I am worried that the membership in NATO of the Baltic states – Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania – creates a tripwire that could lead to nuclear war with Russia.
All three of these Baltic countries are legitimate nations with their own histories, ethnicities, languages, and so on. Over the years, however, they have often been dominated or annexed by one of their more powerful neighbors, often by Russia, but also by Sweden, Poland, Germany and others.
Poland’s national poem, Pan Tadeusz by Adam Mickiewicz, begins, “O Lithuania, my fatherland….” Wikipedia says that Mickiewicz mean Lithuania to refer to a region and not a country. In any case, when he wrote the poem, Poland-Lithuania had ceased to exist because it had been divided between Russia, Prussia and Austria. This is typical of the history of the region. For NATO to step in and say the borders of the Baltic countries are inviolable is potentially risky.
We have already seen what happened when Ukraine tried to take away Russia’s Sevastopol seaport in Crimea. If Ukraine had been a member of NATO, we might have been drawn toward a shooting war with Russia. Of course a low intensity shooting war has continued in Ukraine, but with no direct participation by NATO.
While the Baltic states may not have the strategic importance for Russia of the seaport in Crimea, which has been a Russian naval base since 1783, the Baltics have traditionally been influenced by their biggest neighbor, Russia, and if Russia perceived that they constituted a threat, it might react in a similar manner to the Crimean crisis.
Of course, the West wants the thriving, friendly Baltic states to continue to be independent and free. However, there is is the military question of whether they are defensible, situated as they are between the Baltic Sea and Russia, only about 100 miles wide. All of the borders are somewhat artificial, a result of World War II and the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Poland, which is the next easternmost extension of NATO, is much more defensible. It is larger and is separated from Russia by non-NATO nations Ukraine and Belarus, except for the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad on its border.
Because the Baltic countries are so small and bounded by the sea, there is little room for military maneuver. There is even limited territory to accommodate NATO troops and weapons for a war with a large country like Russia. The Russians defeated both Napoleon and Hitler. The population of the three Baltic states is only about six million (Estonia – 1,300,000), Latvia – 2,000,000, Lithuania – 2,900,000), less than the population of New York City. Should we be willing to risk the existence of New York City, and perhaps the United States, to protect six million people who throughout history have been under the sway of the Russian empire? Of course, a crisis does not have to lead to nuclear war, but it might. Was it wise for NATO to take on this obligation? Of course, when it did, NATO and the US were in the ascendency, and Russia was falling on hard times. At the moment the US is becoming much more fearful of Russia, except for Donald Trump. Is the Cold War returning? Are we returning to the old strategy of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD)? Will we go mad over the Baltics?
I don’t think so. But it is a pressure point where NATO might be vulnerable.