Baltic and Nordic states are lower as the U.S. presence increases. Most U.S. strategic partners might not support a heavy military presence in the region. There have been mixed reactions from strategic partners regarding the use of military force against Russia. Therefore, many strategic partners might end or weaken their relationship with the U.S. Increased military use will counter and reduce transnational threats, including terrorism, due to higher intelligence gathering. Additionally, terror groups will perceive the U.S. and the region to be highly prepared to respond.

Option three provides a balanced strategy to dealing with Russia’s aggression threats. It deters Russian aggression while balancing all other outcomes. Moderate military use will encourage strategic partnerships as partners support the reduction of Russian aggression while not involving full-blown military use. The military presence will also counter transnational threats as terror groups will perceive the U.S. and the region to be highly prepared to respond.

Reference

Strategic Estimate Baltic Sea Region [PowerPoint slides].

Appendix A

Opportunities DIME Analysis

Footnotes

  1. Strategic Estimate Baltic Sea Region, Slide 3.
  2. Slide 5.
  3. Slide 6.
  4. Slide 7.
  5. Slide 8.
  6. Slide 9.
  7. Strategic Estimate Baltic Sea Region, Slide 10.
  8. Slide 11.
  9. Slide 12.
  10. Slide 13.
  11. Slides 14-15.
  12. Slides 39-40
  13. Strategic Estimate Baltic Sea Region, Slides 42-44.
  14. Slide 45.
  15. Slide 46.
  16. Slide 47.
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