At its June summit in Madrid, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization agreed to adopt a defense plan for the Baltic states, bolstering what had been more of a tripwire than a serious combat capability. Unfortunately, there is less to this engagement than meets the eye. For the sake of deterrence, defense and reassurance to nervous eastern allies, NATO should remedy this mistake.
After Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014, NATO decided for the first time to station military forces in the three Baltic states – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – as well as in Poland on a rotational basis. Known as the Enhanced Forward Presence Battlegroups, these units had about 1,200 soldiers in each of the four allies most threatened by Moscow. The populations of Estonia and Latvia are each about 25% ethnic Russian, making those countries vulnerable to Vladimir Putin’s 2014 proclamation that he would “protect” native Russian speakers wherever they live. Poland and Lithuania border the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, the most militarized territory in all of Europe.