Table of contents
1. Will Russia invade the Baltic states?
The invasion of Ukraine has led to fears that Russia could soon target the Baltic states: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The countries were previously annexed by the Soviet Union following the second world war, only regaining their independence in 1990–91. However, unlike Ukraine, the three countries are members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO).
Some politicians and commentators believe that membership of NATO ensures that the Baltic states are protected from a Russian invasion. In an interview with the Financial Times in March 2022, Latvia’s Prime Minister, Krisjanis Karins, insisted that his country was secure from any future military invasion. Mr Karins stated that “an argument could be made that we have never been so secure”. This, he contended, was because Latvia has “many very powerful allies”, is an independent country with its own army, and has a “free and open and flourishing” trade and investment environment. Also speaking about the threat of invasion in March, the Estonian Prime Minister, Kaja Kallas, said that the country had felt secure as “no NATO country has ever been attacked”. Additionally, she stated that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had led her to hold talks with NATO on strengthening Estonia’s defences.
Writing for the London School of Economics’ European Politics and Policy Blog, Michele E Commercio, an associate professor of political science at the University of Vermont, also argued that membership of NATO would “ensure” the Baltic states’ security. She said that this was in part due to an increased NATO presence in Poland and the Baltic states in response to Russia’s invasion of Crimea in 2014. She also noted that when the three countries joined NATO, they acquired the “guaranteed collective defence” by NATO forces, whereby an attack against one NATO member is considered an attack against all alliance members.
However, others, including Lithuania’s President, Gitanas Nauseda, fear that being a NATO member is “no longer enough” of a deterrence to prevent any future Russian invasion. In a press conference alongside US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken on 8 March 2022, he called for NATO to go further in strengthening his country’s defences, warning that Lithuania needed more NATO troops stationed in the country “otherwise it will be too late here” and that “Putin will not stop in Ukraine”.
Krista Viksnins, a program assistant at the Center for European Policy Analysis, argued that the Baltic states “should be worried”. She warned that despite NATO’s response to the invasion being “forthright”, with “more than 22,000 soldiers stationed in former Soviet republics and satellite states”, the soldiers “at their current size […] could probably not resist a large-scale Russian military attack and continue to represent—given their small size and location—NATO’s most vulnerable member states”.
2. What does the future hold for NATO?
The Russian military invasion of Ukraine has brought a renewed focus on NATO and what the future holds for the alliance.
In an article for Carnegie Europe, John R Deni, a research professor at the US Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute, suggested that NATO should consider several strategic and operational changes to “adequately defend allied territory” and “bolster stability” in the future. With a new NATO strategy to be adopted at its summit in June 2022, he appealed for a “more fulsome embrace” of collective defence as the “core NATO task for the foreseeable future”. This included calling on the alliance to move towards a strategy of “deterrence by denial”, whereby:
NATO’s posture in the East would need to be beefed up both qualitatively—to counter specific Russian offensive capabilities such as its artillery and rockets—and quantitively—to meet the scale of the Russian threat. The goal would be for NATO to stop and repel an attempted attack into allied territory, not merely respond to one after the fact.
He argued that these changes would ensure that NATO “can go far in ensuring the war doesn’t expand”.
Hans Binnendijk and Daniel S Hamilton, fellows at the Atlantic Council and the Brookings Institution respectively, also agreed that NATO must adapt its task of collective defence to that of deterrence by denial. Writing for Politico, the authors argued that this operational change would require more American and European soldiers to be deployed to NATO’s eastern flanks. They also called for an overhaul of NATO’s nuclear deterrence posture, arguing that the alliance has no nuclear doctrine to “counter Moscow’s ‘escalate to de-escalate’ strategy”.
However, NATO has also come under increased scrutiny for failing to stop the invasion. In response, some politicians and commentators have called for new global alliances to be made. Whilst addressing the US Congress virtually on 16 March 2022, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy criticised existing security alliances for failing to stop Russia’s military invasion. Consequently, he proposed the creation of a new global alliance named U-24 (United 24). He suggested the alliance could be tasked with responding to the outbreak of war within 24 hours by using financial and military means.
In an article for the Conversation, past director of peace and justice studies at Fordham University John Davenport suggested that the “leading democratic nations” across the world should join their “economic, military, technological and moral power” to form a new expanded alliance. He argued that this alliance could work together to “effectively counter” Russian and Chinese influence, but would also discourage military coups, prevent new arms races and help developing democracies strengthen their civil services.