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

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.

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

To be sure, the chances of a Russian attack on the Baltics are low, and the costs of

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  • CHRISTOPHER S. CHIVVIS is Associate Director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at the RAND Corporation and Adjunct Professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS).
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