The way NATO is currently arranged it cannot defend the territory of the Baltic countries.
What’s it about?
Robert Cottrell looks at the increasing threat of Russia to NATO and the Baltic States. He reviews 2017: War with Russia by General Sir Richard Shirreff, recently NATOs second in command, examining the possibility of conflict, how it might happen, and what went wrong where.
Russia’s Growing threat to the West
- Britain’s vote to leave the European Union and Turkey’s post-coup crackdown call into question the strategic direction of two of NATO’s military powers.
- Donald Trumps’ statement that America’s richer allies need to spend more on their own defence weakens America’s previous unconditional commitment to its allies.
- Sherriff was Deputy Supreme Allied Commander of Europe, NATO’s second-ranking military officer, from 2011 to 2014. Before that he was commander of NATO’ Allied Rapid Reaction Corps.
- Russia’ economy is struggling under the weight of low oil prices, bad policies and corrupt government. Vladimir Putin is using military adventures to unify the country and distract attention from his economic failures.
- As with Ukraine, Russia tends to think of the Baltics countries – Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania- as being part of Russia. They were part of old Russian Empires and part of the Soviet Union. Latvia, Estonia and Ukraine have large Russian speaking minorities, which Russia poses as a protector for.
- The way NATO is currently arranged it cannot defend the territory of the Baltic countries. Numerous war games have shown Russia could capture the capitals of these countries and leave NATO with little options.
Across multiple games using a wide range of expert participants in and out of uniform playing both sides, the longest it has taken Russian forces to reach the outskirts of the Estonian and/or Latvian capitals of Tallinn and Riga is 60 hours.
Such a rapid defeat would leave NATO with a limited number of options, all bad: a bloody counteroffensive, fraught with escalatory risk, to liberate the Baltics; to escalate itself, as it threatened to do to avert defeat during the Cold War; or to concede at least temporary defeat, with uncertain but disastrous consequences for the Alliance and the people of the Baltics.
Sometimes the impossible is only seen to be possible after it’s happened. 2017: War with Russia is written in the manner of a popular thriller, yet it is based on the facts of senior military commander. It outlines a real possibility. Imagining a Russian invasion it shows how NATO could come under attack.
Take Away Points and Context
- Vladimir Putin has changed Russia using oil wealth to create a measure of surface prosperity. Rewarding a segment of Russian society that supports his rule, allowing crony capitalism to flourish, and cracking down on all opposition.
- His flouting of the rule of law has deterred investment and caused capital flight while his controll of the media has created an angry nationalism. Many Russian’s look forward to war and the reclamation of territories they feel they have lost.
by Louis Sell
Duke University Press, 408 pp., $27.95 (paper)