Proving a negative: why deterrence does not work in the Baltics

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Series Details Volume 28, Number 4, Pages 431-448
Publication Date December 2019
ISSN 0966-2839 (print) | 1746-1545 (online)
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The increased Russian foreign policy assertiveness and the related security concerns associated with the Eastern Flank of NATO caused a revival of interest in European deterrence after more than two decades of neglect. Yet the absence of a military invasion into the Baltics does not necessarily imply a successful deterrent threat. Quite the contrary: a detailed analysis using Boolean logic suggests that deterrence does not really work in the Baltics, neither at the conventional, nor at the sub-conventional level.

A lack of capabilities undermines the credibility of NATO’s conventional deterrence posture despite its clear effort to communicate the threat to the other side. The only reason why the lack of capabilities on the Eastern Flank has no negative consequences for the Alliance is because Russia has (currently) no need to advance its state interests by resorting to military force. At the same time, deterrence fails repeatedly at the sub-conventional level and it will probably continue to fail in the future. Incidents like the relocation of the Bronze Soldier Memorial in 2007, the kidnapping of a security officer in 2014 or the violations of airspace in 2018 can escalate to a full-blown crisis. Limiting the number of such incidents should be the main goal of the cumulative deterrence of hybrid threats.

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