September 29, 2015 | Backgrounder on North Atlantic Treaty Organization
The U.S. has a long history of championing the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Baltic states dating back to the interwar period of the 1920s. Today, U.S. interest in the Baltic region derives primarily from its treaty obligations in the 1949 North Atlantic Treaty and membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Article V of the North Atlantic Treaty states that an attack on one is an attack on all. This means that the U.S. is committed to the security of the Baltic cities of Tallinn, Riga, and Vilnius in the same way as it is to the American cities of Tallahassee, Raleigh, and Virginia Beach. The U.S. needs to ensure that it has the political will and military capability to live up to its NATO treaty obligations in the Baltic region. Defending the Baltic states and deterring Russian aggression will be far easier and cheaper than liberating them.
U.S. interest in the Baltic states derives primarily from its treaty obligations in the 1949 North Atlantic Treaty and membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Article V of the North Atlantic Treaty states that an attack on one is an attack on all. This means that the U.S. is committed to the security of the Baltic cities of Tallinn, Riga, and Vilnius in the same way as it is to the American cities of Tallahassee, Raleigh, and Virginia Beach.
The threat from Russia is real, and the rhetoric from Moscow is only growing worse. In June 2015, a member of the Russian Duma requested that the Attorney General of Russia open an investigation into the constitutionality of Soviet Union’s 1991 recognition of the Baltic states’ independence. While the Attorney General’s office rejected the request, it is still an insight into the prevalent thinking about the Baltic states among many of Russia’s political elite.
Although some positive steps have been taken since the Ukraine crisis started in early 2014, neither NATO nor the U.S. is ready to defend the Baltic states in the event of a Russian invasion. Czech General Petr Pavel, chairman of the NATO Military Committee, said in May 2015 that “the Baltics could really be occupied in a couple of days.”
The U.S. needs an enduring presence and a long-term strategy to meet its NATO treaty obligations in the Baltic region. This should include establishing a robust and permanent NATO military presence in the Baltic states, establishing closer cooperation with non-NATO countries like Finland and Sweden, and focusing on countering nonconventional threats in cyberspace, Russian propaganda, and threats to energy security. The U.S. also needs to be a leader inside NATO to convince reluctant NATO members why they should be ready to defend the Baltics from Russian aggression. Finally, the U.S. needs to make it crystal clear to Russia that it is prepared to go to war to defend and, if required, to liberate the Baltic states in the event NATO’s mutual defense clause is ever invoked.
The U.S. has a long history of championing the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Baltic states dating back to the interwar period of the 1920s. After World War I, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania proclaimed their independence, and the U.S. granted full recognition to all three by 1923. In June 1940, as part of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact between Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia, Soviet troops entered and occupied the three Baltic countries. A month later, acting U.S. Secretary of State Sumner Welles issued what became known as the Welles Declaration, condemning Russia’s occupation and stating America’s refusal to recognize the legitimacy of Soviet control over these three states. The three states regained their independence with the end of the Cold War and have since been staunch supporters of the transatlantic relationship.
Although small in absolute terms, the three Baltic states contribute greatly to NATO in relative terms. Estonia is the regional leader in defense matters and is currently one of only four NATO countries that spend the required 2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) on defense. All three countries sent troops to Iraq and have troops fighting in Afghanistan. Estonian troops have even served in Helmand province in southern Afghanistan, one of the deadliest areas in the country.
Due to decades of Russian domination, the Baltic states factor Russia into their military planning and foreign policy formulations in a way that is simply unimaginable in many Western European countries and North America. Those NATO members that lived under the iron fist of the Warsaw Pact or were absorbed outright into the Soviet Union after World War II, such as the Baltic states, view Russia’s bellicose behavior as an existential threat.
Policymakers need to focus on the Baltic states because a U.S.-led military intervention in the Baltic states would be challenging. The region presents unique military and political difficulties that would need to be overcome. Acknowledging these challenges and planning for them are the first steps in ensuring the U.S. can meet its NATO treaty obligations.
These challenges include:
NATO membership in 2004 made the Baltic states strategic actors overnight. This has never been more the case since Russia’s aggressive activities in Ukraine. Russia has taken a number of aggressive steps aimed at destabilizing the Baltic region, including intimidating Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania and testing the resolve of NATO.
Russia has dedicated resources to major training exercises involving tens of thousands of troops that many in Eastern Europe fear are directed at them. The Russian Ministry of Defense stated that it planned to carry out at least 4,000 drills in 2015. Russia has also been testing NATO airspace in the Baltics. NATO jets were scrambled 400 times in 2014, a 50 percent increase over 2013. The number of actual intercepts of Russian planes flying into NATO airspace also increased in 2014 to more than 100, three times the number in 2013. As a reassurance measure, NATO has quadrupled the number of aircraft patrolling the Baltic skies since early 2014. Non-NATO countries, such as Finland and Sweden, have also experienced Russia air incursions. Russia’s continued reckless flying poses a risk to civilian aviation in Europe because Russian pilots often do not submit a flight plan or turn on their transponders so that civilian aircraft can avoid them.
Although the likelihood of a conventional Russian attack against the Baltic states is low, it cannot be ruled out. Moscow will continue to test NATO using nontraditional military and security operations, such as cyber attacks, propaganda, abductions, and funding of pro-Russia political parties and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in NATO countries. These acts have become the norm for Russia in Eastern Europe because Moscow knows that NATO is ill-prepared to deal with these sorts of threats.
Russia has a long history of meddling in the Baltic region, but it is a myth perpetuated by Moscow that the region is in Russia’s traditional sphere of influence. Contrary to Moscow’s propaganda, the Baltic states have a long and rich history and culture rooted in Western and Northern Europe. Long before Russian domination, the region was ruled by a succession of Danish, Swedish, Germanic, and Polish kingdoms.
Estonia and Latvia are predominately Protestant countries, and Lithuania is predominately Catholic. Russian Orthodoxy does not a play a major societal role in the Baltic states, unlike in other former Soviet Union countries in Eastern Europe. Linguistically, Estonian belongs to the Finnic branch of the Uralic language family, and Latvian and Lithuanian are part of the Indo-European family. None are part of the Slavic language family like Russian.
There is a concern that Russia could leverage political grievances of the Russian-speaking minorities in the Baltic states to stage a Crimea-style takeover from the inside. While nothing can be ruled out, it seems unlikely that Moscow would attempt such a move in the Baltic region. Generally speaking, Russian-speaking minorities in the Baltic states realize that they are better off living in NATO and the EU than under Russia’s rule, and they are unlikely to support such a move. (See “Why Narva Probably Is Not Next on Russia’s List,” below.) However, even without their support Russia could use the presence of Russian minorities in the Baltic states as a pretext for invasion in accordance with Moscow’s long-standing compatriot policy of protecting ethnic Russians outside the borders of the Russian Federation.
Due to its geographical location, Lithuania faces unique challenges from Russia. Russia depends on transit rights through Lithuania to reach the Kaliningrad Oblast. Kaliningrad is a small Russian exclave along the Baltic Sea, bordering both Lithuania and Poland. Kaliningrad is part of Russia’s Western Military District, and approximately 25,000 Russian soldiers and security personnel are stationed there. It is home to Russia’s Baltic fleet, which consists of around 50 vessels, including submarines. The fleet has taken part in a number of recent drills, including rocket, artillery, and torpedo exercises in the Baltic Sea in April 2015. The Baltic states have expressed concern that Russian drills could be used as cover to move larger numbers of troops to Kaliningrad.
Russian ballistic missiles have been deployed to Kaliningrad since 2012 if not longer. In addition, Russia has previously deployed Iskander missiles to Kaliningrad as part of snap exercises, for instance in December 2014 and March 2015. Iskander missiles can carry nuclear or conventional warheads and have a range of 250 miles, placing Gotland, Riga, Vilnius, and Warsaw within their reach. Russia also has facilities for storage of tactical nuclear weapons at Kaliningrad.
Because the enclave is cut off from mainland Russia, Russia moves troops and material overland to Kaliningrad through Lithuania via train, an arrangement that could be viewed by Moscow as a potential vulnerability. In June 2015, Russian media reported that hackers had uncovered an alleged Lithuanian plan to annex Kaliningrad. This is a classic example of how Russia uses propaganda and is perhaps a testament to the exclave’s perceived vulnerability. Russia is modernizing runways at their Chernyakhovsk and Donskoye air bases in Kaliningrad, allowing Russia nearby bases from which to fly near NATO airspace. Many of the aerial incidents that cause NATO planes from Baltic Air Policing to scramble involve planes flying from or to bases in Kaliningrad.
The Baltic states also face three main nontraditional threats from Russia: propaganda, energy security, and cybersecurity. To demonstrate their seriousness in confronting these threats, each of the three Baltic states created a NATO Centre of Excellence: Estonia is home to the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence, Latvia is home to the NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence, and Lithuania is home to the NATO Energy Security Centre of Excellence.
Russian Propaganda. Russian foreign policy aggressively uses propaganda and strategic communications to advance its policy objectives abroad and, in the case of the Baltics, to stir up internal dissent and degrade support for the governments in the region. Due to their proximity and the large ethnic Russian populations in Estonia and Latvia, the Baltic states are at heightened risk from Russian propaganda.
In Latvia, one-fourth of the population is ethnic Russian. The First Baltic Channel, which rebroadcasts news from Russian state-sponsored television, is the second most popular television station. Neighboring states have ethnic Russian populations who also rely on Russian language television and websites. According to the NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence, “Russia has shown a willingness to modernize Soviet-era tools and adapt them to today’s complex information environment. Critically, it has been willing to afford information-based activities primacy in operations, using more conventional military forces in a supporting role.” The U.S. should be wary of Russian propaganda inciting ethnic Russians living in Estonia, Latvia, or Lithuania with false narratives. Russia could use such a scenario as a pretext for invasion of NATO territory under the name of “protecting Russian citizens” or sending in a “peacekeeping force.”
To counter Russian propaganda, in 2014, Latvia established the Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence, which was accredited by NATO in September 2014. The center seeks “improved strategic communications capabilities within the Alliance and Allied nations.” In April, the center and the Baltic Defense College agreed to expand their partnership further, with the aim of ingraining strategic communications education in a new generation of military leaders.
Sensitive to the danger posed by Russian strategic communications, in October 2014, Lithuania banned a Lithuanian TV channel that had been rebroadcasting a Russian news channel. However, in a democratic society banning television stations is not the best strategy. Long-term success in countering Russian news propaganda depends on offering a truthful news alternative. At a cost of $4 million, Estonia is launching a Russian-language channel in September 2015 to serve as a counterbalance to television broadcasts from Russia. Latvia also plans to create its own Russian-language television channel, slated to begin broadcasting in the middle of 2016, although internal political issues may hamper the effort.
The two countries are expected to work together on some aspects of forming the new channels including training, marketing, and program exchanges. The Kremlin achieved high viewership of Russian news in the Baltics by placing news bulletins before and after popular sitcoms. Therefore, creating Russian-language news will not be enough. The Baltics are working on providing entertainment programming as well to attract audiences and keep them engaged, while interspersing news. In April, Germany announced that Deutsche Welle would provide Russian-language content to the new Baltic channels, including entertainment shows and news programs. The Nordics have offered programming that the Baltics can dub into Russian, possibly with an NGO coordinating. The U.S. has reportedly been trying to broker similar offerings from American movie companies.
Energy Security. The Baltic states heavily depend on Russia for energy. In 2014, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania imported 100 percent of their natural gas from Russia. Gazprom was once the sole provider of natural gas to the Baltic states, which paid some of the highest prices for gas in Europe. For instance, Lithuania paid 36 percent more for Russian gas in the first four months of 2014 than Germany paid.
The Baltics are aware that Russia could use natural gas as a geopolitical weapon, as it has in the past, and are aggressively seeking ways to end Russian state-owned Gazprom’s monopoly on their gas supply. Russia cut off gas supplies to Ukraine in 2006, 2008–2009, and 2014 and threatened to do so again in early 2015. Estonia also has firsthand knowledge of Russia cutting off its gas, which happened briefly in 1993.
One significant development is Lithuania’s 10-year lease of an offshore liquefied natural gas (LNG) vessel that accepts LNG imports. It is docked year-round in the port of Klaipeda. The terminal has broken Gazprom’s monopoly. The new LNG vessel also benefits Estonia and Latvia. At full capacity, the terminal could supply 80 percent of the natural gas needs of all the Baltic states. Lithuania began supplying natural gas to Estonia in January 2015.
In February 2015, a Lithuanian natural gas import company signed a memorandum of understanding with an American company, which is building a liquefaction and export facility in Louisiana. However, export of American LNG has not yet received regulatory approval, and the new American LNG export terminal is not expected to start construction until 2019. Still, the signed memorandum indicates a level of interest in U.S. LNG exports. In August 2014, Norwegian Statoil signed a five-year contract to supply LNG to the Klaipeda terminal with six to seven deliveries per year.
In 2014, Latvia announced plans to increase capacity at its Incukalns gas storage facility by 2.8 billion cubic meters by 2025. Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland are planning the Gas Interconnection Poland–Lithuania (GIPL), a natural gas pipeline between Lithuania and Poland, which is expected to be completed in 2019. Poland expects its new LNG terminal on the Baltic coast to receive its first shipment in fall of 2015. Additionally, Finland and Estonia plan to build two LNG terminals connected by an underground pipeline, further integrating the region’s natural gas market. The Baltic Connector project is planned to be completed by 2019.
Electricity is another area where the Baltics are seeking alternatives to Russian supplies. In 2009, Lithuania closed the last operating nuclear power plant in the Baltics, which had supplied 80 percent of the nation’s electricity needs. In April 2014, Lithuania and Sweden began laying an underwater high-voltage direct-current cable to connect the two nations, opening up the electricity market in Lithuania. By June 2015, laying of the underwater cable was complete. When the entire project is completed at the end of 2015, the Baltic states will increase their ability to import energy from the Nordics by 70 percent. The project has been dogged by frequent interference and muscle flexing by Russia. The Russian Navy intruded on the project four times in 2015 alone, often shadowing the ships laying the cable and occasionally hosting exercises directly in the area where the cable was being placed. On one occasion the Russian Navy ordered a Dutch vessel charged with guarding the cables to leave the area for 10 hours, an incident that occurred in Lithuania’s exclusive economic zone. The LitPol Link is set to begin operating in early 2016, connecting the Lithuanian and Polish electricity transmission systems overland, helping to integrate the Baltic and European electricity grids.
Cybersecurity. Baltic citizens are tech savvy and digitally connected. Ninety percent of Estonians and 80 percent of Latvians and Lithuanians use the Internet. Latvia and Lithuania rank as world leaders in household Internet speed. Estonia has been leveraging public-private partnerships to improve digital infrastructure. In Estonia, every citizen has a digital identification with which they vote, obtain government services, and pay taxes. Thanks to its digital identification program and the interconnectivity it fosters, Estonia saves 2 percent of GDP. As Prime Minister Taavi Rõivas observed, the “digital signature pays for our defence.”
However, connectedness comes with risks. Like the rest of NATO, the Baltic states are susceptible to cyber attacks. NATO’s cyber defense is only as strong as its weakest link. In 2007, Estonia came under concerted cyber attacks from Russia after a war memorial honoring Soviet soldiers was removed from the Tallinn city center. During the 2013 Steadfast Jazz Exercise, one of NATO’s largest joint training exercises since the end of the Cold War, the Baltic states were hit with numerous cyber attacks.
The Latvian armed forces and the Information Technology Security Incidents Response Institution lead cybersecurity in the nation. In 2014, the Latvian Ministry of Defense established a cyberdefense unit as part of its National Guard to supplement the nation’s existing cyberdefenses. The unit will be composed of 94 “cyberguards.” Lithuania, the target of more than 25,000 cyber incidents per year, created a National Centre of Cyber Security in 2015 within the Defense Ministry to coordinate the nation’s cyber defense.
In Estonia, the volume and type of cyber attacks in 2014 was similar to 2013. However, Estonia’s Information System Authority noted that “upon assessing the nature of incidents, it appears that there were more smartly and accurately targeted attacks that aimed to damage the services and/or reputation of the state.” The Estonia-based NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence was established in 2008 to enhance the Alliance’s capabilities and interoperability against cyber attacks. The center organizes Locked Shields, an annual cyberdefense exercise. In 2015, more than 400 people from 16 nations and the NATO Computer Incident Response Capability participated.
After the Baltic states joined NATO in 2004, the Alliance quickly lost interest in the region. In fact, NATO did not even draw up contingency plans to defend the Baltic states until at least 2008. There was a concern that such planning would upset Moscow. After Russia invaded Georgia in 2008, these concerns dissipated.
The U.S. and many of its Western European allies share the blame for relegating Central and Eastern Europe to a lower priority for the Alliance. After the Baltic Air Policing mission was established in 2004, there was difficulty finding political support inside the Alliance to maintain it. The U.S. and the U.K.—both traditional leaders inside NATO—made decisions that indirectly affected Baltic security. In 2010, the British government announced that it would withdraw all 10,000 British troops, including a sizeable amount of the U.K.’s armor capability, from their permanent bases in Germany.
In 2009, the U.S. cancelled the “third site” of Europe’s ballistic missile defense (BMD) in Poland and the Czech Republic with little prior consultation with allies. This cancellation took place after the Obama Administration’s Russian “reset” in order to address Russia’s ill-founded concerns about the system. In 2013, the Pentagon announced that it was cancelling Phase IV of the European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA) missile defense program. Phase IV was the part of the EPAA that experts said could be used against Russian missiles and that Moscow opposed.
By 2013, the U.S. had removed two heavy brigade combat teams, all of its main battle tanks, and an A-10 squadron from Germany. In April 2015, the U.S. announced that it would restructure the 12th Combat Aviation Brigade in Europe eliminating 1,900 more U.S. soldiers in Europe and moving 24 Apache combat helicopters and 30 Blackhawk transport helicopters back to the U.S. These cuts and force reductions have sent the wrong message to friend and foe alike in the region.
Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and invasion of eastern Ukraine in 2014 caught the U.S. and NATO off guard. Instead of being prepared for Russian aggression in the Baltic region, the U.S. and NATO needed to quickly reverse a number of policies:
In addition to these embarrassing but necessary reversals in policy, the U.S. has taken a number of welcome, albeit modest steps to boost the defenses of NATO’s eastern members through the auspices of NATO’s Operation Atlantic Resolve and the U.S. European Reassurance Initiative. Some of the more noteworthy policy decisions include:
NATO has agreed to create a Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF). The VJTF is expected to consist of 5,000 troops, which can be ready for action within a week. The lead VJTF element is expected to deploy to a crisis area within 48 hours. While the VJTF looks great on paper, its practical value in either defending the Baltic states or deterring Russian aggression is questionable. If Russia invaded one of the Baltic states, the VJTF would be too small and too slow to deploy to have any serious impact.
Whether these measures will help to deter Russian aggression is debatable. While 150 soldiers in each of the Baltic states and Poland might have a strategic communications effect, they would have little tactical impact opposing a Russian invasion. The one battalion that will rotate from the U.S. to train in Europe is clearly no substitute for the two brigade combat teams that were removed from Europe in 2013. Prepositioning dozens of tanks in storage across the region is no substitute for having two brigades of tanks—and the soldiers to operate them—on the ground in Europe as the U.S. did before 2013.
One area that remains controversial inside the Alliance is the question of permanently stationing NATO troops in the Baltic states. The decisions to create the VJTF and preposition some equipment in the region were a poor compromise at the 2014 NATO Wales Summit between those Alliance members wanting permanent bases and those who do not.
The inadequacy of the VJTF demonstrates why permanently basing troops in the Baltic region is important. The only way to guarantee the security of the Baltic states against a conventional Russian military threat is by having robust troops and military capabilities on the ground. The Baltic states are too small to rely on a strategy of defensive depth that could buy NATO enough time to mobilize and deploy a sizable force to the region.
There is a common misconception that the 1997 Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security between NATO and the Russian Federation (NATO–Russia Founding Act) prohibits permanently basing NATO soldiers in Central and Eastern European countries. This is not true. Regarding the question of permanent bases, the act states:
NATO reiterates that in the current and foreseeable security environment, the Alliance will carry out its collective defence and other missions by ensuring the necessary interoperability, integration, and capability for reinforcement rather than by additional permanent stationing of substantial combat forces. Accordingly, it will have to rely on adequate infrastructure commensurate with the above tasks. In this context, reinforcement may take place, when necessary, in the event of defence against a threat of aggression and missions in support of peace consistent with the United Nations Charter and the OSCE [Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe] governing principles, as well as for exercises consistent with the adapted CFE [Conventional Armed Forces in Europe] Treaty, the provisions of the Vienna Document 1994 and mutually agreed transparency measures. Russia will exercise similar restraint in its conventional force deployments in Europe.
When reading the phrase “in the current and foreseeable security environment,” it is important to remember that Russia and NATO agreed to this act 18 years ago. Russia’s commitment to Euro-Atlantic security has changed since the days of goodwill in 1997:
Judging from Russia’s track record since the NATO–Russia Founding Act, the “current and foreseeable security environment” in Europe has dramatically changed since 1997. This alone justifies permanently basing NATO troops in the Baltic region. NATO is a defensive alliance. As long as Russia does not plan to attack a NATO member, Moscow should have nothing to fear from military bases in the Baltics.
One of the best ways to keep the Baltic states secure and free is for NATO to return to the basics. NATO’s mission in 1949 and throughout the Cold War was to deter and, if required, defeat the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, to protect the territorial integrity of its members, and to stop the spread of communism in Europe. Although the nature of the threat has changed, the threat itself has not gone away.
NATO does not need to be everywhere in the world doing everything all the time, but it does need to be capable of defending its members’ territorial integrity. Article VI of the 1949 North Atlantic Treaty is clear that NATO’s area of responsibility is “in the North Atlantic area north of the Tropic of Cancer.”
The countries in the Nordic region have direct and indirect roles in guaranteeing the security of the Baltic states. Historically, the Baltic states have had a very close relationship with the Nordic countries. Denmark and Norway played an important role in developing Baltic military capabilities since the end of the Cold War, and Sweden and Finland, although not members of NATO, also have a close security relationship with the Baltic states.
The Nordic region is also home to overlapping alliances, which adds another level of complexity to Baltic security. Norway is in NATO, but not in the EU. Finland and Sweden are in the EU, but not in NATO. Denmark is in both the EU and NATO, but has an opt-out from the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy. In addition to bilateral cooperation and engagement through NATO, the U.S. is also active in the region through the Enhanced Partnership in Northern Europe (e-PINE) program. Created in 2003 to improve U.S. engagement in the Nordic–Baltic region, e-PINE is now mainly a talking shop.
The Nordic region is also home to geographical spots of strategic importance for Baltic security. History has shown that most military operations in the Baltic region require access to what is today Swedish and Finnish air, sea, and land. For example, during the Crimean War (1853–1856) and the Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War (1918–1920), the Swedish fortress of Viapori (today known as Suomenlinna in Finland) and the Åland Islands played a crucial role. During both World Wars, the Skagerrak and Øresund Straits—both of which border Swedish waters and serve as a gateway to the Baltic Sea—were highly contested. During the Cold War, Denmark’s Bornholm Island was an area of contention between the Soviet Union and NATO. In the 21st century these considerations have not disappeared.
The Danish Straits consist of three channels connecting the Baltic Sea to the North Sea via the Kattegat and Skagerrak Seas. These straits are particularly important to the Baltic Sea nations as import and export routes. This is especially true for Russia, which has increasingly shipped its crude oil exports to Europe through its Baltic ports. Approximately 125,000 ships per year transit these straits, compared with only 31 ships that successfully transited the Arctic’s Northern Sea Route in 2014. If the U.S. needed to intervene militarily in the Baltic states, access to the Danish Straits would be vital.
Three important geostrategic islands impact Baltic security. Only one is part of a NATO member:
It would be naïve in the extreme to think Russia did not factor the importance of these three islands into their Baltic Sea contingency planning, and it would be just as irresponsible for the U.S. not to do the same. In March 2015, Russia carried out a large-scale training exercise with up to 33,000 soldiers, which included the capture of these three islands as part of its scenario. As Edward Lucas highlighted in his report on Baltic security: “If carried out successfully, control of those territories would make it all but impossible for NATO allies to reinforce the Baltic states.”
A lot has been written about U.S. dependency on non-NATO Sweden and Finland to mount a credible defense or liberation of the Baltic states. While any U.S. intervention in the region would be challenging without Swedish and Finnish support, this should not be overblown. The U.S. intervened and then sustained large-scale combat operations for more than a decade in Afghanistan—a landlocked Central Asian country several thousand miles away from the continental United States. The U.S. did this with questionable and at times wavering support from neighboring countries and poor regional infrastructure. Therefore, Moscow should not interpret Sweden and Finland’s non-NATO status as a green light to intervene in the Baltic states because the U.S. cannot come to their defense. Conversely, until they decide to become full-fledged members of NATO, Stockholm and Helsinki should not expect the Alliance to come automatically to their assistance if they are attacked by Russia, and NATO members should not give this impression.
In order to improve U.S.–Baltic security the U.S. should:
It is often said that NATO needs to be global because the threats are global and that defending at the goal line is not a sensible policy. The problem is that NATO does not even seem to defend the goal line in the Baltic region.
The U.S. needs to make it very clear to Russia that there is a line on the map that Russia cannot cross without serious consequences—with countries that are in NATO and countries that are not. The U.S. is obligated by treaty to defend NATO countries. Any response that NATO makes to reinforce its members’ territorial integrity would be a responsible defensive measure designed to defend the Alliance, not to provoke a war with Russia.
If the U.S. works with its allies and takes the appropriate measures to defend the Baltic states, Putin will not be tempted into attacking. Russia will do what it knows it can get away with—no more and no less. From a military and diplomatic point of view, it makes no sense not to have robust capability in Central and Eastern Europe. Defending the Baltic states and deterring Russian aggression will be far easier and cheaper than liberating them would be.—Luke Coffey is Margaret Thatcher Fellow and Daniel Kochis is a Research Associate in the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy, at The Heritage Foundation.
 This paper focuses primarily on recent developments in the security situation in the Baltic Sea region, specifically on the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. For a detailed analysis of the history of U.S.–Baltic relations, the military capabilities of the Baltic states, and their important role in transatlantic security, see Luke Coffey, “The Baltic States: Why the United States Must Strengthen Security Cooperation,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 2851, October 25, 2013, http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2013/10/the-baltic-states-why-the-united-states-must-strengthen-security-cooperation.
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 “Lithuania May Block Two More Russian TV Channels for Biased Coverage,” The Moscow Times, January 6, 2015, http://www.themoscowtimes.com/business/article/lithuania-may-block-two-more-russian-tv-channels-for-biased-coverage/514084.html (accessed July 2, 2015).
 Anton Troianovski, “West to Woo Europe’s Russian Speakers Through Television,” The Wall Street Journal, June 14, 2015, http://www.wsj.com/articles/west-to-woo-europes-russian-speakers-through-television-1434326429 (accessed July 2, 2015).
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 Anton Troianovski, “Germany Seeks to Counter Russian ‘Propaganda’ in Baltics,” The Wall Street Journal, April 17, 2015, http://www.wsj.com/articles/germany-seeks-to-counter-russian-propaganda-in-baltics-1429294362 (accessed June 30, 2015).
 Troianovski, “West to Woo Europe’s Russian Speakers Through Television.”
 David Yanofsky, “The EU Countries That Depend the Most on Gazprom’s Russian Gas,” Quartz, April 22, 2015, http://qz.com/388148/the-eu-countries-that-depend-the-most-on-gazproms-russian-gas/ (accessed June 23, 2015).
 Milda Seputyte, “Lithuania Grabs LNG in Effort to Curb Russian Dominance,” Bloomberg Business, October 27, 2014, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2014-10-27/lithuania-grabs-lng-in-effort-to-curb-russian-dominance (accessed June 23, 2015).
 Kounteya Sinha, “Lithuania to Now Survive Without Russian Gas,” The Times Of India, October 27, 2014, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/uk/Lithuania-to-now-survive-without-Russian-gas/articleshow/44950490.cms (accessed June 23, 2015).
 Kjetil Malkenes Hovland, “Statoil to Supply Gas to Lithuania in Five-Year Deal,” The Wall Street Journal, August 21, 2014, http://www.wsj.com/articles/statoil-to-supply-gas-to-lithuania-in-five-year-deal-1408637833 (accessed June 24, 2015).
 Nerijus Adomaitis, “Latvia Plans to Boost Gas Storage Capacity to 2.8 BCM by 2025,” Reuters, October 3, 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/10/03/latvia-gas-idUSL6N0RY2TE20141003 (accessed June 24, 2015).
 “GIPL Pipeline Facing Problems in Poland,” New Europe Investor, June 16, 2015, http://www.neweuropeinvestor.com/news/gipl-poland-lithuania-problems-10403/ (accessed June 24, 2015).
 Agnieszka Barteczko, “Poland Expects First LNG Delivery to Baltic Sea Terminal in Autumn,” Reuters, June 17, 2015, http://af.reuters.com/article/commoditiesNews/idAFW8N0YH02M20150617 (accessed June 24, 2015).
 “Estonia and Finland Agree on Construction of Two LNG Terminals,” The Baltic Times, December 3, 2014, http://www.baltictimes.com/estonia_and_finland_agree_on___9___9___9_construction_of_two_lng_terminals/ (accessed June 24, 2015).
 DELFI, “NordBalt Cable Laying Works in Baltic Sea Finished,” The Lithuania Tribune, June 9, 2015, http://en.delfi.lt/lithuania/energy/nordbalt-cable-laying-works-in-baltic-sea-finished.d?id=68196132 (accessed June 24, 2015).
 Andrew Higgins, “Increasingly Frequent Call on Baltic Sea: ‘The Russian Navy Is Back,’” The New York Times, June 10, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/11/world/europe/intrusions-in-baltic-sea-show-a-russia-challenging-the-west.html (accessed June 24, 2015).
 Christina Zander, “Undersea Electricity Cable Generates Friction Between Russia and Baltics,” The Wall Street Journal, May 6, 2015, http://www.wsj.com/articles/undersea-electricity-cable-generates-friction-between-russia-and-baltics-1430931797 (accessed June 24, 2015).
 Reuters, “Lithuania Need Not Be Compensated for Power Link—EU Regulator,” April 27, 2015, http://af.reuters.com/article/energyOilNews/idAFL8N0XO4WU20150427 (accessed June 24, 2015).
 “80% Latvian and Lithuanian Residents Use Internet, in Estonia Even 90%,” The Baltic Course, May 13, 2015, http://www.baltic-course.com/eng/analytics/?doc=106113 (accessed July 2, 2015).
 Thomas Tamblyn, “Estonia’s Prime Minister Explains Why a Digital Government Is the Future,” The Huffington Post UK, June 5, 2015, http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2015/05/06/is-the-uk-dragging-its-digital-heels-estonias-pm-explains-why-a-digital-government-is-the-future_n_7213776.html (accessed July 2, 2015).
 “Cyber-Attacks Witnessed During NATO Exercises in Latvia Came from Russian IP Addresses,” The Baltic Course, February 12, 2014, http://www.baltic-course.com/eng/Technology/?doc=87601 (accessed July 2, 2015).
 LSM (Public Broadcasting of Latvia), “National Guard Opens Cyber-Defense Center,” January 15, 2015, http://www.lsm.lv/en/article/societ/society/national-guard-opens-cyber-defense-center.a113832/ (accessed July 2, 2015).
 ELTA, “Lithuania Launches National Cyber Security Centre,” The Lithuania Tribune, January 2, 2015, http://en.delfi.lt/lithuania/defence/lithuania-launches-national-cyber-security-centre.d?id=66804362 (accessed July 2, 2015).
 News release, “National Centre of Cyber Security Will Start Functioning as of Next Year,” Ministry of National Defence, Republic of Lithuania, December 11, 2014, http://www.kam.lt/en/news_1098/current_issues/national_ centre_of_cyber_security_will_start_functioning_as_of_next_year.html (accessed July 2, 2015).
 Republic of Estonia, Information System Authority, “2014 Annual Report Cyber Security Branch of the Estonian Information System Authority,” 2014, p. 7, https://www.ria.ee/public/Kuberturvalisus/RIA-Kyberturbe-aruanne-2014_ENG.pdf (accessed July 6, 2015).
 Ahto Lobjakas, “NATO Commander Seeks Defense Plans for Baltic States,” October 7, 2008, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, http://www.rferl.org/content/NATO_Commander_Seeks_Defense_Plans_For_Baltic_States/1294790.html (accessed July 2, 2015).
 U.K. Government, “Securing Britain in an Age of Uncertainty: 2011 Strategic Defence and Security Review,” October 21, 2010, pp. 4 and 28, https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/62482/strategic-defence-security-review.pdf (accessed July 6, 2015).
 Chuck Hagel, “Missile Defense Announcement,” speech at the Pentagon, March 15, 2013, http://www.defense.gov/speeches/speech.aspx?speechid=1759 (accessed July 6, 2015).
 David M. Herszenhorn and Michael R. Gordon, “U.S. Cancels Part of Missile Defense That Russia Opposed,” The New York Times, March 16, 2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/17/world/europe/with-eye-on-north-korea-us-cancels-missile-defense-russia-opposed.html (accessed July 2, 2015).
 Michael Cochrane, “Is U.S. Draw-Down in Europe Encouraging Russian Aggression?” World, May 11, 2015, http://www.worldmag.com/2015/05/is_u_s_draw_down_in_europe_encouraging_russian_aggression (accessed July 2, 2015).
 Adrian Croft, “NATO to Triple Baltic Air Patrol from Next Month,” Reuters, April 8, 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/04/08/us-ukraine-crisis-nato-idUSBREA371WH20140408 (accessed June 30, 2015).
 “NATO to Cut Baltic Air Patrols by Half ,” Deutsche Welle, August 4, 2015, http://www.dw.com/en/nato-to-cut-baltic-air-patrols-by-half/a-18628128 (accessed August 5, 2015).
 John Vandiver, “US Army’s Last Tanks Depart from Germany,” Stars and Stripes, April 4, 2013, http://www.stripes.com/news/us-army-s-last-tanks-depart-from-germany-1.214977 (accessed July 2, 2015).
 Michael S. Darnell, “American Tanks Return to Europe After Brief Leave,” Stars and Stripes, January 31, 2014, http://www.stripes.com/news/american-tanks-return-to-europe-after-brief-leave-1.264910 (accessed July 2, 2015).
 Brad Lendon, “Air Force Sending ‘Tankbuster’ Jets Back to Europe,” CNN, February 13, 2015, http://www.cnn.com/2015/02/12/world/a-10-jets-to-europe/ (accessed July 2, 2015).
 Andrew Tilgham, “NATO Bases Critical for U.S., Leader Says,” Army Times, August 19, 2013, http://www.armytimes.com/article/20130819/NEWS/308190010/NATO-bases-critical-for-U-S-leader-says (accessed July 2, 2015).
 News release, “European Reassurance Initiative and Other U.S. Efforts in Support of NATO Allies and Partners,” Embassy of the United States Vilnius (Lithuania), June 18, 2015, http://vilnius.usembassy.gov/press_releases/2015/06/18/2016--european-reassurance-initiative-and-other-u.s.-efforts-in-support-of-nato-allies-and-partners (accessed July 6, 2015), and news release, “EUCOM Provides Update on the European Reassurance Initiative,” U.S. European Command, April 20, 2015, http://www.eucom.mil/media-library/article/33026/eucom-provides-update-on-the-european-reassurance-initiative (accessed July 6, 2015). Other notable military construction projects include airfield improvement at Graf Ignatievo, Bulgaria; airfield improvement at Ämari, Estonia; improvement of airfield infrastructure at Lielvarde, Latvia; improvement of support infrastructure at Lask, Poland; improvement of airfield infrastructure at Campia Turzia, Romania; and cargo ramp, multi-modal, and fuel storage capacity improvements at Mihail Kogalniceanu, Romania.
 News release, “NATO’s Readiness Action Plan,” NATO, May 2015, http://www.nato.int/nato_static_fl2014/assets/pdf/pdf_2015_05/20150508_1505-Factsheet-RAP-en.pdf (accessed July 6, 2015).
 Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security Between NATO and the Russian Federation, May 27, 1997, http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/official_texts_25468.htm (accessed July 6, 2015) (emphasis added).
 Wade Boese, “Dispute over Russian Withdrawals from Georgia, Moldova Stall CFE Treaty,” Arms Control Association, September 1, 2004, http://www.armscontrol.org/act/2004_09/CFE (accessed July 5, 2015).
 David Kashi, “Russia Conducts Military Exercises in Moldova’s Breakaway Region of Transnistria near Ukraine’s Western Border, Escalating Tensions,” International Business Times, March 26, 2014, http://www.ibtimes.com/russia-conducts-military-exercises-moldovas-breakaway-region-transnistria-near-ukraines-western (accessed July 5, 2015).
 “U.S. Yet to Query Moscow on Nukes,” The Washington Times, January 4, 2001, http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2001/jan/04/20010104-020454-1623r/ (accessed July 5, 2015).
 Ian Traynor, “Russia Accused of Unleashing Cyberwar to Disable Estonia,” The Guardian, May 16, 2007, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2007/may/17/topstories3.russia (accessed July 5, 2015).
 Armen Grigoryan, “Russia Increases Military Capacity in the South Caucasus,” Eurasia Daily Monitor, April 2, 2015, http://www.jamestown.org/single/?tx_ttnews[tt_news]=43732 (accessed July 5, 2015).
 Hans M. Kristensen, “Nuclear Exercises Amidst Ukrainian Crisis: Time for Cooler Heads,” Federation of American Scientists, May 16, 2014, http://fas.org/blogs/security/2014/05/nuke-exercises/ (accessed June 24, 2015).
 Julian Isherwood, “Russia Warns Denmark Its Warships Could Become Nuclear Targets,” The Telegraph, March 21, 2015, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/denmark/11487509/Russia-warns-Denmark-its-warships-could-become-nuclear-targets.html (accessed July 5, 2015).
 The North Atlantic Treaty, April 4, 1949, art. VI, http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natolive/official_texts_17120.htm (accessed July 6, 2015).
 For this paper, the Nordic region is defined as Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden. Although Iceland is normally considered a Nordic country, it has no immediate role in the defense and security of the three Baltic states.
 U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration, “World Oil Transit Chokepoints,” November 10, 2014, http://www.eia.gov/beta/international/regions-topics.cfm?RegionTopicID=WOTC (accessed July 28, 2015).
 Danish Ministry of Defence, “Facts & Figures,” September 18, 2014, http://www2.forsvaret.dk/eng/About/Facts/Pages/FactsFigures.aspx (accessed March 18, 2015), and Liz Ruskin, “Arctic Shipping Chills in 2014,” Alaska Public Media, December 31, 2014, http://www.alaskapublic.org/2014/12/31/arctic-shipping-chills-in-2014/ (accessed July 28, 2015).
 House of Commons, “The Treaty of Peace,” debate, HC Deb, May 5, 1856, vol. 141, col. 2111, http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1856/may/05/the-treaty-of-peace#column_2111 (accessed July 6, 2015).
 Ibid., and HC Deb, May 6, 1856, vol. 142, c. 128, http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1856/may/06/the-treaty-of-peace-adjourned-debate#column_128 (accessed July 6, 2015).
 Richard Milne, “Sweden Sends Troops to Baltic Island amid Russia Tensions,” The Financial Times, March 12, 2015, http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/660d038c-c8bc-11e4-8617-00144feab7de.html (accessed July 5, 2015).
 Gerard O’Dwyer, “Sweden Invests in Naval Capacity, Baltic Sea Ops,” Defense News, March 20, 2015, http://www.defensenews.com/story/defense/2015/03/20/sweden-invests-in-naval-capacity-and-baltic-sea/25093841/ (accessed July 5, 2015).
 Elizabeth Braw, “East-West Tension Puts Baltic Sea Island on Its Toes,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, May 26, 2015, http://www.rferl.org/content/russia-tensions-put-swedish-baltic-island-on-alert/27038119.html (accessed July 5, 2015).
 Vojtech Mastny, “NATO in the Beholder’s Eye: Soviet Perceptions and Policies,” Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars Working Paper No. 35, March 2002, p. 48, http://www.wilsoncenter.org/sites/default/files/ACFB01.pdf (accessed July 6, 2015).
 Edward Lucas, “The Coming Storm: Baltic Sea Security Report,” Center for European Policy Analysis, June 2015, p. 9, http://www.cepa.org//sites/default/files/styles/medium/Baltic%20Sea%20Security%20Report-%20%282%29.compressed.pdf (accessed June 6, 2015).
 For example, see Lucas, “The Coming Storm Baltic Sea Security Report,” and Eoin Micheál McNamara, Magnus Nordenman, and Charly Salonius-Pasternak, “Nordic-Baltic Security and US Foreign Policy: A Durable Transatlantic Link?” Finnish Institute of International Affairs, June 24, 2015, http://www.fiia.fi/en/publication/515/nordic-baltic_security_and_us_foreign_policy/ (accessed July 6, 2015).
 U.S. Navy, “A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower,” March 2015, http://www.navy.mil/local/maritime/150227-CS21R-Final.pdf (accessed July 6, 2015).
 For the benefits of closer Nordic–Baltic cooperation in the Baltic region, see Lucas, “The Coming Storm.”