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Research Questions

  1. How might Baltic civilians contribute to success in achieving the desired outcome of national independence during an occupation scenario?
  2. How could current initiatives in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania enhance Baltic civilian capacity to contribute to resistance?

In the event of an occupation of Estonia, Latvia, or Lithuania, a conventional military intervention by allies — including the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the European Union, and the United States — would be crucial for the Baltic countries to regain national independence. But Baltic civilians could play a powerful role in their own defense — and, in fact, the Baltic countries' constitutions and national security strategies highlight the importance of the willingness and preparedness of their civilians to meet external aggression with resilience and resistance. Increasingly, Baltic governments consider national military defense to be closely intertwined with nonmilitary capabilities, and each has introduced a whole-of-society approach into high-level strategy and policy documents.

RAND researchers sought to better understand the nature and effectiveness of contributions that Baltic civilians could make to a resistance campaign during a notional occupation. In this report, using an original analytical framework, the authors examine historic episodes of Baltic armed resistance from 1940 to 1955 and unarmed resistance from 1955 to 1991. Drawing from this analysis, the authors examine more-recent plans and policies to prepare Baltic populations for crises and consider the contributions that Baltic civilians could make during an occupation scenario by imposing costs on an adversary, securing external support, denying an occupier's political and economic consolidation, reducing an occupier's capacity for repression, and maintaining and expanding popular support for resistance. Finally, the authors present recommendations for how allies and partners can support the Baltic countries in strengthening civilian capacity for resilience and resistance.

Key Findings

Civilian communication efforts could expand support for resistance, engage external audiences, and build domestic morale

  • Civilians could document and disseminate instances of repression to provoke outrage among international audiences.
  • Baltic émigré communities could amplify messaging within their own communities, combat disinformation, and enhance support for their home countries' involvement in a Baltic crisis.

Civilians could help lead national continuity during a crisis

  • Civilians could protect national institutions, providing clarity regarding the national chain of command, maintaining a focal point for foreign governments to engage, and reinforcing the illegitimacy of external aggression.

Clear separation of civilian and military roles would harness popular potential to inflict costs while protecting vulnerable populations

  • Providing opportunities for low-risk activities could increase widespread participation and bolster morale. Providing institutional avenues for high-risk activities would ensure that civilians could engage in armed roles consistently with international law and without endangering civilians.

Economic emergency plans could buffer the impact of a crisis on civilians and increase costs to the adversary

  • Economic planning could ensure the supply of vital goods and services, protect critical infrastructure, and deny an occupier access to resources.

Ultimately, allied military and economic interventions remain crucial

  • Prompt conventional military intervention, likely through NATO, would represent the most significant factor in imposing military costs upon an aggressor.
  • The most important nonmilitary costs, such as sanctions, would similarly require cooperation and sacrifice from international allies.


  • Ultimately, the most significant contribution that allied governments could make in a Baltic crisis is to signal clear willingness to engage in rapid military intervention and impose economic costs against an external aggressor.
  • Allies could support civilian capacity for information competition during peacetime by improving strategic communications training among Baltic civilians. During a crisis, allies should amplify relevant fact-based information from the Baltic states.
  • Allies could secure vital infrastructure and supplies. During peacetime, allies could provide material support for resilient infrastructure; ensure relevant regional, EU, and NATO abilities to assist with the supply of vital goods; and provide assistance in Baltic development of economic resilience plans for crisis situations. Following a foreign incursion, NATO special operations forces and intelligence units could provide aid.
  • Allies with knowledge or experience in civil defense and resistance could share best practices and “train the trainers.” They could also support opportunities to develop and implement plans for evacuating and resettling vulnerable populations.
  • Allied militaries and governments should incorporate civilian contributions into their military planning.
  • Allies could advise security training and incorporate Baltic unarmed and armed resistance in military exercises and wargames. This would help familiarize all parties with the potential contributions of civilians and could increase understanding among allied forces of the total defense system and role of nonmilitary actors.

This research was sponsored by the Russia Strategic Initiative at U.S. European Command in Stuttgart, Germany, and conducted by the International Security and Defense Policy Center within the RAND National Defense Research Institute.

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