PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

RAND: Nuclear weapons and deterring Russian threats to the Baltics

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Last month RAND released a report examining—in part, through wargaming—whether nonstrategic nuclear weapons use might deter a Russian attack against Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. The study, Exploring the Role Nuclear Weapons Could Play in Deterring Russian Threats to the Baltic Stateswas prepared by Paul Davis, J. Michael Gilmore, David Frelinger, Edward Geist, Christopher Gilmore, Jenny Oberholtzer, and Danielle Tarraf.

Despite its global advantages, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)’s current deterrent posture in the Baltic states is militarily weak and generally questionable. A Russian invasion there would almost surely capture some or all of those states’ capital cities within a few days, presenting NATO with a fait accompli. The United States is currently considering tailored deterrence strategies, including options to use nuclear weapons to deter Russian aggression in the Baltic states. This report examines what role nonstrategic nuclear weapons could play in deterring such an invasion. As part of that analysis, the authors review relevant deterrence theory and current NATO and Russian nuclear and conventional force postures in Europe. They draw on wargame exercises and qualitative modeling to characterize the potential outcomes if NATO, Russia, or both employ nonstrategic nuclear weapons during a war in the Baltic states. The authors then discuss implications for using such weapons to deter a Russian invasion. The insights derived from the research highlight the reality that, even if NATO makes significant efforts to modernize its nonstrategic nuclear weapons, it would have much stronger military incentives to end a future war than Russia would. That is, Russia would still enjoy escalation dominance.

Readers might also want to review the 2016 report by David A. Shlapak and Michael Johnson on Reinforcing Deterrence on NATO’s Eastern Flank.


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