NATO is in the spotlight as it pivots east towards Russia. What’s behind the pivot, and why is Russia so enraged.
NATO, the collective defense organization, counts 28 nations as members, including some in Eastern Europe which were previously in the Russian sphere of influence.
To some, NATO seems more anachronistic remnant of The Cold War than respected global security alliance. Heavily criticized during Russia’s annexation of Crimea, the alliance was unable to predict the unfolding events there and lacked even a single heavy battalion to respoind if needed. A 2014 report from the British Parliament’s Defense Select Committee noted NATO’s “alarming deficiencies” at the time and urged forces to bolster their presence in the Baltic Sea–which they believed to be especially vulnerable.
Russia, it should be noted, considers NATO an encroaching, existential threat who’s activities are orchestrated by the United States. Essentially, both sides feel the same about each other and are distrustful and fearful of their opponent’s motives.
NATO Build Up In Eastern Europe
Recently both sides have been creating fresh tensions in Eastern Europe by increasing troop strength, re-positioning military equipment and amping-up their military rhetoric. Some analysts worry that a miscalculation or an accident could lead to war.
In a major show of force designed to allay the fears of NATO members in Eastern Europe (most notably Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) the organization has:
- Installed of a controversial strategic missile defense system in Romania – perhaps capable of shooting down Russian ballistic missiles. A second system is planned for Poland
- Announced plans to deploy 4 combat brigades in the Baltic states with troops that rotate in and out
- Conducted naval exercises in the Baltic and the Black Sea as well as large land exercises in the Baltic states
In response Russia is increasing troop strength along it’s borders near Eastern Europe with new three new divisions to counter what it sees as NATO expansionism and encirclement. Since a division typically has between 10.000 and 20,000 troops, and brigades have about 1,000, Russia is reinforcing its borders with about ten times the troops that NATO is.
Both sides are also modernizing their nuclear arsenals.
To understand more about the buildup of military forces in Eastern Europe, see our article about US mutual defense treaties, which outlines the countries the US has sworn to protect.
Or check out our piece on Kaliningrad, the feared Russia enclave in Eastern Europe. This small Russian territory on the Baltic figures prominently in current military tensions in the area.