Ints Kalnins / REUTERS Estonian soldiers take part in a NATO military exercise at the Tapa training range in Estonia, May 2015.

The Baltic Balance

How to Reduce the Chances of War in Europe

On a trip to Europe last week, U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter made two important announcements. First, on June 22, Carter revealed that the United States would contribute special operations forces, weaponry, and surveillance aircraft to NATO’s Very High Readiness Joint Task Force, a rapid response team of some 5,000 troops. The next day, in Tallinn, Estonia, Carter announced that the United States would pre-position military equipment, including 250 tanks, armored vehicles, and artillery, across several central and eastern European countries, among them Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania.

Both of these steps aim to strengthen Europe’s defenses and stabilize regional security, which has been deeply shaken by Russia’s war in Ukraine. Although the United States could do more still, increased U.S. military support should reduce the chances of war in Europe, particularly in the Baltics, where NATO faces the challenges of a limited military presence, adverse geography, and the risk of a fight with Russia.

To be sure, the chances of a Russian attack on the Baltics are low, and the costs of war with NATO would be enormous for Moscow. But Moscow’s calculus and future trajectory are highly uncertain, and its recent saber-rattling along NATO’s eastern flank—including military exercises, bellicose language, and provocative air and naval maneuvers—has raised concerns and heightened tensions throughout the region. Even Sweden, traditionally non-aligned, has begun to seriously consider joining NATO. Given the Kremlin’s behavior, NATO has no choice but to take the risk of conflict seriously.

Moscow’s future trajectory is highly uncertain, and its recent saber-rattling along NATO’s eastern flank have raised concerns in the region.

BACKING UP EUROPE’S SECURITY

NATO currently has few forces in the Baltics, and Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania have very limited militaries of their own. In the face of a Russian attack, they would be nearly defenseless. Russian forces could likely capture the Baltic capitals within days of crossing the Russian border, before NATO reinforcements could

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