September 9, 2021
The security of the Atlantic alliance and all its member states is only as strong as that of its weakest and most peripheral members.
This chapter is part of CEPA's report on Baltic Sea Security Close to the Wind.
Strategies, capabilities, and threats in the Baltic Sea region are mismatched. The most important weapons systems — such as Air and Missile Defense (AMD) — are unaffordable for the countries that most need them. Land, maritime, and air strategies are unequally developed and scarcely integrated. The approach in many countries is backward-looking: getting ready to fight the last war, not the next one. Strategic thinking about the region is piecemeal: few of our interlocutors articulated a clear picture of a desired end state for regional security, or how that might be achieved. Every element of the region’s defense is based on compromise and improvisation, with a dose of wishful thinking often added for good measure. In many cases the answer to the hardest questions is an assumption, stated or unstated, that the United States will fill the gap.
This and other assumptions about the region’s defense, in terms of political decision-making, logistical capabilities, and military plans, are not properly tested in exercises. All the region’s defense arrangements are, therefore, gravely vulnerable to surprise shocks, such as a strategic distraction.
The result is dangerous complacency. The security of the Atlantic alliance and all its member states is only as strong as that of its weakest and most peripheral members. Put bluntly, defense shortcomings in the Baltic Sea region risk a crisis in the credibility of deterrence, with potentially catastrophic consequences for NATO, its members, and partner countries.
In 2021, CEPA published a series of reports as part of its Military Mobility Project.1 The project is designed to promote the changes to legal and regulatory standards, infrastructure, military requirements, and risk management needed to improve military mobility across Europe. The project focused on five different political-military scenarios, including reinforcing Estonia from Norway, and the Baltic states through the Suwałki corridor.
Photo: Exercise Open Spirit 2021. Credit: Estonian Defence Forces
Recommendations, all of which highlight problems relevant to the Baltic Sea region, included:
- Streamlining cross-border movement permissions, customs procedures, and regulations for the transport of dangerous goods, in particular reducing peacetime clearance from the EU standard of five working days to the NATO operational-level planning timeline of three calendar days (72 hours).
- A comprehensive infrastructure assessment, building for heavier military equipment and standardizing rail interfaces.
- Standardizing EU and NATO networks of National Points of Contact, establishing National Territorial Commands, and making full use of NATO’s JSEC.
- Increasing EU funding for military mobility and extending NATO common funding.
- Fully harnessing capability catalogs, enhancing national military transportation capacities, and establishing logistic hubs.
- Fostering cyber resilience, closer civil-military ties, and countering information warfare.
- Establishing a systematic and comprehensive program of EU-NATO exercises to:
- Promote shared civil-military understanding.
- Test and improve NATO and national planning.
- Increase key leaders’ engagement.
Our final report, to be published later in 2021, will make specific recommendations. At this point we would note:
- Subthreshold threats are potentially a more serious threat than full-scale kinetic conflict. Comprehensive or “total” defense plans require more resources and better, more comprehensive implementation. International coordination remains nascent.
- NATO remains the linchpin of regional security. Finland and Sweden’s status as non-members of the alliance is not the biggest problem. Far more important are:
- An unclear and untested command and control system.
- A lack of a common threat assessment.
- A growing imbalance in mass and readiness.
- A lack of high-tempo exercises at the appropriate scale, including short-notice readiness exercises to shock and sharpen the system.
- Given the local imbalance between Russian and allied capabilities, credible, well-rehearsed reinforcement plans are vital. But these are lacking. The “Notice to Move” and “Notice to Effect” times of NATO’s higher readiness forces need reexamination.
- Military mobility is potentially a force multiplier. Friction corrodes readiness. Despite the European Union’s Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) efforts, the ability to move personnel and equipment around the region in a “military Schengen” is still weak. Infrastructure, legal, and political obstacles are self-imposed handicaps on the vital “speed of assembly.”
- Outdated or absent air (including air and missile defense) and maritime strategies are another serious gap in regional security.
- So too is the lack of long-range precision strikes (with the exception of Poland and Finland’s JASSM missiles, mentioned above).
- Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities and effective intelligence sharing are still insufficient. The countries of the region need an “unblinking eye” that encompasses air, sea, land, and cyber domains, and that analyzes and acts on what it sees.
- The United States carries too much of the burden of deterrence and reinforcement in the region. This is unsustainable in the long term. So far, other countries — the United Kingdom, France, and (particularly) Germany — are not in a position to compensate for the diminishing U.S. role.
- National defense spending is rising but it could be more effectively targeted. Fragmented acquisition programs, domestic political considerations, and bureaucratic friction mean that the region’s huge collective defense budget often fails to deliver the results it could and should.
- Deterrence is not clearly articulated and relies too heavily on the U.S. (and to some extent British) nuclear guarantee and on the multinational land-based, “tripwire” enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) forces in the Baltic states. This is a bluff. It risks being called.
- LTG (Ret.) Heinrich Brauss, LTG (Ret.) Ben Hodges, and Prof. Dr. Julian Lindley-French, “The CEPA Military Mobility Project: Moving Mountains for Europe’s Defense,” CEPA, March 3, 2021, https://cepa.org/the-cepa-military-mobility-project-moving-mountains-for-europes-defense/.