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Research Questions

  1. What is the impact of renewed tension between NATO and Russia on key allies and partners in central and northeastern Europe?
  2. As a result of increased Russian activity in central Europe, are new opportunities emerging for U.S. Air Force engagement?

This report examines the impact of renewed tension between NATO and Russia on a group of key allies and partners in central and northeastern Europe. It identifies how changes in the interests, security strategies, and defense capabilities of these countries may affect U.S. defense partnering in the region, with a specific focus on opportunities and implications for the U.S. Air Force. While both politics and resources will constrain partnership opportunities and the ability of these countries to contribute to U.S. regional defense objectives, opportunities for strengthening partnerships do exist in multiple areas.

Key Findings

New Requirements Are Emerging for Defense Engagement in Europe

  • U.S. defense priorities in the region are shifting; as a result, so will the focus of U.S. partnerships.
  • RAND research indicates that, among potential problem areas, the Baltic States are particularly exposed to conventional and unconventional threats from Russia.

Strategic Trends in NATO's Northeastern Flank Vary Among Countries

  • Poland is significantly willing and able to contribute resources to regional defense.
  • Sweden and Finland, while not NATO members, are increasingly debating membership in light of recent events and already have close partnership arrangements with good interoperability and considerable economic resources.
  • The small Baltic States are concerned by and vulnerable to Russian aggression but have limited resources to contribute to their defense. Determining the nature of optimal engagement strategies will be challenging.
  • The Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary are conflicted by varying degrees of pro-Russian sentiment. They also lack capabilities. Their contributions to NATO efforts to deter Russia are thus apt to be more limited.


  • Ensure Poland is able to provide a secure logistics and staging point for forward-based U.S./NATO operations. This will include encouraging its transition away from old Russian-made transport helicopters and toward refueling and strategic lift capability, expanding its ISR ability, and promoting public-private partnerships to enhance cyberdefense and space expertise.
  • Support Swedish and Finnish goals of defending their airspace confidently for long periods with minimal U.S. and NATO support, and generally strengthen relations with both countries to ensure access to airspace and bases.
  • Ensure the Baltic States are able to receive allied ground forces and support allied air superiority forces, and bolster their contributions to air and missile defenses and Estonia's regional cyberdefense preeminence.

Research conducted by

The research reported here was commissioned by the Deputy Under Secretary of the Air Force for International Affairs and conducted within the Strategy and Doctrine Program of RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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