Some links on Baltic defence

Michael Kofman, War on the Rocks

Wesley Clark et al, ICDS

I disagree with so much of the latter, and often on such a fundamental level, that I feel no desire to pay any additional attention to it. Accordingly, I won't take it down piece by piece. A rare agreement of mine with the authors is this paragraph, though:

"Multi-nationality must be ensured in this kind of presence, but the cohesion and combat capability of the battalions must not be compromised as a result. The last thing we need is ineffective "Frankenstein”battalions. Therefore, each battalion should have a core nation."

It's giving a sense of satisfaction that the mainstream finally pays so much attention to the Baltic defence. I began to do so seriously in 2010 already, and IIRC wrote sometimes about it even earlier (though not here).
Professionals working full time on defence issues should or could have seen the problems a decade ago at the latest. Sadly, here we are and the issue was still not addressed satisfactorily.



  1. Why, of all the NATO countries should US close that gap if it exists?

    Let the Baltic countries create one proper corps each, and transfer them some equipment or money to make it sustainable.

    They can tailor they corps to suit the exact need, while not provoking Russia as it still wouldn't be a threat to them.

    1. Estonia has only 1.3 million population (25% ethnic Russians) and about a GDP of only USD 39 billion.
      It would need military assistance of several billion dollars or Euros per year to be able to build and maintain a (reserve) army corps. That's the "the Baltic states become Israels" option. It's way past the horizon of conventional thought among NATO brueaucrats and Western armed bureaucracies in general.
      U.S. senators would consider this approach more favourably (unless they are in the armed services committee and want to push billions into arms industry at their state), but they would also consider a training mission as self-evident. A major U.S. Army training program for the Baltic armies would guarantee utterly useless Baltic armies, and the Russians are smart enough to know it.

      Only Americans and ignorants can still believe that the U.S. military has a modicum of foreign ground forces training competence after decades of conclusive evidence to the contrary.

    2. The gaps aren't so huge that they can't be filled with minor changes in QRF, materiel and politically correct explanations about why certain troops constantly need to train in the Baltic region. Who knows, maybe someone even learns a thing or two there. I've even heard that a lightly armed volunteer force managed to take down an Abrams during an exercise.

  2. Taken together there are about 6.3 milion people, of which around 1 milion are Russians. Even if all of them are not trustworthy (which is a stretch) that is the same population as Finland.

    It would be the Baltic states becomes Finland option.

    Billions could be provided by the alliance members by simply re-expanding the current armament tickets to the pre-cut numbers. Use the built in mechanism to save the armament industry once against them.

    The problem with US ground forces is that they don't need to learn a lot of the poor men skill set, so they can't teach it, while those that need teaching are usually quite poor.

    1. Finland has been protected since 1944 by its demonstrated unwillingness to pose a threat to Leningrad/Petrograd even in times of war.

      This, by the way, is something the authors around Clark didn't take into account IIRC: Finland would likely not be a willing base for much offensive action.
      The U.S. foreign troops training programs likely suffer first and foremost from the fact that they never seem to tailor the structure to political necessities, to the nature of conflict or to cultural limits. The brittleness of U.S.-trained troops doesn't seem to be about basic soldiering skills.

    2. While that is true, the other component was keeping a very sizable defense force. That way the calculation was never right for SSSR.

      At the moment they have around 190 000 men, without straining they budget (1.6%).

      Asking the Baltic countries to adopt a similar system would be sensible, cheap and effective. Wouldn't get the US army any more heavy combat brigades, but they should convert some of the medium ones anyway.

    3. Strictly speaking about the Baltic land forces:

      Estonia, with a population of 1.3 million, maintains a peacetime force of around 6000 (incl. conscripts) and around 15 000 volunteers, the mobilization plan involves up to about 30 000 men and the total reserve is ~200 000. To put that into perspective, an equivalent proportion of reserves for USA would mean close to 53 million men. Estonia contributes the required 2,0% GDP towards defense, which due to the size of their economy, only equates to around 0,5 billion euros. During peacetime they operate two lightly armored brigades, the second brigade is still under significant development and is expected to be fully formed with all the necessary support troops by 2020. EDF equipment is generally adequate, though there are some complaining voices that reserve materiel needs to be bolstered and procurement plans should be much more aggressive. Volunteer forces equipment is a bit patchy and can vary greatly (partly owing to the organizations size), there are some troops who are equipped quite well and others who have only the most basic stuff.

      Latvia is the black sheep in the region. Despite having a larger population than Estonia, they have a smaller budget and a much smaller defense force in general. That can be blamed on the wave of political thinking that sweeped over all the Baltic countries during the beginning of the century (thanks to joining NATO). The focus was on transitioning to smaller professional forces and foreign missions. The idea was that it would enable the creation of better trained and equipped forces. Estonian Defence Forces were even slightly frowned upon for having "inefficient" forces that focused on silly woodland battles. Anyway, thanks to that, Latvia currently maintains a professional force that is too small to man a full brigade and a volunteer force that has around 8000 men. But even that volunteer force is a bit of a paper tiger because I know for a fact that they are having issues with people not turning up for exercises. Plus, they are woefully under-equipped as opposed to the much smaller but very well equipped Lithuanian volunteer force.

      The Lithuanians themselves are doing everything by the books. They also went for the professional military craze but chose to do it somewhat properly. They can probably stretch their peacetime army to about two lightly armored brigades and then cobble together another brigades worth of volunteer light infantry. They reinstated conscription recently, but it wasn't just because of the Ukrainian war, the debate had been going on for longer. One of the issues had been that the Lithuanian army wasn't getting enough volunteers for their professional force and it was seriously crippling their defense capability. Part of the blame is also on politics because during the recession their defense budget took a massive hit. However, overall their forces are indeed well trained and equipped. They do tend to make questionable procurement choices, often buying flashy expensive stuff in smaller quantities. This means that they tend to have slight gaps in their forces, like in combat engineering, artillery and anti-tank capabilities.

      Air and naval forces are not worth talking about because none of the countries have (and probably never will have) the money to maintain any significant forces of that type, even the infrastructure for those things is prohibitively expensive. Also worth pointing out is the fact that the Baltics have had to build their defense forces from absolute scratch.

    4. Big ticket items such as air force, navy, long range air defence, EW capabilities etc should be left for NATO allies who have these anyway.

      Baltic countries should have conscription for sufficient manpower and their land forces should be light infantry centric with a mechanized "core". Civilian vehicles could be used for war-time logistics and mobilization system should be top notch and fast as there's no depth geographically.

      Somwhat of a problem is Baltics are three different countries. If Latvia is not doing her part there will be a weak spot for enemy to utilize.

  3. My God I actually find myself agreeing with you.


  4. … I dreamt that I read, the other day, an article on nuclear disarmament on this blog. Hm! Anyways…

    The quote is usually "amateurs talk tactics, professionals study logistics".
    Madner’s comment read my mind and your answer was concise and accurate ‘That's the "the Baltic states become Israels" option.’
    It would be like hearing American Presidents say ‘Europe security is sacrosanct, it is non-negociable…’, Iron Dome, Arrow 3 and David’s Sling Europe (coupled with a nuclear dissuasion and deterrence force Europe or not) would probably stop any attempt of ‘salami tactics’?
    So, the logistics would be the same speeches, just 'Israel' becomes 'Europe' (or 'Ukraine', if someone is from Ukraine):

    Barack Obama at AIPAC (2008)

    Hillary Clinton Addresses AIPAC March 21, 2016

    Donald Trump Full Speech at AIPAC Policy Conference (3-21-16)

    By now I think, we are safe and the potential threat on Baltic/Europe (if it exists) has vanished. Enough has been said about the United Nations and the Security Council (Clinton 27:43 and Trump 12:30).
    Tonight, it’s popcorn, two movies ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ and ‘Animal Farm’ by George Orwell.

    1. I pulled that piece because I became aware of omissions that required a huge rewrite, for which I had no motivation so far.
      The story is still largely the same, though.