NATO in the Baltics

The Times has an excellent article today about the NATO expansion into the Baltics that gives a really good insight into why Russia isn’t happy.

Moscow’s hawkish position is partly based on practical military concerns. The Belgian F16s are now within 100 miles (160km) of Mr Putin’s home city of St Petersburg and close enough to spy on Russia’s borders.

With the F16s came 60 Nato ground staff, including navigation experts from Britain, who make sure that the fighters are ready to scramble within 15 minutes of an incursion. “They make our lives safer, ” Major Martusevicius told The Times. “Whoever violates our airspace, there have to be assets to defend against them.”

Military planners like to work on worst case scenarios. Lets take the worst case scenario for Russia – NATO planes could strike targets in St Petersburg. The flight time for planes based in the Baltics is so short that no Russian interceptors would have time to scramble and defend the city. NATO says the F16s are only there to defend the Baltics, though, and professes to be somewhat surprised at Russia’s reaction. But think about it again from the hypothetical worst case scenario that military planners look at. It actually gets worse.

If Russia were to attack the Baltics, the flight times would also be equally short. Certainly less than the 15 minutes quoted above that the F16s would need to scramble. So, any Russian attack on the Baltics would have time to hit the F16s on the ground, before the could gt in the air. Effectively, in the case of a Russian attack, the F16s are militarily worthless. So, if they have no defensive role, why does NATO have F16s in the Baltics? Surely there can only be one other reason…

OK, none of the above is actually going to happen. NATO isn’t going to attack Russia, and Russia isn’t really going to try and invade the Baltics. But this is the mindset of those with whom we entrust the physical security of our nations. If they didn’t have this mindset, we’d want to know why not, and then we’d go find someone else who did have this mindset. National security policy has to be based on worst case scenario planning. It happens in Russia, and it happens in the US too (National Missile Defense anyone?). If states don’t do everything to provide for their defense, then one day someone really will walk all over them. And, given Russia’s historical experience, they are understandably a little reluctant to trust their defense to the good words and promises of others.

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8 Responses

  1. gary says:

    Countries are allowed to protect their borders and airspace without being branded belligerents. There is more than one kind of invasion, as the US knows from our southern lack of borders.

    Additionally, the ex-Republics have a fresher reason to fear invasion and occupation than Russia, so “poor me” can be seen as Russian cynicism overlaying resentment that the Russian empire is really and truly gone.

  2. Andy says:

    Sure, I agree. The Balts have good reason to be concerned for their own security. They’ve been invaded a few times too (not to mention Lithuania’s resentment about the end of its own Empire).

    The article I mentioned goes on to say that the major threat that NATO expansion holds for Russian security is that it gives rise to radical Russian nationalists and I think that is the main outcome we will see from this little spat.

    Having said that, a bunch of F16s mere minutes away from St Petersburg is a Russian security planners nightmare. Can you imagine the fuss if an enemy of the US were to station some offensive weaponry in Cuba, but say it was for defensive purposes only…?

  3. gary says:

    The situation has some resonance with the Cuban Quarantine in the 1960s. We went ballistic, to coin a phrase, at the thought of missiles just offshore in Cuba that could hit the US. At the same time, we had rings of missiles around the Russian underbelly in places like Turkey which could strike the Soviet interior.

    It’s funny how our daggar at the Soviet heart didn’t get much US press as we shrieked about Cuba attempting to perform the same function for Russia.

    Of course, the whole defensive missile treaty that ended up with Russian missiles around Moscow and American missiles around the ICBM silos was a telling indication of who expected to hit who first. And we both knew it.

  4. Andy says:

    Of course, another way of looking at the whole defensive missile treaty thing is to say that the caring sharing Soviet government was trying to protect its civilian population from the evil imperialistic American government, which was only concerned with protecting its lovely shiny ICBMs.

    Isn’t it great… the way you can put a positive spin anything to suit propaganda purposes?

  5. gary says:

    LOL I have a brother just like that. Every word out of his mouth is tuned to make it sound like he has your interests at heart, while he’s doing his best to pick your pocket.

  6. Baltic Blog says:

    The Cuban Missile Crisis is an analogy that I hadn’t hear before, and I think it’s a good one.

    Then again, Russian planes have invaded Estonian airspace twice in the last six months (at least that’s been publicized), including one flyby that passed two kilometers from the Estonian “White House” (Stenbock House).

    Now who’s being provactive here?

  7. Andy says:

    I’m still puzzled by the Russian incursions into Estonian airspace. There seems to be very little benefit to Russia in either the political or security sense.

    Firstly the incursions will have reinforced Estonia’s perception of Russia as a threat, and confirmed that it was correct to join NATO.

    And, second, it makes Russia look impotent. There won’t be any more incursions by Russian planes now that NATO is based there. Why not? Well, aside from the fact it would create much more of an international incident, they know that their planes are no match for the NATO F16s should things get a little out of hand.

  8. Paul says:

    Gary and Baltic Blog scumbag: the difference is of course that Russia DID NOT invade those *other* hypothetical countries. Estonia and Latvia were created recently first by Lenin and recognized by the Soviet government under Dorpat or Juriev treaty, and then, again, in the early 1990s by the USSR, with Russian Federation being the FIRST country to extend full diplomatic recognition to all three new Baltic states. Estonia and Latvia are two recently formed ethnofascist entties, which entire policies are based on Russophobia and – well – ethnic revenge; they are not historic countries in the sense of France, Russia, Germany or say Norway.

    I am not Russian but hell sure I would feel threatened by armed NATO scum poised for strike right next to St. Petersburg. Good defense is to have assymetrical response. First of all – it’s a good idea for Russians to actually try to make trouble in the Baltics and provoke small scale war, try to turn it into mini Kosovo type scenario. Instead of being attack assets t, three ethnofascist satrapies should become a nightmarish liability for their owners.
    Steer trouble for US and its vassals elsewhere, quietly provide weapons to those who fight the true Evil Empire. When US is stuck elsewhere (like in Iraq), they’d have less time for Russia. Corrupt Russian politicians had literally sold their nation’s interest and Russia is strategically trapped – so the response to the potential aggressor (which is the US plus vassals, either willing or coerced) can only be assymetrical.