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Tag Archives: Baltics

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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RAND video on (wargaming) Russia and the Baltics

RAND has released a short, glossy video outlining the findings of the many wargames they have run examining a potential Russian invasion of the Baltic republics. You’ll find it on their Facebook page, as well as below.

Their original January 2016 report can be found on the RAND website here.

For the findings of a later CNAS crisis game on Baltic security (and some discussion of the differences between the two game approaches and their respective findings), see the discussion at PAXsims here.

CNAS crisis-games Baltic security

logo_cnas_print.pngA few months ago RAND released a report based on tabletop wargames they had undertaken of a hypothetical Russian invasion of the Baltic republics. This month the Center for a New American Security has released its own report on Baltic security, based on a crisis game they conducted last month:

In an effort to better prepare both sides of the Atlantic to grapple with such challenges, the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) conducted a tabletop exercise (TTX) in Washington in February 2016. Spanning two days, the TTX, titled Assured Resolve, featured nearly 50 high-level participants from Europe and the United States, enabling current and former officials to identify gaps in strategy, statecraft, and capabilities. The purpose of the exercise was twofold: to explore assumptions about possible national and multinational responses to future Russian provocations and to examine in real time the threshold for action on the part of international organizations such as NATO and national capitals.

Participants were divided into five teams: the U.S. government, NATO, and the Nordics, as well as the fictitious countries of Baltia and Grosland (the aggressor). These two latter teams were intended to reflect the current dynamics between the Baltic states and Russia, respectively. All five teams were presented with three sequential moves designed to climb the escalation ladder during the two days of the exercise.

As the CNAS press release notes, the game was conducted as a three move seminar game:

Move One began with lower-level conflict inside Baltia that featured a Groslandian incitement and strategic communications campaign to test Western responses to the provocative actions. To determine the viability of bilateral Nordic partnerships with the Baltic states and broader regional dynamics, Move Two presented participants with three near-simultaneous incidents: Groslandian threats to cut of energy supplies to Baltia paired with a Groslandian cyber provocation in the face of oil price disputes between the two countries and the unintentional downing of a European commercial airliner (caused by a Groslandian jet that had turned of its transponder on a probing mission). Finally, Move Three introduced a conventional but accidental military conflict after Groslandian troops entered Baltian territory during a training exercise and Baltian troops tried to arrest them. Teams met in two-hour blocks for each move, developing their responses and interacting with one another through face-to-face meetings. At the end of each two-hour block, participants convened as a group to share insights, responses, and challenges with each individual move.

Overall, “the results of this two-day exercise were surprising and highlighted the need for Europe and the United States to revisit core assumptions about European security.”

Assured Resolve identified a number of areas for improvement in terms of NATO’s strategy and cohesiveness in the face of surprise aggression.  Among the key insights, the report touches on future force posture in Central and Eastern Europe, the lack of allied capabilities to counter Russian Anti Access/Area Denial tactics, and the value of relationships with Alliance partners, more specifically, Sweden and Finland. The authors present a series of recommendation, including the need for a new transatlantic strategy resting on the three pillars of unity, deterrence and resilience; an increase in NATO’s exercises; a strengthening of conventional deterrence capabilities; and greater investment in intelligence, space and cyber capabilities. The report also stresses the need for both the EU and NATO to break the longstanding impasse on cooperation in order to focus on resilience.

I’m not sure how “surprising” any of that is for those who have followed discussion of European security in recent years, especially in the wake of Russian actions in Ukraine (and before that, Georgia), annexation of the Crimea, and earlier (2007) cyber attacks on Estonia.

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However in many ways the findings of the CNAS crisis game nicely complement those of the earlier RAND study. Indeed, the two offset each other’s largely unavoidable methodological weaknesses.

The RAND study was a traditional force-on-force wargame that focused terrain, combat assets and capabilities, mobility, air superiority, and out-of-theatre reinforcement. It was criticized for some by limiting the Western response to Russian aggression to the use of military measures in the European context—a somewhat unfair criticism, since the sole purpose of the game was to determine how long Baltic forces could resist and how well the rest of NATO could support them.

In contrast, the CNAS study was a focused on broader crisis response, including diplomatic, economic, and other non-kinetic capabilities. I’m not a fan of seminar games for a number of reasons—in particular, they tend to be less interactive and dynamic than a real-world crisis—and there is usually a stark limit to how much granular insight they can offer into military operations. However they do allow one to look at the complex politics of alliance response across the DIME (diplomatic, information, military, economic) spectrum.

On a somewhat different note, I was bemused to see that the CNAS game semi-disguised the Baltic republics and Russia by naming them Baltia and Grosland in the simulation. Some years ago I was at an unclassified NATO conference in Estonia where we all warned by local security officials that agents of a hostile intelligence agency had been spotted in the conference hotel trying to eavesdrop on conversations. A smiling Estonian intelligence official told us all that while diplomatic sensitivity precluded him from identifying the nationality of these suspicious individuals, “I can tell you that they are from a country that borders both Estonia and Japan.”

h/t David Becker 

RAND: Wargaming the Defense of the Baltics

RANDbalticscoverDavid A. Shlapak and Michael W. Johnson of RAND have just released a report entitled Reinforcing Deterrence on NATO’s Eastern Flank: Wargaming the Defense of the Baltics. The study is based on a series of wargames conducted between summer 2014 and spring 2015 that examined a possible near-term Russian attack on the Baltic states:

The games’ findings are unambiguous: As currently postured, NATO cannot successfully defend the territory of its most exposed members. Across multiple games using a wide range of expert participants in and out of uniform playing both sides, the longest it has taken Russian forces to reach the outskirts of the Estonian and/or Latvian capitals of Tallinn and Riga, respectively, is 60 hours. Such a rapid defeat would leave NATO with a limited number of options, all bad: a bloody counteroffensive, fraught with escalatory risk, to liberate the Baltics; to escalate itself, as it threatened to do to avert defeat during the Cold War; or to concede at least temporary defeat, with uncertain but predictably disastrous consequences for the Alliance and, not incidentally, the people of the Baltics.

Fortunately, avoiding such a swift and catastrophic failure does not appear to require a Herculean effort. Further gaming indicates that a force of about seven brigades, including three heavy armored brigades—adequately supported by airpower, land-based fires, and other enablers on the ground and ready to fight at the onset of hostilities—could suffice to prevent the rapid overrun of the Baltic states. While not sufficient to mount a sustained defense of the region or to achieve NATO’s ultimate end state of restoring its members’ territorial integrity, such a posture would fundamentally change the strategic picture as seen from Moscow. Instead of being able to confront NATO with a stunning coup de main that cornered it as described above, an attack on the Baltics would instead trigger a prolonged and serious war between Russia and a materially far wealthier and more powerful coalition, a war Moscow must fear it would be likely to lose.

Crafting this deterrent posture would not be inexpensive in absolute terms, with annual costs perhaps running on the order of $2.7 billion. That is not a small number, but seen in the context of an Alliance with an aggregate gross domestic product in excess of $35 trillion and combined yearly defense spending of more than $1 trillion, it hardly appears unaffordable, especially in comparison with the potential costs of failing to defend NATO’s most exposed and vulnerable allies—that is, of potentially inviting a devastating war, rather than deterring it.

The games indicated that lighter and foot-mobile forces could not be expected to substantially slow Russian heavy armour—and that NATO, as currently deployed, has no heavy armour positioned  in the Baltics or able to reach them quickly. NATO airmobile forces can mount a stiff defence in major urban areas, but likely at the cost of high collateral damage. While NATO airpower could inflict substantial damage on Russian forces, it would not be able to do enough damage to slow their advance, not would it be able to establish sufficient air superiority prevent the Russian air force from mounting substantial localized air operations against NATO reinforcements (especially given weaknesses in the organic air defence of US formations).

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The game itself was conducted as follows:

The general game design was similar to that of traditional board wargames, with a hex grid governing movement superimposed on a map. Tactical Pilotage Charts (1:500,000 scale) were used, overlaid with 10-km hexes, as seen in Figure A.1 [below]. Land forces were represented at the battalion level and air units as squadrons; movement and combat were governed and adjudicated using rules and combat-result tables that incorporated both traditional gaming principles (e.g., Lanchester exchange rates) and the results of offline modeling. We also developed offline spreadsheet models to handle both inter- and intratheater mobility. All these were subject to continual refinement as we repeatedly played the game, although the basic structure and content of the platform proved sound.

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Orders of battle and tables of organization and equipment were developed using unclassiffed sources. Ground unit combat strengths were based on a systematic scoring of individual weapons, from tanks and artillery down to light machine guns, which were then aggregated according to the tables of organization and equipment for the various classes of NATO and Russian units. Overall unit scores were adjusted to account for dfferences in training, sustainment, and other factors not otherwise captured. Air unit combat strengths were derived from the results of offline engagement, mission, and campaign-level modeling.

They also note that “full documentation of the gaming platform will be forth- coming in a subsequent report.” We’ll look forward to reading more.

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