June 17, 2016
By The Jamestown Foundation
The Jamestown Foundation is proud to announce that a board delegation recently visited Germany and the Baltic States from June 5 to 11. The 14-person delegation was headed by former CIA Director Michael V. Hayden, who is also a member of the Jamestown Board. Other participants on the trip included Jamestown board members, private businessmen, as well as several experts on Baltic and international security issues. The focus of the week-long visit to the region was to learn more about NATO’s defense posture in the Baltic, the specifics of the threat posed by an aggressive Russia, and the level of engagement of the United States in these important allied states.
The Jamestown delegation held meetings with current and former U.S., Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian officials, politicians, as well as policy experts. Among U.S. officials, Jamestown’s group notably met with U.S. Army Europe commander General Ben Hodges and spoke with the Ambassadors and staff of U.S. Embassies in each of the Baltic States. High-level Baltic officials included Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė, Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, Lithuanian Chief of Defense Lieutenant-General Jonas Vytautas Žukas, Latvian Speaker of Parliament Ināra Mūrniece, Lithuanian Defense Minister Juozas Olekas, Latvian Defense Minister Raimonds Bergmanis, Commander of the Estonian Defense Forces Lieutenant-General Riho Terras, and other distinguished figures in and out of government. The delegation was also hosted at several receptions by a number of local think tanks, former government officials, security expert groups, as well as the U.S. Embassy in Vilnius.
Jamestown President Glen E. Howard noted, “It was an honor to have General Hayden lead our trip and take an active part in our various discussions with key officials across the three Baltic States. Thanks to his several decades in the U.S. military and intelligence community, General Hayden brought a unique perspective on the various challenges and threats faced by the United States and its European allies during and after the end of the Cold War.”
The Jamestown delegation derived the following takeaways from the week-long trip:
- Russia’s aggression against the Baltic region is ongoing but currently mainly confined to informational warfare, including propaganda and disinformation; economic blockades and energy-sector manipulation; military intimidation via mass conventional build-ups, surprise snap exercises and nuclear saber rattling; covert intelligence and special services operations; cyber attacks; and the like. Moscow’s attacks against the Baltics and NATO are currently in “Phase 1,” but could escalate in the coming months, if the West does not resolutely up its defenses to such hostile prodding.
- A large, overwhelming and fast conventional attack by Russia is of much greater concern and considered significantly more likely against the three Baltic States than any kind of repeat of a “hybrid” type operation, as was seen in Crimea in 2014. Russia’s propaganda influence over the ethnic-Russian or Russian-speaking minorities in the Baltics is too weak to exploit them as a useful “fifth column.” Moreover, Moscow is unlikely to be so predictable as to neatly repeat its operations against Ukraine in the Baltic States. Rather, Russia’s goal will presumably be to quickly overwhelm Baltic defenses via a large-scale conventional incursion, prevent allied NATO forces from entering to relieve the Baltic States, and create a political crisis within the Alliance resulting in the ultimate breakdown of NATO.
- The Baltic States still need to do more to bolster their own defense sectors, but after years of neglect and underinvestment, the trend lines across the region are finally pointed in the right direction. Both Lithuania and Latvia have, through unanimous parliamentary decisions, legally bound themselves to reach the NATO-mandated obligation to spend 2% of their GDP on defense before 2020 or even sooner (Estonia has been spending this much every year since 2011), and over the past year, Latvia’s defense expenditures have grown by 43%. Moreover, all three Baltic republics are currently concentrating on expanding their armed forces by growing the sizes of their professional armies, reserves and/or volunteer units, as well as investing more in border security.
- Russia’s anti-access and area-denial (A2/AD) bubble is of utmost concern to NATO because of its ability to prevent Alliance forces from entering or resupplying forces fighting in the Baltic States in a time of crisis. Russian advanced air-defense, electronic warfare and long-range precision-guided munitions capabilities have been growing not only in the strategically central territory of Kaliningrad (whose A2/AD zone alone could shut down most of the Baltic region), but up and down Russia’s western frontier—from the Kola Peninsula, down to the Black Sea, and even in Syria. To successfully defend the Baltics, NATO will need to think through how to first “clear” Kaliningrad.
- NATO will have to take seriously the threat posed by Russia’s doctrine of “nuclear de-escalation” to end conventional conflicts. Two and a half decades after the end of the Cold War, the Alliance will now likely need to rethink and update its plans for a credible nuclear deterrence in Europe.
- Deep interoperability between Baltic forces and NATO is becoming ever more important to the defense of the region. And indeed, regional militaries are increasingly interacting with American and other Alliance forces at levels unseen since the Baltic States joined NATO.
- According to a former top government official in Lithuania that the Jamestown delegation met with, one of the most important long-term missions for Europe and the United States must be to strengthen, liberalize and economically develop the countries lying between the EU and Russia (Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan). As robust, independent states, these post-Soviet republics can form a bulwark against further Russian aggression; and their success will provide a positive model for Russian society to emulate, thus encouraging Russians to positively transform their own government.
It became patently clear over the course of Jamestown’s many meetings with policymakers and defense experts that the threats facing NATO’s northeastern flank are multi-faceted and concurrent. Therefore, the West’s responses will likely need to, inter alia, include greater defense sector investment, expansion of the armed forces, a general hardening of society to disinformation and destabilization attempts, national political cohesion, a clearer understanding of the threats posed by disinformation and propaganda, as well as a nurturing of shared Western norms and values in the transatlantic community. The West already has the tools and resources at its disposal to stand up to great power aggression, but US leadership will once more be crucial to success.
Founded in 1984, The Jamestown Foundation is an independent, non-partisan research institution dedicated to providing timely information concerning critical political and strategic developments in China, Russia, Eurasia and the world of terrorism. Jamestown produces three periodic publications: Eurasia Daily Monitor, Terrorism Monitor and China Brief. Jamestown research and analysis is available to the public free-of-charge via Jamestown’s website, www.jamestown.org.