Unconventional Approaches Could Help Deter Russian Intimidation and Aggression Against the Baltic States

For Release

April 15, 2019

Amid concerns that Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are vulnerable to Russian intimidation and hybrid warfare, a new RAND Corporation report concludes that unconventional defense plans could help deter and counteract Russian aggression.

“Total defense and unconventional warfare capabilities can complement the existing conventional defense efforts of the Baltic states and NATO, improve warning of an attack, augment initial defenses, and buy time for national and NATO conventional responses,” said Stephen Flanagan, lead author on the report and a senior political scientist at RAND, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization.

RAND researchers also created a framework to identify military and civilian technologies and techniques that could enhance the effectiveness of such defense and deterrence efforts, the cost of procuring those technologies, and possible tradeoffs with the development of conventional defense capabilities.

The authors find that a wide range of technologies could enhance the effect of so-called total defense (TD) and unconventional warfare (UW), ranging from cyber capabilities, cameras, printers, and small UAVs, to night vision devices, tactical and long-range mobile communications systems, non-lethal weapons, small arms and explosives, and anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons.

A robust technology initiative to equip resistance cells in all three Baltic states would require about $125 million in initial equipping cost, plus training, operations and maintenance funding. Such an initiative could be supported by national defense budgets, as well as international assistance from NATO and Europe.

“Total defense and unconventional warfare involve mostly defensive capabilities and are thus less likely to be characterized as provocative or escalatory than increases in national or NATO conventional military forces,” said Jan Osburg, a lead author on the report and a senior engineer at RAND. “However, there are a number of risks associated with development of these unconventional capabilities, which need to be mitigated.”

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are committed to enhancing the size and capabilities of their national guards and reserve forces and increasing whole-of society resilience and resistance efforts, the report finds. All three countries are improving and expanding their small special operations forces.

However, the report adds, the United States, other NATO allies and partners, and the European Union could take further concrete steps to support the development of Baltic total defense and unconventional warfare capabilities by strengthening cooperation on crisis management, intelligence sharing, civilian resilience, and countering Russian information warfare and hybrid attacks.

Other authors on the report, “Deterring Russian Aggression in the Baltic States Through Resilience and Resistance,” are Anika Binnendijk, Marta Kepe, and Andrew Radin.

This research was supported by the Office of the Secretary of Defense and conducted within the International Security and Defense Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

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