With an eye on the New Cold War, NATO officials have been examining existing defense plans and are finding, much to the delight of those advocating more spending, a stark reality: the Baltic States of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia are not prepared to fight off a full-scale Russian invasion.
What we’re meant to take out of that analysis is that NATO is not doing its job with respect to those nations, and that the military alliance ought to follow US recommendations, dramatically increasing spending to send more ground troops from across Europe to the area to fend off the Russian attack.
From an historical perspective, that policy is unrealistic, and the reason why Latvia and Estonia have struggled to retain independence throughout history is that the tiny nations are all but undefendable from their much larger neighbors.
Active and reserve, Russia has about 2.8 million soldiers. Latvia has about 2 million people. The idea that NATO could realistically fortify the capital of Riga to the point that it could fend off a full-scale invasion from the Russian military is complete nonsense, and the costs of the alliance trying to make the Baltic frontier theoretically impregnable would be staggering.
If the criteria for NATO membership were complete military defensibility from Russia, it would be an inescapable conclusion that allowing any of the Baltic nations to join was complete folly. Cobbling together defensive strategies based on that assumption is also a waste of time, because it’s unnecessary, beyond being virtually impossible.
NATO’s Cold War strategies were never built around the idea that they could stop the entire Warsaw Pact instantly at the border in the case of total war. The whole point of NATO Article 5 is to oblige all members of the alliance to intervene militarily to reclaim any territory lost in an initial invasion.
The point of Latvia and Estonia joining NATO is not to get Europe and the US to throw impossible numbers of troops at them to build some sort of Sparta on the Baltic. The point is to bring them under the alliance umbrella, such that they can’t be attacked without de facto starting a war with the entire alliance.
NATO as a defensive alliance wouldn’t need to talk about a buildup on any frontier. Attacking a NATO member nation is all but unthinkable for anyone, and even if Russia had a reason to attack any of these nations to begin with (which they don’t), the NATO deterrent is the same with or without a buildup.
Rather, the whole reason this has become an issue is that NATO is not a defensive alliance anymore, and the false narrative of a Russian “threat” is being played as a justification for increased military spending, primarily for the benefit of major, well-connect US arms exporters.