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Features

NATO Commander Seeks Defense Plans For Baltic States

By Ahto Lobjakas
Latvian troops stand at attention beside a NATO radar installation.


BRUSSELS -- NATO's highest military commander has asked the allies for the authority to draw up full defense plans for Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

The move -- just two months after Russia's invasion of Georgia -- could lead to a serious rift in the alliance, as Russia constitutes the only conceivable military threat for the three Baltic members of the alliance.

When Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania joined the alliance in 2004, Afghanistan and terrorism were NATO's top concerns, whereas Russia was seen as an aspiring strategic partner. The alliance therefore did not draw up "contingency plans," or full defense strategies, for the three Baltic states.

That shortcoming now looks like an anachronism since the events in Georgia changed exposed the alliance's soft underbelly. Recognizing this, NATO's top commander, General James Craddock, has written to the allies for approval to draw up the necessary plans.

Getting the go-ahead may prove less than straightforward, however. NATO sources say Germany and France have informally opposed Craddock's request.

The issue of contingency planning is extremely sensitive within NATO, not least because the plans are classified. NATO spokesman James Appathurai told RFE/RL on October 7 he is not allowed to publicly discuss contingency plans, and reiterated the alliance's standard pledge to defend all of its members from all threats.

 “What I can say is that NATO has had an extremely robust, flexible system in place for 59 years, with hundreds of planners at [NATO headquarters] and elsewhere to develop the necessary plans for the defense of this alliance in any type of situation,” Appathurai said.

Most Exposed Allies

Since their accession, the Baltic countries have made no secret of their disappointment at the absence of concrete NATO plans to defend them against the Russian threat.

NATO officials privately concede that the three Baltic nations are the most exposed among all 26 allies. Although none of the eastern European allies have full contingency plans drawn up for their defense, some amount of planning has been done for all -- except for Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

In the "Wall Street Journal Europe" on August 18, Ronald D. Asmus, a former senior U.S. diplomat closely involved in NATO's post-Cold War expansion, noted that the alliance “unilaterally refrained from such steps partly as a confidence-building step toward Russia.” Asmus now says NATO should reconsider.

All formal defense planning -- “for a specific area against a specific threat,” as one NATO official put it -- requires the unanimous backing of all allies. In the parlance of the alliance, it is a political decision.

The United States and Britain strongly back contingency plans for the Baltic countries. A senior U.S. official said in Brussels on October 7 that NATO must carry on with its “day-to-day” activities -- including contingency planning.

The British "Daily Telegraph," which first broke the story, says Craddock recommends that Estonia, with its large Russian-speaking minority and increasingly fraught relationship with Moscow, be the first Baltic beneficiary of a NATO military risk-assessment study.

But many continental European allies, led by France and Germany, feel any such move would threaten open confrontation with Russia.

This divergence of views threatens the alliance with a serious rift. After the conflict in Georgia, many analysts see U.S. and European interests parting ways when it comes to Russia, and Germany in particular seems to conclude it cannot afford to alienate Moscow.

Berlin's reasons are complex, stretching from Germany's dependence on Russian energy to strategic balance-of-power calculations. Chancellor Angela Merkel on October 3 publicly ruled out quick NATO Membership Action Plans (MAPs) for Georgia and Ukraine, saying at a joint press conference with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in St. Petersburg that the two countries' integration with NATO “as soon as possible” is not in German interests. NATO foreign ministers are scheduled to debate the issue in December.

Baltic countries meanwhile fear that the trend toward accommodating Russia could materially affect their security, and that political considerations could begin to erode NATO's commitment to mutual defense.
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by: john from: Canada
October 07, 2008 23:29
It's funny, when the U.S. and NATO were asking why Russia went into a full-scale invasion in Georgia and why Russia is so against the expansion of NATO to the South Caucasus, here is a perfect example of edging on another conflict like the one in Georgia. I believe both Germany and France have got the right response. I think the more the US pushes into the Russian sphere of influence the more, conflicts will occur. Setting up a "defense plan" is the insinuation that Russia is an enemy of NATO, and the "defense plan" becomes another tool for more post-soviet confrontations. Can anyone imagine if Russia put up defense plans and missile defense systems in all surrounding nations of the USA, for the expectation that America may attack? The US would very much act the same as Russia has, and in fact that did happen in the 60's when Russia put up a missile system in Cuba, America's reaction was harsh to Cuba (embargo, etc) and the COLD war began. The US will only lose more of Russia's trust by acting like the way they are doing in the Baltics. I'm not Anti-American but I believe pushing further into Russian space, is the closer we are to starting another COLD war

by: James from: San Antonio, Texas
October 08, 2008 05:03
A defense alliance without concrete plans to defend ALL member States only makes sense to the whimpy Germans. Come on Angela, wake up! Isn't Georgia's brutal occupation enough evidence for you, that defense planning makes sense?

by: orknexus
October 08, 2008 15:40
Well, well... Collective defense alliance without any plans to defend its members? Does that seem normal to Germany and France? American idiom "to sell someone down the river" comes to mind, when I hear this.

by: Janis Berzins from: Riga, Latvia
October 08, 2008 17:02
Germany had already played this "spheres of influence" game with Russia in 1939. Remember Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, anyone? We all know what it ended up with.

by: Karl from: Munich
October 08, 2008 18:08
John, you act like Russia's neighbors have no right to an opinion of their own, to actually make independent decisions. Don't you think that Russia's inability to put its imperial past behind it might give its former subjects good reason to be nervous? Maybe if Russia treated them like real states, not as wayward colonies, it might find itself with more friends in the region. The Kremlin's fear of real democracy is much more of a Cold War relic than any of the sabre-rattling in any case.

by: Ivo from: BG
October 08, 2008 18:34
Indeed Janis, the Germans have been becoming too close with Putin's regime which is worrying, I think and that week German response to Russia's brutal invasion of Georgia... I really don't know what their problems is, if it were not for the US there still would have been bloodshed going on next to my country. What did the Europeans did? NOTHING! <br /><br />John, Russia today is run by a revanchist Stanilist-Imerialist-era-glorifying ex-KGB m**********r. <br />Ever heard of Web War One, by the way?<br />http://www.wired.com/politics/security/magazine/15-09/ff_estonia<br /><br />I'd hardly blame it on the Americans.

by: john from: Canada
October 08, 2008 21:35
I think the truth of the matter is that Russia is Europes only energy supplier, and yes France ,Germany and all of Europe including the Baltics and Caucauses depend on Russia for this very reason. So realisticly Eurpoean nations would be hesitant to alienate Russia with Defence plans or missle defence systems. America has no threat like the lose of energy or heat in the winter hanging over it's head like Europe does, so angering Russia, will definately not hurt the US. We have to look at the full picture, If the US had only Russia to rely on for energy, I highly doubt they would be pushing Putins buttons. <br />And yes Karl I do agree, every nation has its right to be independant to make its own decisions and yes Russia looks at Eastern Europe in an imperialistic nature, but look at the changes that the Baltics have done already, they've joined the EU and they have joined NATO, those were independant decisions which they executed, and the Caucauses have that same right to join the EU as well in my beliefs, but alienating Russia will only hinder these processes, espeacially in the case of putting up missle defence systems around her borders

by: joe s. from: gainesville, fla.-USA
October 09, 2008 01:51
It could be that Canadian John is correct-it does seem possible. But the defense of NATO members is an extremely important consideration. I believe we-all NATO members, that is-should support one another and member countries should feel confident that each of the others will not only defend them, but do so fervently and with extreme haste, without endless deliberations. 'Nuff said

by: Ivo
October 09, 2008 09:31
John, yes, Europe depends a lot on Russia mainly for gas, but Russia won't turn off the tap for Europe, because it equally depends on the $€&#163; it receives from Europe. Likewise the Communist Entity of Peking that holds billions of US debt cannot afford to bring down the USA, because it depends the market and investment etc.

by: Anton from: Auckland
October 11, 2008 03:14
I guess the main problem of 21st century is about to be resolved. At least we are now a step closer to the answer - &quot;how to initiate a war with a second-large nuclear power?&quot;. Obviously, US is trying hard, and finally it can see the opportunity to accomplish this American Dream!<br /><br />I wonder, if the curiosity is so much inflated, would not it be easier to simply probe Russia with bombing and see what happens? What's the sense in just going round and around when exactly the same can be accomplished in just a few minutes?
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