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Hybrid Warfare in the Baltics: Threats and Potential Responses

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Technical Report

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RAND Project AIR FORCE Santa Monica United States

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Many policymakers and analysts have expressed concerns about Russian use of hybrid warfare, best understood as covert or deniable activities, supported by conventional or nuclear forces, to influence the domestic politics of target countries. These tactics are of particular concern in the Baltic countries of Estonia and Latvia, which have significant Russian-speaking minorities. To analyze the potential threat, I divide potential Russian hybrid aggression into three categories nonviolent subversion, covert violent actions, and conventional warfare supported by subversion. Given the gains in standard of living and increasing integration of many Russian speakers in the Baltics, Russia will likely have difficulty using nonviolent tactics to destabilize these countries. Russian covert violent action is also unlikely to succeed on its own, given preparations by the security forces of Estonia and Latvia to shoot Russian little green menmeaning Russian forces that are covertly or unofficially deployed. The preparedness and relative competence of these security forces would likely compel Russia to choose between losing the conflict or escalating to conventional war with NATO members. The main vulnerability of the Baltics therefore lies in Russias local conventional superiority. A large-scale conventional Russian incursion into the Baltics, legitimized and supported by political subversion, would rapidly overwhelm NATO forces currently postured in the region. If NATO leaders are to have confidence in their ability to deter such an attack, they will likely need to deploy additional forces to the region and to improve certain capabilities within their forces.

Subject Categories:

  • Unconventional Warfare
  • Government and Political Science

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