US to Deploy Military Equipment to Baltic States

Soldiers of the U.S. Army 3rd squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment as the troops of the "Dragoon Ride" military exercise arrive at their home base at Rose Barracks in Vilseck April 1, 2015. (Reutrers/Michael Dalder)
Soldiers of the U.S. Army 3rd squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment as the troops of the “Dragoon Ride” military exercise arrive at their home base at Rose Barracks in Vilseck April 1, 2015. (Reutrers/Michael Dalder)

The United States is considering deploying 5,000 troops in the Baltic States and eastern Europe. Until a permanent force will be ordered to deploy, the United States will send vehicles and materials in the allied Baltic States so they can quickly arm its troops.

American main battle tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and other heavy weapons could very well be deployed in those regions to provide a force ready to intervene against a possible, yet unlikely, Russian invasion of the Baltic States.

Yet, the United States is only planning to send equipment so far. However, there is a good probability the US will permanently deploy soldiers to the region. Although there is no imminent threat from Russia, NATO is moving forward with a plan to have a force enabling them to counter any attempts to cross the border by Russia.

Since the annexation of Crimea and the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine, NATO had no other choices than to review its European strategies and increase its presence in the allied countries that shares a border with Russia.

If the plan is approved, the deployment of a formidable American forces—first the gear then the troops—would be the first since the end of the Cold War. In fact, this move would send a clear signal to Russian President Vladimir Putin that the United States and other NATO allies are ready to defend its allied against Russian aggression.

The New York Times reported that James G. Stavridis, former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, said that a deployment such as the American are envisioning would reassure its allies, especially with a permanently stationed force.

“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.”

Although Russia has a clear advantage in numbers, the deployment of American soldiers in the Baltic States would be significant and Russia would have to think twice before considering a possible invasion of the Baltic States.

Having said that, it is virtually impossible to see Russia launching a full-scale invasion of the Baltic States, especially with a 5,000 strong American forces. Such actions would have disastrous repercussions.

Russia, on the other hand, could very well deploy more soldiers to the Western Military District on the border of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Some may argue that Russia has no right to do so, but a large-scale deployment of NATO troops in the Baltic States would only reinforce Russia’s right to do the same.

On the other hand, the United States military would have to bring in an impressive amount of supplies to keep a combat brigade operational. Logistical unit and capabilities would have to be maintained at NATO bases—if approved, which will likely happen—in the region and move goods forward when needed.

However, Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter and the White House still have to approve the deployment of military equipment in prepositioned locations within the NATO allied countries.

The New York Times reported that Pentagon spokesman, Col. Steven H. Warren, said no decision have yet to be taken.

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

The Baltic States allies requested a permanent presence of American soldiers in the region in a letter sent to NATO. The possible deployment of approximately 5,000 American troops falls short of the requested amount but is still welcome. The Baltic allies are now ready—likely expecting—to receive the equipment required to sustain a combat brigade in the region, however.

US Army Abrams and Bradley during a combined arms training.
US Army Abrams and Bradley during a combined arms training.

A Heavy Armored Brigade would be ideal for such a deployment. Since the Baltic States and eastern Europe mostly have flat land, the M1-A2 tanks and the Bradley infantry fighting vehicle would have a tactical advantage over light infantry. Its speed, manoeuvrability and its ability to engage targets at a long distance gives the armored brigade the opportunity to quickly deploy while providing support for its mechanized infantry soldiers.

US Army Heavy Armored Brigade
US Army Heavy Armored Brigade

The fact that Russia would most likely deploy tanks and heavy weapons on its border makes the heavy armored brigade choice more interesting. Although this deployment is mostly a show of force, American tanks and infantry fighting vehicles can offer a solid response in case of a Russian incursion in the Baltic States.

However, as I said earlier, Russia is in no position to launch an attack nor has the intentions to do so, at least not in the near future. The fact that the Russian military is undergoing a strong modernization phase and lacks professional soldiers, an act of war would be a terrible choice to counter NATO’s eastward deployment. Most of its force is filled by Russian conscripts that leaves the military after their mandatory military service bringing the little experience they’ve gathered with them.

Russian President Putin was clear that attacking NATO is a mad person’s dream.

“I think that only an insane person and only in a dream can imagine that Russia would suddenly attack NATO. I think some countries are simply taking advantage of people’s fears with regard to Russia. They just want to play the role of front-line countries that should receive some supplementary military, economic, financial or some other aid,” Putin said.

The current geopolitical situation in the Baltic States and Russia is yet another sign of a possible second Cold War. That said, that possibility remains a viable one and could enhance NATO’s interoperability even further.

The ideal situation would be to see NATO and Russia come to a conclusion that a buildup of troops on the borders is unnecessary due to the fact that neither one nor the other has intentions to be the World War III instigator.

NATO has it’s 30,000-strong Response Force available to quickly react to any kind of situation and Russia can quickly move its Western and Centre Military District troops along its borders in matters of hours.

An American heavy armored brigade would be welcomed in eastern Europe, in Poland for example, but in the Baltic States it could be considered a provocative move.

The deployment of American soldiers still has to be reviewed by Defense Secretary Gates and the White House meaning that the initial plan will most likely not remain unchanged.

One thing is certain, the United States will support its allies and will do anything possible to reassure them and provide a force ready to defend against Russia and other threats.

Until then, NATO is intensifying its exercises in the region and will keep doing so, including the Baltic Air Policing Mission.



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Jonathan Wade, CD

Jonathan Wade is the director of the ‘The Sentinel Analytical Group’ and a decorated veteran of the Canadian Forces. Specialized in tactical, strategic, intelligence and geopolitics analysis, Jonathan has a fondness for technical details. His military experience brought him valuable insight on the realities of conflicts and war. A combat veteran of Afghanistan, Jonathan brings in in-theatre experience. Jonathan writes about Russia, Canada and Arctic.