NATO must agree to an overhaul of its battle plans to provide better protection for the alliance’s eastern flank, tearing up a pattern that could have meant giving up and then attempting to retake the Baltic states in the event of a Russian invasion.
Jens Stoltenberg, NATO’s secretary general, told the Financial Times that the new military plan, due to be agreed at an annual summit of alliance leaders this week, would significantly improve its eastern defences, shifting the focus from deterrence of any invasion to complete defense of Allied territory.
The Estonian prime minister claimed current doctrine accepted that the Baltic states would be “wiped off the map” in the event of a Russian assault before NATO attempted a counterattack to liberate them after 180 days.
“We never share details of operational plans,” Stoltenberg said. “But I can assure you that we have been able to protect countries bordering Russia for decades, adjusting our presence in light of the threat assessment. We have done that before and we will do it again. .”
The alliance would “significantly strengthen” its defenses in Eastern Europe, he said, promising that Russia would not be able to seize the Estonian capital Tallinn “just as it was unable to seize the city of Kirkenes in northern Norway or West Berlin during the Cold War”.
The new ‘strategic concept’, due to be signed off at the Madrid summit which begins on Tuesday, would set out its goals and approaches for the next decade and agree a significantly expanded plan to defend its easternmost allies in response. to the invasion of Russian President Vladimir Putin. from Ukraine.
This will include new structures in which Western NATO allies, such as the United States, United Kingdom and France, would commit to having their troops, ships and warplanes ready to deploy to specific territories on the eastern flank of the alliance, with graduated response times from the opening. hours of any attack.
The new approach, which reverts to elements of NATO’s Cold War planning for a possible Soviet invasion, would allow alliance military commanders to know in advance, at all times, exactly what forces are on standby. and how quickly they could enter the battlefield.
Russia would be singled out as “the most direct and immediate threat to our security,” Stoltenberg said.
The summit comes as Moscow escalates tension with mounting threats against Lithuania over cargo shipments to the enclave of Kaliningrad, a flashpoint long identified by NATO as a potential trigger for wider tension. In the region.
Stoltenberg said he was wary of speculating whether Russia’s threats were aimed at disrupting the NATO summit or just a coincidence, but the clanking of sabers “reminds us of something that we are very aware of.”
“Whether it happens just before, just after or long after a NATO summit, it doesn’t change reality,” he said. “We have to be prepared.”
NATO’s current defense posture in the Baltics involves around 8,000 foreign troops – led by the UK, Canada and Germany – to deter any potential invasion and act as a so-called trigger in the event of an attack. ‘invasion. NATO officials agree the approach is now untenable given the scale of Putin’s attack on Ukraine.
Stoltenberg said Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas’ comments about her country’s defense “reflect her concerns”, adding that he had discussed “exactly these issues” with her and the Lithuanian and Latvian leaders.
“They have been under Soviet rule for decades. They have a history where they actually learned the hard way what it means to be busy and overrun,” Stoltenberg said. “I accept [Kallas] wants more NATO presence and I can promise him. . . more presence.
Stoltenberg continued: “Our main responsibility is to prevent any attack on Estonia or any other ally.
“That’s why we will take huge and important decisions at the summit to further increase our collective defense . . . defend every square inch of NATO territory as we have done for 72 years.