‘Outgunned’ NATO to Step Up Eastern Deployments to Deter Russia

  • Allied generals seek new battalions in Baltics, nearby states
  • NATO to stay below ‘substantial’ force level in Russia pact

NATO will move more defensive forces toward Russia’s border after eastern European governments complained that reinforcements deployed since 2014 don’t provide enough deterrence.

Allied military planners have called for a “battalion-size multinational force” in each of several eastern countries including the Baltic republics, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said.

“A multinational presence sends a very clear signal that an attack on one ally will be an attack on the whole alliance,” Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels on Wednesday. He said details will be worked out by a summit in Warsaw in July.

Russia’s takeover of Crimea and proxy war in eastern Ukraine near NATO territory in 2014 led the U.S. to rotate troops into eastern Europe and prompted the alliance to set up a 5,000-man rapid-response force.

Substantial Forces

Still, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization remains “outnumbered, outranged, and outgunned,” with a Russian lightning strike able to reach Estonia’s or Latvia’s capital in 36 to 60 hours, RAND Corp. analysts David Shlapak and Michael Johnson wrote on The War on the Rocks website last month.

NATO’s dilemma is to field firepower that is strong enough to reassure Poland and its neighbors but not so strong as to spur a new arms race or violate a 1997 pledge not to permanently station “substantial combat forces” near the Russian frontier.

Stoltenberg treaded that line when he said the latest reinforcements will be “far below any reasonable definition of substantial combat forces.” Germany in particular has been worried about breaking the treaty commitment to Russia.

Effective Deterrence

While the allied troop movements will be below the hazily defined “substantial” threshold, U.S. Ambassador to NATO Douglas Lute said they will be “sufficiently coherent and sufficiently combat-capable to contribute to deterrence.”

Deterrence doesn’t come down to “bean counting” the troops on the ground but includes the ability to speedily send in backup land, sea and air forces in a crisis, Lute told reporters. “There’s more than one ingredient to effective deterrence,” he said.

The U.S. will also start rotating armored brigade combat teams into eastern Europe in 2017, going beyond reinforcements provided by the 28-nation alliance as a whole, the Obama administration said in March.

Deterring Russia and stabilizing the Middle East and Libya are among the topics at a meeting Thursday and Friday of NATO foreign ministers.

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