The U.S. Department of Defense now recognizes Russia as one of its "principal priorities" in the context of renewed great power competition. In this Perspective, the authors examine the implications of a conventional military confrontation between NATO and Russia in Europe and the associated risk of nuclear escalation.
This Perspective primarily draws on published RAND Corporation reports to identify strengths, weaknesses, and risks for both the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and Russia in a large-scale war. The authors found that although Russia does possess a number of key advantages in the early stages of a war that would pose serious challenges to a NATO response, its current ground force structure and posture do not ensure an obvious path to defeating NATO in a protracted conflict and avoiding nuclear escalation. The authors also find that by addressing existing challenges posed by Russia in the Baltic theater, there are opportunities for NATO to strengthen deterrence and shape Russian perceptions of NATO's ability to respond militarily in advance of a possible crisis scenario.