Strengthening the deterrence and defense posture of the Baltic States: the value of allied airpower in supporting NATO’s reinforcement in a contested environment
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NATO’s decision to set up the eFP battlegroups in 2016 was a major achievement, however, it is only a tripwire force, and the Alliance relies heavily on rapid reinforcement in times of crisis. Airpower is a potent tool to support rapid reinforcement, but the geography of the Baltic Sea region severely limits NATO’s operational depth which is necessary for air operations. NATO’s ability for (rapid) reinforcement of its Eastern flank by air, sea, and land, is further challenged by Russia’s anti-access and area denial (A2/AD) capability. By implementing its A2/AD capability, Russia actively challenges and mitigates NATO’s deterrence posture. Currently, the Baltic States possess short-range missile air defense capability with a very limited range. While a very important part of NATO’s peacetime activities, the Baltic Air Policing Mission has limited rules of engagement (RoE) and does not prepare NATO for providing air defense for some of its most vulnerable Allies on the Eastern flank of the Alliance. This thesis relies on existing literature and twenty expert interviews to provide a comprehensive and up-to-date account of the complex issue of using airpower to strengthen the deterrence and defense posture of NATO in the Baltic States. The main findings of the research are that (1) the concept of A2/AD and its impact for deterrence is not well understood and this makes it difficult to address it; (2) There is no common understanding among the experts what a transition from Baltic Air Policing to air defense would mean; and (3) the importance of the Baltic States collectively taking the initiative in the air defense realm is currently understated. Gaining a better understanding of the contested environment presented by Russia, forging a common perception of the range of (airpower) measures that NATO has available, and exercising rapid reinforcement exercises in a joint environment could help the Alliance strengthen its deterrence and defense posture in the Baltic States. It is important that this would be done while preserving NATO’s most valuable asset – the unity of the Alliance.
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