U.S. Poised To Store Military Equipment In Eastern Europe, Baltics

In what seems to be a clear signal to Russia, the U.S. is considering pre-positioning military equipment in nation's very close to Russian borders.

 

U.S. Tank Lithuania

The United States is preparing to position military equipment in several Eastern European nations that are part of the NATO alliance in what clearly seems to be a signal to Russia about the alliances determination to respond to any further Russian threats against its neighbors:

RIGA, Latvia — In a significant move to deter possible Russian aggression in Europe, the Pentagon is poised to store battle tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and other heavy weapons for as many as 5,000 American troops in several Baltic and Eastern European countries, American and allied officials say.

The proposal, if approved, would represent the first time since the end of the Cold War that the United States has stationed heavy military equipment in the newer NATO member nations in Eastern Europe that had once been part of the Soviet sphere of influence. Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the war in eastern Ukraine have caused alarm and prompted new military planning in NATO capitals.

It would be the most prominent of a series of moves the United States and NATO have taken to bolster forces in the region and send a clear message of resolve to allies and to Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, that the United States would defend the alliance’s members closest to the Russian frontier.

After the expansion of NATO to include the Baltic nations in 2004, the United States and its allies avoided the permanent stationing of equipment or troops in the east as they sought varying forms of partnership with Russia.

“This is a very meaningful shift in policy,” said James G. Stavridis, a retired admiral and the former supreme allied commander of NATO, who is now dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. “It provides a reasonable level of reassurance to jittery allies, although nothing is as good as troops stationed full-time on the ground, of course.”

The amount of equipment included in the planning is small compared with what Russia could bring to bear against the NATO nations on or near its borders, but it would serve as a credible sign of American commitment, acting as a deterrent the way that the Berlin Brigade did after the Berlin Wall crisis in 1961.

“It’s like taking NATO back to the future,” said Julianne Smith, a former defense and White House official who is now a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security and a vice president at the consulting firm Beacon Global Strategies.

The “prepositioned” stocks — to be stored on allied bases and enough to equip a brigade of 3,000 to 5,000 soldiers — also would be similar to what the United States maintained in Kuwait for more than a decade after Iraq invaded it in 1990 and was expelled by American and allied forces early the next year.

(…)

The current proposal falls short of permanently assigning United States troops to the Baltics — something that senior officials of those countries recently requested in a letter to NATO. Even so, officials in those countries say they welcome the proposal to ship at least the equipment forward.

“We need the prepositioned equipment because if something happens, we’ll need additional armaments, equipment and ammunition,” Raimonds Vejonis, Latvia’s minister of defense, said in an interview at his office here last week.

“If something happens, we can’t wait days or weeks for more equipment,” said Mr. Vejonis, who will become Latvia’s president in July. “We need to react immediately.”

Mark Galeotti, a professor at New York University who has written extensively on Russia’s military and security services, noted, “Tanks on the ground, even if they haven’t people in them, make for a significant marker.”

As the proposal stands now, a company’s worth of equipment — enough for about 150 soldiers — would be stored in each of the three Baltic nations: Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Enough for a company or possibly a battalion — about 750 soldiers — would be located in Poland, Romania, Bulgaria and possibly Hungary, they said.

Along the same lines, The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the United States and Poland are in negotiations about stationing military equipment in that country:

WARSAW—Poland’s government is discussing with the U.S. the placement of heavy weapons on Polish territory, Defense Minister Tomasz Siemoniak said Sunday, amid jitters over Russia’s military moves in the region.

Since Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine last year, Warsaw has sought a permanent presence of U.S. troops in Poland and other countries in the former Soviet bloc that are now part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

“The U.S. is preparing a set of various measures, and among them the placement of heavy weaponry in Poland and other countries will be very important,” Mr. Siemoniak said.

“It’s relatively easy to move soldiers. It would be good, however, if the equipment was near the area of potential threat,” Mr. Siemoniak said.

Mr. Siemoniak said a rotational presence of U.S. forces would be maintained at least until the end of 2016.

Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren said the U.S. hasn’t yet made a decision about the placement of its weaponry in the region.

“Over the last few years, the United States military has increased the prepositioning of equipment for training and exercises with our NATO allies and partners,” Col. Warren said.

“The U.S. military continues to review the best location to store these materials in consultation with our allies. At this time, we have made no decision about if or when to move to this equipment,” he said.

Such a move of heavy weaponry would form part of a broader campaign to counter possible Russian aggression throughout the region.

Russia has objected to any permanent presence of NATO troops in the bloc’s newer members, saying it would violate tacit agreements reached in the 1990s and prompt it to put more military gear in its European exclave of Kaliningrad, bordering Poland and Lithuania.

It threatened to point its warheads at Polish targets if the U.S. puts missile interceptors in northern Poland, planned in 2018.

NATO’s recent summit in Wales approved the creation of a rapid-reaction force, headquartered in Poland, that would allow the bloc to quickly move to an area of conflict if needed.

President Barack Obama said last year in Estonia that the U.S. remains committed to the defense of all of its allies, including the former Soviet satellites.

Many politicians in the region, including in Poland, have questioned whether NATO would come to the region’s rescue if Russia attacked and threatened to use nuclear arms.

While much of this is being characterized as a logistical move designed to save time and resources used in moving equipment for training exercises, it’s rather obvious that these moves are meant largely to send a message to Russian President Vladimir Putin. In the year since Russia turned it sights on Crimea and the Eastern Ukraine, we’ve also seen evidence of other threatening moves on the part of Russia in the area. The Russian press, for example, has carried stories about “concerns” over Russian ethnic minorities in Estonia and in a region of Moldova known as Transnistria. Both in the European theater and in the Far Pacific, Russia has resumed bomber patrols that had largely been suspended during the Cold War, and there have been several close call encounters between Russian fighter jets and NATO pilots in various parts of Europe. Much of this appears to be probing on Russia’s part rather than an indication of a serious immediate threat, but part of that probing is arguably Russia determining just how NATO might respond to various moves. So far, at least, the alliance seems to be determined to send strong signals to Moscow. Last year, for example, American troops were sent to Poland and the Baltic States last year for military exercises, NATO began openly discussing new deployments in the area, and earlier this year a convoy of American troops made a tour of the region. Some of these, of course, were symbolic moves, but the decision to pre-position equipment is certainly a more concrete step designed at least in part to send a signal to Moscow that the alliance is prepared to increase its presence in the region if necessary.

In addition to sending a signal to Moscow, of course, moves like this seem rather obviously meant to send a signal to Poland, the Baltic States, and other NATO members in the region that their concerns about increased Russian aggressiveness. More than one observers has questioned just how willing the United States and Western Europe would be to take matters to the brink if necessary should Russia begin to threaten, say, Estonia in the same way that it did Ukraine in the run-up to the annexation of Crimea and the war in eastern Ukraine. There has been some moves by the West to reassure these nations but most of those moves have been largely symbolic. Pre-positioning equipment in the region is a more concrete step that shows that the alliance does take its commitments in Eastern Europe seriously.

It seems likely that these decisions by NATO will have their intended effect. Putin’s moves of late have always seemed to me as though they were largely designed to try to drive a wedge between the western and eastern branches of the NATO alliance, but that seems to have largely failed. As long as that’s the case, Putin would be stupid to make aggressive moves toward Poland or the Baltic States, and whatever else one might say about him, Vladimir Putin is not stupid. At the same time, though, it’s worth keeping in mind the possibility that the situation in Europe could easily spin out of control very easily. Recently The National Interest ran two pieces, one by Dimitri Simes and Graham Allison and the other by Tom Nichols, that lay out various scenarios in which that could happen, and both of them seem like they are all too plausible. Whether this decision makes that sort of scenario more likely or not isn’t clear. On the whole, I think the pre-positioning idea is a smart one that sends the right signals to the right parties. At the same time, though, we ought to be careful to make sure that the move-countermove scenario we seem to be engaged in right now doesn’t spin out of control faster than we can imagine.

FILED UNDER: Europe, Military Affairs, National Security, , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Ron Beasley says:

    We have a number of potentially dangerous things going on here. Putin’s Russia is interested in creating a new Soviet Union. The Turks are showing some interest in a new Ottoman Empire. The Iranians would like a new Persian empire. Who knows what China is thinking?

  2. MarkedMan says:

    We are doing exactly what the hawks in Russia feared. But from our point of view (correctly so, I think) we would have never done it if the Russians had left the Ukraine, Georgia, etc. alone. As long as the Russians used bribery and corruption to keep countries in the fold we left them alone. Giving anti-aircraft missiles to the equivalent of the Montana militia was just going too far.

  3. Paul Hooson says:

    This is the same sort of dangerous border activity that led to the Cuban Missile Crisis. The U.S. amassed some missiles in Turkey near the Soviet border, so the Soviets were going to amass missiles in Cuba, 90 miles from the U.S. – Both countries need to back down from creating serious border tensions after that dangerous lesson that nearly resulted in WWIII. Amassing weapons near borders is far more likely to create a war than prevent one…

  4. Slugger says:

    Before the troops are sent, before the cannons are loaded and pointed, could someone tell me what this potential fight is about? What does the USA and the average citizen stand to gain? The people who lead the world can’t be allowed to act as though war is just some video game where you feel good about racking up a big score. Wars cost money and blood and set civilization back. When I read about WW I, it seems to me that the war aims were based on vapor and led to immense bloodshed, the Bolshevik revolution, and an even worse second world war. Our recent war in Iraq was not for clear material gains that would rain down on individual Americans and has likewise led to expenses, bloodshed, and a less stable world over there.
    Is NATO is America’s best interest?
    Please don’t tell me about Crimea. The Crimean peninsula was wrested away from its indigenous nomadic, Muslim, horse herding tribal peoples by the Muscovites around the year 900. The Muscovites have controlled it ever since except for a brief time when it was transferred to Ukraine. I can certainly understand why Russia wants to hold on to something that it has held for a thousand years. As I have said before, giving west Texas to the Comanches makes more sense than asking Russia to quit Crimea.
    Please don’t tell me that Putin is a bad man. I am a citizen of a nation that fairly recently started a war for no good reason killing more than 100,000 Iraqis and making about two million of them refugees.

  5. michael reynolds says:

    @Paul Hooson:

    WW2 started when Stalin and Hitler shocked the world by agreeing to divide Poland in half.

    70 years of peace began with the United States agreeing to take on the defense of Western Europe. It’s one of the best, most consequential foreign policy moves in history and the benefits have been enormous. The EU exists because we were ready to fight for Europe.

  6. stonetools says:

    This could be seen as the logical outcome of NATO’s eastward enlargement. Can someone explain to me the strategic significance of the Baltic republics? If the answer is “No strategic significance “, then why are we willing to risk global thermonuclear warfare on their behalf(the unlikely outcome of NATO pressed to the limit of its treaty commitments to the Baltics?)

    Now the Russians are the bad guys here. But is it really not foreseeable that a Russian leader (any Russian leader) would be somewhat paranoid about the advancement of an anti-Russian military alliance toward its borders, given the events of 1914-7 and 1941-45? How would we feel about Mexico or Cuba allowing the Russians to send troops or set up heavy equipment in those countries?

  7. michael reynolds says:

    @Slugger:

    Putin is a bad man. He has gays beaten and arrested, he allows anti-semitism to grow, he has his political opponents murdered. He’s strangling Russian “democracy” in its cradle. He attacks the free press. And on top of that he invades Ukraine for no rational reason whatsoever.

  8. stonetools says:

    @michael reynolds:

    70 years of peace began with the United States agreeing to take on the defense of Western Europe

    See what I bolded there? Take a look at the map and see where the Baltics are. Now make the realist case for extending the NATO umbrella to the Baltics.

  9. michael reynolds says:

    @stonetools:

    I say this with tongue at least partly in cheek, but did you just ask why we should fight for Czechoslovakia? Shall we hand Stalin . . . er, Putin. . . a few minor states in hopes that it will sate his hunger? Will we have peace in our time?

  10. stonetools says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Putin is a bad man

    Lots of bad men in the world. Come on, Michael, I know you can do better than that.

  11. stonetools says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I’m torn on this question. My heart tells me that extending the NATO strategic umbrella to the Baltics was a good thing. My head tells me something different. My head is willing to be persuaded (and I’m talking about my big head here, just to be clear).
    So, come on folks, persuade me. What’s the realist case for NATO in the Baltics?

  12. grumpy realist says:

    Sort of OT, but I’d worry less about Russia right now and more about Greece. I’ve been morbidly watching this slow disaster movie over the past several months. If you have friends who want to travel to Greece soon, I suggest you warn them they will likely have no access to ATMs, credit cards, or medical support.

    I really don’t understand what Tsipras is trying to do. Considering how much of the Greek economy depends on tourism, you need just one case of a tourist dying because of lack of medical care/supplies or just one attack on a tourist “because she looks like she’s German” and one of their main income streams will dry up. Which means FIX THE HOSPITALS and makes sure they’ve got all they need. Cut the military to a bare minimum and shove the money saved to the medical sector….

  13. Onward Christian Soldiers says:

    Puh-lease. This is all for show. Everybody knows, especially the Baltics and Poland, that Obama would never defend them, Article V obligations or not.

    Just as the bombing of ISIS is just an expensive fireworks show to make a domestic political audience think he is doing something, this is what is happening here.

    Obama sold out the Poles and the Czechs when he cancelled the missile defense system with absolutely nothing in return. The Baltics have no reason to believe Obama has the slightest concern about NATO’s integrity of Article V.

    It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if Putin was blackmailing Obama with information about Obama’s past (Obama has a lot of secrets). That would certainly explain why Obama refuses to stand up to Putin.

  14. Onward Christian Soldiers says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I say this with tongue at least partly in cheek, but did you just ask why we should fight for Czechoslovakia?

    1) There is no such nation as Czechoslovakia. Google Velvet Divorce, throw out your 1988 maps and get some new ones.

    2) Article V – google it.

    3) We should fight for the Czech Republic (as well as Slovakia, Poland, and Hungary) because the US’s word should mean something. Let’s call Article V a red line. When you draw a red line and don’t enforce it (hmmm, where have we heard that) it harms our credibility.

    If we tell China we will defend Taiwan, why would they believe it if we walk away from the Baltics? It makes war MORE likely because it invites aggression. If we draw a red line and stand by it, it would deter other countries from testing us.

    Clarity helps prevent war (google Ems dispatch). When our foreign policy is opaque (as it has been the past six and a half years) it invites aggression.

  15. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @michael reynolds:

    The EU exists because we were ready to fight for Europe.

    And pay for it.

  16. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @michael reynolds: Come off it Michael- Look at these graphs and try to convince us Russia is a serious threat to Europe/ Nato.

    All # in billions of $ per year:

    1 United States 610.0
    2 China 216.0
    3 Russia 84.5
    4 Saudi Arabia 80.8
    5 France 62.3
    6 United Kingdom 60.5
    7 India 50.0
    8 Germany 46.5
    9 Japan 45.8
    10 South Korea 36.7
    11 Brazil 31.7
    12 Italy 30.9
    13 Australia 25.4
    14 United Arab Emirates 22.8
    15 Turkey 22.6

    (all bolded in Nato)

  17. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: According to here, all NATO military expenditures add up to $1,023,318,000,000 with deployable military service members totaling 3,515,000.

  18. michael reynolds says:

    @Onward Christian Soldiers:

    1) There is no such nation as Czechoslovakia. Google Velvet Divorce, throw out your 1988 maps and get some new ones.

    Tell you what. Instead why don’t you Google the lead-up to WW2 to which this rather obviously refers.

    Then you could buy yourself a calendar and check to see whether Mr. Obama will president forever. Answer: no. So your idiot assurance that Obama would never fight is not only factually wrong but irrelevant.

  19. michael reynolds says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    Do you seriously thing GDP is the only relevant factor? Go see what Germany’s GDP was in 1939 when weighed against that of a combined Britain and France. Or contrast Japan’s GDP against that of the US.

  20. Mu says:

    I’m sure Putin will like well maintained US equipment just as much as ISIS does. Prepositioning only works if you have a reasonable expectation to have enough warning of an outbreak of violence to fly in your troops and get them in fighting shape. With no spot in the Baltic states not within 2h of Russian bases that seems an odd preposition.

  21. michael reynolds says:

    @stonetools:

    There is no military case to be made for the Baltics, there’s a political one. We have extended NATO to cover them. You can debate the wisdom of that, but once extended the NATO umbrella cannot be allowed to crack at the first strain.

    In any case, Putin is not going to mass tanks at the border, he’s going to pull the same Russophile bullshit he’s pulling in Ukraine. Signaling our support to the Baltics helps strengthen them against Russian subversion by more firmly tying them to the west.

    We can cheaply, easily and at minimum cost ensure that these countries remain free rather than under this neo-Stalinist’s regime. Given that we promised to do just that, I think we should.

  22. stonetools says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Mike, I think that OCS is James P’s latest sock puppet. Even if he isn’t, it’s pretty clear he’s a troll, best ignored.

  23. michael reynolds says:

    @stonetools:

    But. . . but. . . sometimes I like to play with the crazy kids, dad!

  24. stonetools says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Mike, you make a pretty good case. But substitute Vietnam for the Baltics , and you get a pretty good case for why the USA’s 1960s involvement was a noble cause.

    Now the Baltics aren’t Vietnam, but there are some large and unhappy Russian minorities in Latvia and Estonia, and even Lithunia may not be immune to some sort of pressure given the Kalinagrad enclave on its southern border.Now these countries all seem to have solid, functioning governments. But still, I’m not sure the cost of those countries being free is going to be miniminal, should Putin really decide to stir up stuff.

  25. michael reynolds says:

    @stonetools:

    If the Baltics have the reassurance of NATO and our specific reassurance that we will defend them they will arguably be in a better position to deal generously with their Russian citizens. Security makes for liberalism.

    I’d like to make a tangential point. We have a tendency to see the Russians in a slightly sentimental light. They were our allies in WW2, and though we faced each other for 50 years and fought a couple proxy wars, we never went directly to war.

    But the regime Mr. Putin is anxious to rebuild was at the very least the second, and perhaps the first, among evil regimes of a very bad century. Stalin was a monster. He was Hitler with a better mustache.

    I believe Putin is modeling Stalin. Subtler, more cautious, but I think the desire for absolute control and for self-aggrandizement is the same. If he takes the Baltics he will go for at least the eastern half of Poland next, and quite likely start pushing into the Balkans.

    We have an opportunity to stop him from going beyond Ukraine and at minimal risk. I think we should do that.

  26. Ron Beasley says:

    I’ll admit I’m an isolationist in the spirit of our founding fathers. That said why should the US defend the countries of Europe, the ME or Asia? What have they done for us recently? Spend our treasure in the Western Hemisphere especially the US. The oceans may not be as wide as they used to be but they are still wide enough.

  27. Xenos says:

    It is tremendously in the US’s interest for NATO and the EU to be strong and to keep the semi-fascist Russian gov er nmenr contained. 50, 000 or more trips permanently stationed in Poland would be an excellent idea. But you have to start somewhere, and do it slowly and steadily so as to avoid destabilising things in the process.

  28. michael reynolds says:

    @Ron Beasley:

    I would argue that the worst foreign policy decision this country ever made was to adopt isolationist policies and swing a much smaller stick than we were capable of swinging. Ask yourself this: What if after the Spanish-American War we had built a land force as capable as our Navy? At the start of WW1 our GDP was substantially larger than Germany and Austro-Hungary put together. It was also greater than the UK or France combined.

    Had we had a military equal to our capacity we’d have been the largest military on earth. Had we not been so isolationist, we could have dictated the outcome of that war, or more likely stopped it from happening simply by declaring our intention to oppose the first country that crossed a border in force.

    WW1 would very likely not have happened. The Bolshevik revolution might not have happened. WW2 would certainly not have happened in the absence of either of those factors. The amount of lives saved would be simply astronomical. It would have been the greatest rescue in human history.

    American isolationism allowed room for the most terrible wars in history. American strength since 1945 has imposed the longest and most prosperous peace in western history.

  29. stonetools says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I am uncomfortable with historical analogy arguments. We don’t have to make Putin into another Stalin, or Peter the Great, or Ivan the Terrible-and shouldn’t. He is just another Russian leader, trying to maintain his grip on power. He is a Russian nationalist as well, and any Russian nationalist is going to be concerned with a powerful Western alliance, no matter how benign it claims to be, on its western border, in light of the 20th century. Russian nationalists, too, will have visions of reclaiming their old lands, which included not only Ukraine, but the Baltics and Poland.

    All that said, I think Putin is a lot less dangerous than Stalin. I think he has all he can handle in Ukraine, and will not go beyond east Ukraine.It would take a far more economically and militarily powerful Russia to go beyond east Ukraine , and if such a Russia develops, I agree that the Baltics would be next in line-and I for one don’t think we could hold the Baltics, if Ukraine falls. Let’s hope we never have to deal with that scenario.

  30. humanoid.panda says:

    @stonetools:

    So, come on folks, persuade me. What’s the realist case for NATO in the Baltics?

    Here it is:
    A. The inviolability of European borders is a key point of the post-1991 arrangement- a huge American achievement.
    B. Extending NATO to the Baltics (which, unlike Ukraine, were never claimed by post-1991 Russia as part of its natural sphere of influence) serves as guarantee of those borders.
    C. Given that there are enough pretexts in the Baltics for Russian operations, postin US troops makes conflict there less, not more, likely.

  31. humanoid.panda says:

    I believe Putin is modeling Stalin. Subtler, more cautious, but I think the desire for absolute control and for self-aggrandizement is the same. If he takes the Baltics he will go for at least the eastern half of Poland next, and quite likely start pushing into the Balkans.

    Sorry, but comparing Putin to Stalin is just incredibly silly. Stalin was motivated by a radical ideology and wanted to transform the world; Putin is a cynical realist, who believes that the world can’t be changed, and therefore Russia must be strong.

    Much better comparison for Putin is Nicholas I or Alexander 3, but that doesn’t make good copy.

  32. humanoid.panda says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: That is a very problematic way of thinking about NATO. NATO is an alliance of a military giant- the US, a militarisitic regional power– Turkey, and a bunch of countries with no militaries worth mentioning. About half, if not more of NATO deployable forces are either American, or Turkish. The Turks have no interest in Russian-European relations, and the idea that European forces are any sort of threat to Russia is hillarious.

  33. michael reynolds says:

    @humanoid.panda:

    Oh come on, you think Stalin gave a damn about ideology? His ideology was paranoia not communism. There’s nothing in Marxist-Leninist theory that suggests invading Finland or making deals with fascists to dismember Poland.

  34. Rafer Janders says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Ask yourself this: What if after the Spanish-American War we had built a land force as capable as our Navy?

    Why on Earth would we have done so? I mean, I suppose in one sense I can understand why you, writing from the perspective of 2015, would think that was a good thing. But from the perspective of a decision maker in 1899, why and for what reason would the US have done so? What would it have stood to gain? Why would it have wasted the money on joining a pointless arms race? And you can’t say “to prevent WWI,” because in 1899 no one knew there’s be a WWI in 16 years. (Heck, in July 1914 no one knew there’d be a WWI). Without the benefit of a crystal ball, how could a politician have justified this to the American people and why would they have voted for someone who wanted to do something like this?

  35. michael reynolds says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    Easy answer: because weakness invites aggression and strength deters it. I lock my doors at night (during the day, too, actually) even though I live in a very safe area. Am I expecting a home invasion? No, of course not. But for very little effort I can insure against one. Speaking of insuring, I carry an umbrella policy. Am I expecting to be sued? No, but again with very little effort I can remove the threat entirely.

    In the early 20th, late 19th century we had a serious navy because we figured that was necessary to defend our trade routes and overseas holdings. It was a failure of imagination not to guess that powers might rise to threaten us by land. Our navy was strong but it was strong in part because we essentially split duties with the Royal Navy. And we had basing rights in various places as well as friendly ports of call, all of which supported our naval strength. Obviously hostile foreign powers could endanger that entire structure by using land forces. Germany could shut down the Baltic, Spain and Italy could have shut down the Med, a revolution in Panama could have shut the Canal after it opened in 1914, the Chinese or Japanese could have pushed us out of the western Pacific – as they attempted to do 27 years after the start of WW1.

    There were plenty of scenarios where our naval forces would prove insufficient on their own. In fact the scenario called WW1 proved the point pretty dramatically.

    We didn’t think the rest of the world was any of our business. That was outdated thinking by that point. Had we been quicker on the uptake we might have seen that we would need a respectable army and a change in policy and that benign neglect of the rest of the world would come to bite us in the ass.

    We have even less excuse for disarming post WW1. That was just sheer, bloody-minded stupidity arising from an isolationism that by that point was unmistakably ridiculous.

  36. michael reynolds says:

    Regarding the impossibility of defending Estonia, St. Petersburg (Leningrad) is just 100 miles from the Estonian border and missiles fly west to east just as easily as the reverse. US Navy aircraft carriers and ships can cover all of Estonia from the Baltic sea. And Russia has its own restive minorities that might have some fun with shipments of plastique and small arms. We are not helpless. Put in a tripwire force with sufficient pre-prepositioned heavy weapons and Putin would have to think long and hard about his chances.

  37. stonetools says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Yeah, and Russian missiles can also fly into the Baltic Sea pretty easily…
    It would be interesting to war game out, but in any case we would probably see something a lot more like Crimea and east Ukraine, and that would be harder for NATO to stop.I’m not saying NATO is helpless, but the geography ain’t good for NATO. There’s a reason the Baltics have been in Russia’s pocket for 200 years.

  38. JohnMcC says:

    Just a few points: First that there is actually considerable new-car-smell attached to the borders of Poland and the Baltic republics, Czech Republic, and Slovakia, in the world-historical sense. The Baltics were never independent at all until the Treaty of Versailles when they were plucked from “Russia” to enjoy their only historical episode of independence from 1919 to 1940 (all three under indigenous fascists).

    Second, @michael reynolds: The Ribbentrop-Molotov Treaty followed the Soviet-Japanese war over Manchuria in ’39 and assured Stalin that he wouldn’t have a two-front war. Stalin made vast oceans of mistakes before WW2 but he thought he had a good reason for most of them.

    Another, that Vladimir Putin’s father was part of a Soviet Army probing attack in Estonia which met with disaster after being denounced by pro-German militiamen and he barely survived. According to my memory of reading about this he was for a time a POW in Estonia and in what I read today he was one of two survivors of the mission of 50 soldiers to survive and returned wounded to St Petersburg. PM Putin does not need to be Stalin to harbor mistrust and distaste for Baltic republics.

    Fourth: the willingness of the people of NATO nations to go to war (a recent Pew Poll shows) varies greatly by geography. The farther east in Europe you look, the bigger the support for an Article 5 war; the Atlantic nations support such a defense; Italy and Germany have significant reservations. Granted that there is sure to be variations of this sort there still is a need for fence-mending in NATO–at large. (Which has a significant meaning for the Euro-Greek confrontation, and is not off-topic at all.)

    Fifth:@michael reynolds: “we had a serious navy (prior to WW1)…to defend our trade routes and overseas holdings.” Which does not demonstrate any light between the US leadership of the 1880s – 90s and the Founding Fathers who after all fought both the War of 1812 and an undeclared war with France in our earliest days over ‘freedom of the seas’ — EXCEPT that little business of the (very politely named) “overseas holdings”. Which the Americans of the 18th century would have had the courage to call an empire and which they would not have supported for a New York minute.

    Regarding the prepositioning of armor and artillery within a short distance of the Russian borders, it will become a factor in the war plans drawn up (as Headquarter’s Staff endlessly draw up war plans). Possibly it would raise the level of provocation that the Russian military must feel before sending up the balloon. Possibly. But it most assuredly will make any attack on the Baltics that might occur to include a general attack on all the concentrations of war stockpiles. So take your pick.

    My (sort of) humble opinion is that prepositioning is worthwhile if it is part of a strengthening of NATO. Without a rejuvenation of trans-European resistance to Russia it is a way to defend Europe to the last American. Adding eastern and Baltic nations to NATO was a big, big mistake and it is now biting us on the butt. Yet another way that the post-Cold War U.S. hugely over-extended itself.

    We should be having a real discussion about what Cold War commitments we will honor in the future. Such a discussion should span the globe from the Baltics to Taiwan and South Korea. Some we obviously should retain. Many we should not.

  39. wr says:

    @Onward Christian Soldiers: Are you one of our regular know-nothings posting under yet another silly, self-important name, or are you new here?

  40. wr says:

    @michael reynolds: ” We have a tendency to see the Russians in a slightly sentimental light.”

    Um, Michael? You’re just a few years older than me, so I’m pretty sure you lived through the same decades I did… and that you’re aware of the ones we didn’t — including the 50s. And there ain’t a lot of sentimentality towards the Russians during any of that period.

  41. wr says:

    @michael reynolds: “Put in a tripwire force with sufficient pre-prepositioned heavy weapons and Putin would have to think long and hard about his chances.”

    When you write about Iraq, it always sounds like you’ve learned something from your support of that disastrous invasion.

    When you write about Russia, it’s clear that you’re choosing to ignore those lessons.

    Yes, you are absolutely right that if we could control every outcome of our actions, this would be a terrific plan. And maybe even if everyone in the world acted as rationally as a Chicago-school economist assumes, it could all end happily.

    But you know this isn’t the case. So you can’t decide how things will be if everything goes perfectly, weigh that against the situation now, and decide that actions tantamount to declaring war on Russia are simply good for everyone. You have to weigh the risks of what could quite easily go wrong when you decide to wage war against a country that has thousands of nuclear weapons.

    You are playing Risk with billions of lives, and can’t seem to see beyond the fun of playing.

  42. wr says:

    @michael reynolds: ” The Bolshevik revolution might not have happened.”

    So should the US have allied itself with the Tsars and used its political might to crush a revolution by millions of oppressed subjects against a tiny dictatorial elite? Or should we have found the “good revolutionaries” and backed them, just as the Republicans said we should do in Syria before they revealed themselves to be Isis?

  43. stonetools says:

    @JohnMcC:

    Agree completely with the last three paragraphs of your post. Would also add that Michael’s rather flippant remark about missiles in Estonia being 100 miles from the Russian capital makes it crystal clear why the nicest Russian leader imaginable would be troubled about the Baltics joining NATO. Try to imagine the US reaction if Russia started setting up military forces and missile systems 100 miles from DC. We. would. go. apesh1t.

    No do overs in history, I guess, but I think the best way to secure eastern Europe, IMO, would have been some kind of Neutral Zone ( hey, it worked for the Federation and the Klingons).:-) Have the Baltics, Poland, Czech Republic, etc all declare military neutrality and be a buffer zone between NATO and Russia. That way the Russians feel secure and NATO doesn’t overcommit.
    Would that have worked? Dunno, but the idea of Americans fighting for Lithuania? Seriously?Doesn’t make a lick of sense to me.

  44. Paul Hooson says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: The scary thing is the recent advances in robotic warfare of the Russians, where warfare by robotic tanks and weapons could make war more likely if few humans are at stake to an army. The high cost of human lives on both sides would normally restrain warfare somewhat, but if few lives are at stake, that restraint is largely removed.

  45. JohnMcC says:

    @Paul Hooson: Something I heard from the Marines when I happened to be taking a long walk with a company of them in a very bad neighborhood: ‘No matter what else happens in a war in the end it comes down to a poor scared SOB with a rifle in his hand.’

  46. Paul Hooson says:

    @JohnMcC: That’s a very good analogy for what can go wrong that can create warfare. While in Berlin in 1962, President Kennedy recognized the sheer danger of those Davy Crockett Recoiless Rifles that could fire a small 53 pound nuclear bomb in a neighborhood if Warsaw Pact tanks would invade. One scared SOB with a small nuke in his hands had endless possibilities to cause WWIII at one time…

  47. dazedandconfused says:

    Putin is a bad man? Yes, but the more I learn about Russia and Russian society the harder it is to imagine anyone being able to run it and be less “pragmatic” than he has been. Strangled their democracy? Rubbish. What the oligarchs were doing wasn’t democracy, and that drunken sot Yeltsin allowed them to do whatever they wished. For the average Russian the 90’s were hell. ‘

    It’s a Herculean task to drag post-Soviet Russia into the modern world. The way they did business in there for so long is so very different. He is “Stalin”, some say, but he’s actually following Solzhenitsyn’s plan to foster Russian nationalism under the Russian Orthodox church. It’s a mistake to believe all people are “just like us” and all you have to do is bust up existing customs to let the American inside pop out.

    WTF were we doing having our State Dept trying to foment revolutions in bum-f#*k Ukraine? Kagan’s wife, Nuland did that. Of what strategic importance is the Ukraine to the US? None. Putin released the tape of her “screw the EU” comment to show it isn’t like we were poking the bear at their behest and show the American public “what is being done in their name” but the reaction was Bevis and Buttheadian: “Heheheheh…she said f*%k”.

    What kind of “reset” button is that? Sometimes when I look at Hillary I suspect it’s John McCain in drag…except for the feminist hiring agenda.

  48. mike shupp says:

    @stonetools:

    Answering your question, it’s been US policy since 1940 or so that that Baltics — Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia — are by rights free and independent nations, and that Soviet occupation in WW II and their subsequent forced inclusion in the USSR never changed their status. We remembered their right to freedom by calling them Captive Nations, and referred to them almostly constantly back in the 1950’s and 1960’s. We recognized their Governments In Exile, up until they celebrated free and independent elections in the 1990s.

    So the Russians might wish to argue that the Baltics are by definition in the Near Abroad area, like Azerbaijan and Belarus and Crimea, where Russa might legitimately take some interest. The USA has a 75-year old tradition of saying “No Way.” Putting equipment and even troops into the Baltics, if they request that support, isn’t exactly a bizarre over-reaction.

  49. RGardner says:

    Seriously [not], despite treaties against it, we need NATO Extended Nuclear Deterrence in the former Warsaw Block countries. That means giving them small tactical nukes (Cliff Notes version). That will deter the Soviets, oops, Russians.

    For Paul H, the Davey Crockett was closer to 75 lbs.

  50. Tyrell says:

    @Slugger: Russia invades Hungary. Russian tanks roll into Czechoslovakia. Russia crushes Poland. Russia fighting Georgia. And of course the infamous Berlin Wall of shame. We don’t want to go through all that again. Russia must be contained.

  51. michael reynolds says:

    @wr: @stonetools:

    So what any of our NATO allies should read from this thread is that we will absolutely abandon our security guarantees and sell them out to the Russians because the Russians are misunderstood.

    Wow. Nice.

  52. JohnMcC says:

    @michael reynolds: And don’t forget SEATO. What did the world learn about the U.S. fecklessness and disregard for commitments in 1975?

    http://www.history.state.gov/milestones/1953-1960/seato

  53. michael reynolds says:

    @JohnMcC:

    I think this is all a case of people over-learning the wrong lessons and having too short an event horizon.

    We’ve managed to do something absolutely historic: we’ve imposed a 70 year peace on Europe. And we’ve kept peace between Japan and its neighbors. Imagine the human misery had we not done this. Imagine the consequences of a Soviet occupation in western as well as eastern Europe. Imagine vengeful China dealing with a prostrate Japan.

    And now, because we got a bloody nose in Iraq, there are people who want to abandon the whole enterprise. They want to abandon the house because they got a splinter from the bannister. It is disturbingly short-sighted.

    It is also politically ruinous. When Democrats give in to their pantywaist wing they lose elections.

    People have built good and free countries in the Baltics, countries that respect human rights. And they built these nations in the understanding that they were safe within NATO. And now we’re going to throw them under the bus because Hey, Putin isn’t Stalin, he’s just got a sphere of influence, plus, wah, we got an ouchie in Iraq..

    It’s nauseating.

  54. wr says:

    @michael reynolds: You’re better than that response and you know it.

  55. wr says:

    @michael reynolds: “And now, because we got a bloody nose in Iraq, there are people who want to abandon the whole enterprise. They want to abandon the house because they got a splinter from the bannister. It is disturbingly short-sighted.”

    Right. It’s all because we’re scared. It’s got nothing to do with the disaster that followed from our saving the world from the Commies in Viet Nam, Chile, El Salvador, Iran, and so many other places around the world.

    Nothing can go wrong because we’re the good guys, right? And as Homer Simpson said right before that commercial break “I’ll never get my comeuppance. Never never never. We’ll be right back.”

    But while you are lecturing the pantywaists out here, are you also counseling your son to sign up with the military? Or are you joining the ranks of those who are all in favor of fighting wars around the globe as long as it’s all done by people you don’t know?

  56. dazedandconfused says:

    The nukes had nothing to do with why there was never a hot war? It was just the divisions we garrisoned in Germany and elsewhere?

    Really??

  57. michael reynolds says:

    @wr:

    What disasters are you talking about? 70 years of Pax Americana. 70 years without a WW1 or a WW2 or a WW3. Show me a period in recorded history where one country had so benign an effect on the world. And you think Chile and El Salvador balance that off? We got flu symptoms from the medicine that cured our cancer.

    The EU exists because we made it exist. There is trade instead of war between Japan and China because we made it happen. Eastern Europe is free because we outspent and outlasted the Soviets.

    This world we have today, this world where I can travel freely and safely (outside of MENA) is a consequence of Pax Americana. The wealth we have flows from that peace. The fact that rates of hunger and childhood illness are dropping all over the world is a result of Pax Americana. Do you think this all just spontaneously occurred? Peace was just suddenly announced one day? We have peace in the world because the US imposed it by force of arms, by economic might, by our soft power, by our diplomacy. This is the world we made and it is more peaceful and more prosperous than any time in recorded history.

    And now we are to go right back to feeding small countries to big bullies because of Iraq? Iraq? 30 years from now the average American won’t even remember that we were ever in Iraq. It’s a sideshow. We’ve lost 4500 men and women there. We lost 120,000 men in WW1 and we barely showed up for that war. 4500 deaths is a hideous tragedy to the families but it’s irrelevant in geopolitical terms. It’s .00014% of the American population, spread out over ten years. We lose more people from drowning.

    But because we had a bad screw-up you to want to play Chamberlain and feed freedom-loving Balts to the Russians? Really? A Jew is taking the position of ‘screw those people, I’m not one of them?’

    You are not looking at how we got to this historically peaceful and prosperous time. And I would suggest you are using too little imagination in contemplating what the world would look like today had we taken the isolationist path. Iraq is a hiccup. 70 years of peace is a fwcking miracle. You don’t cut your leg off because you stubbed your toe.

  58. wr says:

    @michael reynolds: I respect and like you too much to have any fun carrying on this particular conversation with you. It’s too present and too consequential to use as good entertainment, and our views are so opposed that we are speaking different languages… and that’s how internet fights get ugly.

    So I respectfully bow out, and will happily join you in making fun of Donald Trump!

  59. JohnMcC says:

    @michael reynolds: I agree with every significant point you make, particularly when you refrain from rhetorical excess like ‘the pantywaist wing of the Democratic party’. Seventy years of peace is an excellent and admirable achievement, pretty nearly matching the record of the Congress of Vienna. Hooray for us.

    Treaty commitments are not forever, however, any more than marriages or business partnerships. A constant ongoing re-evaluation has to be part of living as a global power in a rapidly evolving (and de-evolving) world.

  60. michael reynolds says:

    @JohnMcC:

    I am all for re-evaluating, especially in light of the fact that Europe is no longer prostrate as it was at war’s end. I’d like to see Europe do a whole lot more. I am not in favor of doing much for Ukraine – they were not NATO. But the Baltic states and Poland are NATO. That may or may not have been a wise move to make, but it was made, and the people there have built their societies beneath the American umbrella.

    I withdraw the word “pantywaist.” But Democrats who think we can elect a pacifist or an isolationist or any other ‘ist’ that translates to voters as weakness are as deluded as Republicans who think Ted Cruz has a shot. It ain’t happening. This isn’t the 1920’s or the 1930’s, we are the world’s sole superpower and while the American people are heartily sick of the MENA they aren’t going to support any candidate who weakens our core alliances or waves a pre-emptive white flag at the Russians.

    People are overreacting to what are merely tactical setbacks. And some people are beginning to believe that we are in terrible times. In fact we are in the middle of probably the best time in history. Wars are way, way down. Famine, way down. Pandemics way down. Infant mortality down, poverty down, women’s rights up, gay rights up, literacy up.

    We’ve got some barbarians in the MENA making local trouble, but it’s not a strategic threat, it’s a local religion-driven panic in the face of progress.

  61. michael reynolds says:

    @wr:

    Friends can disagree, even passionately (I hope) without endangering the relationship.

  62. wr says:

    @michael reynolds: Absolutely. But I found myself getting angry at some of what you said here, and started to respond angrily. (The pantywaist thing didn’t help…) And it wasn’t fun internet arguing anger — it felt unpleasant.

    God knows there are and will continue to be places we disagree and we can shout at each other over — and then go for a metaphorical beer.

    This one hit me wrong for whatever reason… and since there was nothing to be gained from continuing and the real risk of me turning into more of a jerk than usual… better to quit the field and find a greener one.

  63. michael reynolds says:

    @wr:

    We’ll always have superdestroyer to beat up on.

    No, really, we’ll apparently always have superdestroyer. Sigh.

  64. stonetools says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I might point out that Finland, which was part of the Russian Empire until 1918, and which fought a war with the USSR 1939-40, and another during WW2, was able to live with the USSR ( and co-exists peacefully with Russia today ) despite never being in NATO. NATO isn’t a kind of magic umbrella, outside which it’s impossible to avoid being conquered by Russia (See also Sweden). It was hubris, not necessity, that drove the USA to enlarge NATO up to the borders of Russia-a hubris which Putin is now exploiting by whipping up Russian nationalist feeling.

    We are now obligated to defend bits of land which have no strategic significance and which may be indefensible militarily. This is not a good situation,and we shouldn’t pretend that it is. We are kind of stuck now, but we should looking to unwind of this, maybe with a different Russian leader in future. Putin won’t be there forever.

  65. michael reynolds says:

    @stonetools:

    I agree. I spent some time with the map and it’s just wide open plains between Russia/Byelorussia and the three Baltic countries. Tank country. But then Poland is a hell of a hard bit of territory to defend, too. And so is eastern Germany.

    As for Finland, that country remains free under a unique deal that came about in part I suspect because going after Finland would push Sweden into NATO’s arms, so no net gain from Russia’s POV.

    I do not think we will be required to fight for Estonia. I think positioning weapons and supplies and perhaps a tripwire force will do the trick. Estonia may mean nothing to us strategically but it also means nothing to Russia. I know the Russians are paranoid but Estonia won’t be marching on St. Pete and so long as we don’t position aggressive forces there they have no real beef.

    Yeah, probably in the end we negotiate a “Finland” deal for Estonia, maybe Latvia, maybe all three. That’d be no skin off our noses.

  66. dazedandconfused says:

    The bugbear of the Cold War was we had to position everything right up by the border. This is an offensive formation. It makes absolutely no sense from a defensive standpoint to have all your “stuff” where the other guy can take it out with fast-movers just a few minutes after they cross the border. Had to be that way because politically telling the Germans and whatnot that nearly all their territory would be given up to the USSR to have a viable defense in depth formation was a non-starter.

    This made the Rooskies very edgy. All came to a head when St. Ronnie decided to train up some of his massive military spending with and exercise called Able Archer. The Russia’s convinced themselves it was but a cover for invasion, and the world was very lucky it only cost a Korean airliner. This made St’ Ronnie aware of just how jervous and nerky the Russians actually were. He had been clueless. We are the “good guys”, how could anybody be afraid of us doing such a thing?? Well, everybody thinks they are the good guys.

    Paranoia is contagious and self-perpetuating. Want to bolster the defense of the EU, as if war between two nuclear armed nations is imminent? Fine. Put it back a bit though, at least a few hundred miles back from the border.

  67. JohnMcC says:

    Mr Reynolds: I bet in your study of atlas’ of the region you noticed this lonesome little patch of beach-front on the Baltic called Kaliningrad. Tucked real sweetly between Poland and Lithuania with a little connection to Belarus without physically neighboring it. BBC tells me they got the newest short-range missles installed there in 2013 and that Kaliningrad is Russia’s ‘only ice-free European port’. And it is surrounded by NATO because the victorious West had to advance their borders until we were chest to chest with the bad guys.

    Hummm…. What could go wrong?