Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?

Europe

The end of naivete: How NATO must boost Baltic defenses

Gabrielius Landsbergis is the Lithuanian Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Since the beginning of the war against Ukraine, the Baltic countries have been calling for increased defense capacity in the region — capacity to match the circumstances created by the Russian Federation.

While there now seems to be a growing understanding that Moscow’s aggression has changed the security order and that NATO’s posture must adjust accordingly, no final decisions have been made ahead of the alliance’s meeting in Madrid in June, where leaders will decide what specifically has to be done on NATO’s eastern flank.

On the way to Madrid, however, there are still some unaddressed concerns and vulnerabilities the Baltic countries would like to be taken into account.

Even though Russia showed aggressive intent in 2008 and 2014, many failed to acknowledge the extent to which President Vladimir Putin was willing to go to realize his imperialist vision. But this new war against Ukraine has put an end to all such naivete — the regime in Russia is clearly ready and willing to start unprovoked, all-out conventional war against its neighbors, despite enormous losses on the battlefield and devastating sanctions against its economy.  

This war may drag on for a long time, and the Russian regime may survive even longer. Over time, Moscow will recuperate its losses, rebuild its battle groups, repair and restore equipment. That means that as long as this aggressive Putinist regime continues, the threat it poses will remain and will need to be addressed by NATO.

The northern part of NATO’s eastern flank — the eastern front — has some intrinsic vulnerabilities that can’t be easily addressed by the countries themselves. And after allowing its territory to be used in war activities, Belarus has become Russia’s accomplice in this war, its involvement changing the situation for the northern part of the eastern flank — for Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Poland — given that Russian troops are currently stationed and will probably remain right on NATO’s border.

One major vulnerability here is the so-called Suwałki Gap, a narrow stretch of land between Lithuania and Poland, flanked by Belarus and the Russian territory of Kaliningrad. If Baltic territory is attacked by Russia, or if the Baltic Sea is contested, the Suwałki Gap is the strategic line of allied resupply for Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia — and for Finland, if it joins NATO.

These vulnerabilities are not easily fixed, and while doing a lot themselves, the Baltic countries want to make sure that a political decision is reached, ensuring that in case of an attack, these territories will be properly defended — the same way any other part of alliance territory would.

Thankfully, the United States President and leaders of several other NATO countries have addressed this worry with the commitment that “every inch of NATO territory will be defended,” providing a promise and a roadmap for a political consensus regarding NATO posture. And once adopted, this posture should offer concrete military advice as to how this pledge would be implemented.

But like with all significant decisions within the alliance, the political decision must come first. Otherwise, without political consensus, some military advisers might be reluctant, seeing the defense of the Baltic states as excessively costly or too technically difficult.

Just take West Berlin, for example. Then U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s announcement that he “ist ein Berliner,” made it clear that even this tiny piece of land — an island in the communist sea — would be defended to the best of the alliance’s ability. And it was followed by military advice as to how to do it. 

The Baltic states might as well be the West Berlin of the 21st century. 

However, the practical implementation of this pledge must now begin without any further delay. First and foremost, the principal decision must be made that the Baltic states, and especially the Suwałki corridor, will be defended by all available means. And that Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians will be joined by their NATO allies from the very first minute of any potential aggression. 

Furthermore, we believe it is imperative — for our security, our unity and our certainty — that the alliance reinforce its presence in the Baltic countries.

At the very least this should include full air-defense capabilities, including missile defense and fighter jets prepared to engage enemy assets; a permanent base of at least a brigade-size NATO deployment with required command elements in each of the Baltic countries; and should Sweden and Finland proceed with NATO membership, immediate plans for a new, integrated Nordic-Baltic defense posture that accounts for regional air defense and enhanced NATO presence in the Baltic Sea. 

Finally, it must be made clear that no Baltic country is looking for a free ride on the alliance’s capabilities. In Lithuania, the decision to spend 2.5 percent of GDP on defense has already been made, the money disbursed; and both Latvia and Estonia will reach this goal later this year.

The Baltic countries are doing their part. Now it is up to our allies to do theirs. 

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You May Also Like

Europe

Having settled in Brussels after three decades reporting about the broader Middle East, Hugh Pope is preparing for publication “The Keys to Democracy,” a...

Europe

Canada has targeted media tycoon Alexander Lebedev as part of a wave of fresh sanctions against Russian oligarchs, in a move that places greater...

Europe

Moldova’s defenses should be bolstered to help guard against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s vision for an expanded Russia in Eastern Europe, U.K. Foreign Secretary...

Europe

Press play to listen to this article The pivotal meeting in the global health calendar starts Sunday with representatives from health ministries around the...

Europe

Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa arrived in Kyiv on Saturday morning, where he will sit down with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to talk about...

Europe

Polish officials are preparing a letter asking the European Commission to redraw its current coronavirus vaccine procurement agreements after an informal meeting of health...

Europe

Russia’s Gazprom on Saturday shut off gas exports to Finland, marking an escalation in tensions between the two countries following Helsinki’s bid to join...

Europe

BONN — The world’s economic powerhouses committed to securing Ukraine’s short-term financing needs on Friday, announcing a total pledge of $19.8 billion. Of that...