Monday, June 22, 2015

Buttressing the Front Line Against Putin

The U.S. must compel Nordic and Baltic states to put aside old prejudices and link arms against the Russian threat.

By Edward Lucas, WSJ
June 18, 2015 7:20 p.m. ET

Russia is waging a new cold war in the Baltic region, breaching international law and the conventions that govern civilized behavior among nations. The Kremlin provokes and intimidates its neighbors with aggressive espionage, corruption of political elites, propaganda onslaughts, cyberattacks, economic sanctions, coercive energy policies, surprise military exercises, and violations of airspace, territorial waters and even national borders, as when Russian agents crossed into Estonia last year to kidnap a senior security official.

These episodes have gone largely unnoticed in the outside world. Scandinavia in particular still enjoys the image of a region with zero geopolitical risk: the epitome of good government, stability and harmony. Many in Denmark, Finland and Sweden find geopolitics and hard security anachronistic, topics regarded with a mixture of detachment and distaste.

In truth these countries are on the front line of Vladimir Putin’s hybrid war against the West—and Mr. Putin is winning. Yet Russia’s creeping victory comes not from its own strength. Compare Russia with its nine neighbors in the region: the Nordic five (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden), the Baltic three (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania), and Poland. These countries together—the Nordic-Baltic-Polish nine, or NBP9—have a combined gross domestic product of $2.3 trillion, roughly a third more than Russia’s $1.7 trillion. Their annual defense spending is a healthy $33 billion, compared with Russia’s $84.5 billion.

The real problem for the NBP9 is strategic incoherence. They are divided: NATO and non-NATO; European Union and non-EU; big and small; rich and poor; heavy spenders on defense and free-riders. They don’t coordinate fully (or in some cases at all) their threat assessments, weapons purchases, strategic plans or military exercises.

(More here.)

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