The Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) has released a ground-breaking report on Baltic security: “The Coming Storm.” Authored by CEPA Senior Vice President Edward Lucas, the report marks the first phase of CEPA new Baltic Sea Security Program. Excerpts below:
The central finding of the Coming Storm report is that the nine “front-line states” – the Nordic five (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden), the Baltic three (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) and Poland – need to end their “strategic incoherence” in the face of a multi-pronged and sustained military, propaganda and espionage offensive from Russia. Though these countries – which the report calls the NBP9 – have a combined GDP one-third greater than Russia’s, their generally weak defense spending and poor coordination makes them highly vulnerable to Russian threats.
Edward Lucas is the author of New Cold War, published in 2008, and other books. He is the director of CEPA’s new Baltic Sea Security Program, which aims to offer analytical support to decision-makers seeking to curb the security threat from Russia in the Baltic Sea region.
Geography makes the defense of NATO’s most vulnerable members, the Baltic states, difficult, even impossible, without the full cooperation of non-NATO Sweden and Finland, the report notes.
The Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) is a non-profit, non-partisan public policy research institute dedicated to the study of Central and Eastern Europe (CEE). Founded in 2005, CEPA is the only U.S. think-tank that works exclusively on the countries and societies of this dynamic global region. The Center’s mission is to promote an economically vibrant, strategically secure and politically free Central and Eastern Europe with close and enduring ties to the United States.
Russian warplanes regularly intrude into or come close to the airspace of the Baltic states. On different days in October 2014, Denmark, Sweden and Germany all scrambled military jets to intercept Russian planes heading toward their airspace. In September, two Russian SU-24 fighter-bombers intruded into Swedish airspace to the south of the island of Öland.
Earlier, in June 2014, Russia mounted a dummy attack, using planes armed with live missiles, on the Danish island of Bornholm just as 90,000 guests—in effect the country’s entire political elite—were visiting the island for the Folkemødet public policy festival. Had the attack actually taken place, Denmark would have been decapitated.
Some of the scenarios in the Baltic Sea were outlined in a paper (in Finnish) by the military specialists Michael Moberg, James Mashiri and Charly SaloniusPasternak in the February 27, 2015, issue of the magazine Suomen Kuvalehti (Finnish Picture Magazine}. The paper was titled “Venäjä vaatii Suomelta laivastotukikohtaa, Gotlanti miehitetään— voisiko näin tapahtua?” (Russia demands a naval base from Finland, Gotland occupied—could this happen?).
The scenarios include a “terrorist” attack on a Russian oil tanker, prompting Russia to complain that the West is trying to strangle its international trade and to demand a jointly run naval base in the region. The second scenario involves mysterious Islamist groups mounting terror attacks in Sweden while Russia occupies Gotland, supposedly at the request of a local group of activists seeking protection. The third posits rapid Russian intervention in Estonia in support of Russian-speaking separatists there.
The new CEPA report has a number of recommendations:
Better coordination in the NBP9 against Russian espionage, corruption and organized crime would blunt the edge of the Kremlin’s most potent weapons. Sharing financial intelligence, joint spy-catching and intensified cooperation among criminal justice systems is long overdue. So too is diplomatic pressure on politicians who undermine their officials’ efforts.
Russia has gained a worrying superiority in information warfare. The NBP9 combined have some useful capabilities in collating, analyzing and rebutting Russian propaganda and disinformation. These capabilities would be formidable if they were combined. The NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence in Riga offers an obvious focus for such efforts.
A particular emphasis in this should go into collating open-source and unclassified information about Russian behavior in the region. There is no central publicly accessible database about Russian activities in airspace and at sea. Creating a real-time record of Russian misbehavior and mischief in the region would make it much harder for the Kremlin to claim that nothing abnormal is going on. Furthermore, Lithuania should keep a clear public record of all transit traffic (rail, road, natural gas and electricity) to Kaliningrad. If Russia wishes to complain that something is suddenly amiss, it will be helpful to have a detailed and credible picture of what normality looks like.
The NBP9 should intensify their cooperation with the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence in Tallinn, Estonia. This has already demonstrated world-class ability to host war games (such as the “Locked Shields” exercise). It should host regional versions of these exercises and integrate them into other military and civilian drills.
Sweden and Finland already have analysts at the NATO Fusion Center in the UK. However, a new Fusion cell dealing specifically with Russia’s threat to Baltic Sea security would develop this relationship further. It should combine open source information with classified material from NATO and non-NATO countries, i.e., under NATO auspices but with full Finnish and Swedish participation. This would be a powerful antidote to one of Russia’s most potent capabilities, the distraction and confusion of decision-makers.
The NBP9 need to establish a common approach to military procurement, interoperability, planning, training, exercises, information sharing, crisis management, disaster preparedness. Creating a culture of mutual trust will not be quick or easy. But that is all the more reason to start now.
A common approach to missile defense is long overdue. When Poland has Patriot missiles, will they defend only Poland, or other countries too? If Polish troops are regularly deployed in the Baltic states, and come under attack there, then presumably the Polish state would want to protect them with its best weapons. What role is there for joint procurement—for example, missile defense installations in the Baltic states, perhaps partly paid for and operated by other countries in the region?
Offensive military capabilities can be better coordinated too. America has allowed Finland and Poland to buy the AGM-158 JASSM (Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile), a stealth air launched weapon that has the capability to strike hundreds of kilometers inside Russia. This has a powerful deterrent effect. Other countries should consider JASSM acquisition too, and defense planning for the region should take into account the possible use of JASSM as a collective deterrent. Poland is trying to buy Tomahawk Cruise missiles from the U.S. It would make sense to deploy these on Swedish-made submarines, and to use Sweden’s renowned expertise in subsea warfare to improve other countries’ capabilities.
NATO, as well as Sweden and Finland, needs to pre-position equipment and ammunition in the Baltic states, and allied forces need to be a robust and permanent (i.e., as long as is needed) presence in the region. These forces need a high degree of political pre-authorization. Just as the NATO warplanes that take part in the air-policing mission do not need a meeting of the North Atlantic Council to allow them to scramble to see off an intruder, the same should be true of the NATO land and sea forces in the Baltics. If Russia tries to intimidate a cable-laying ship in international waters, or exploit an infrastructure breakdown in Lithuania, it should receive an immediate NATO response.
The indispensable coordinator and instigator of all these efforts is the United States. For each country in the NBP9, the bilateral security relationship with the U.S. is the most important component by far of their defense thinking. If the U.S. asks Polish soldiers to exercise in Sweden, or Swedish and Finnish aircraft to conduct exercises in the Baltics, it will happen. Without American leadership, the region’s security will be bedeviled by squabbles about national particularities.