Christopher Chivvis is associate director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center and a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation. He specializes in national security issues in Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East, including NATO, military interventions, and deterrence. He is also an adjunct professor at the Johns Hopkins, Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). The author of two academic books and several monographs and articles on U.S. foreign and defense policy, Chivvis has worked on Eurasian security and NATO-Russia issues in the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy. He has also held research positions at the French Institute for International Relations (Ifri) in Paris and at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) in Berlin, and taught graduate courses at Johns Hopkins University, New York University, and Sciences Po in Paris. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Foreign Policy, The National Interest, Survival, The Washington Quarterly,The Christian Science Monitor, CNN.com, and other leading publications. Chivvis received his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins, SAIS.
Interview with Christopher S. Chivvis
In a time when regional access and traditional power projection become problematic, and NATO is still preserving an outdated defense in depth posture, do you see the Wales summit package – overwhelmingly based on the promise of expeditionary forces – enough to credibly reassure the Baltic states after Crimea?
The Wales package was a significant step forward. It was an important step in a direction that NATO frankly hasn’t been very focused on in the last 25 years. There is another question whether if not NATO could, should or will do more to reinforce the defense of our allies in Central and Eastern Europe. As we’ve seen, the United States has decided to preposition equipment across several different countries. There are a number of other proposals that are on the table including the deployment of larger, but still small number of multinational forces on a persistent basis in the region, the potential deployment of a multinational brigade or more in the Baltic states and of course the deployment of more than one, potentially 5 or 6 U.S. brigades in the Baltic states, or a some sort of combination of U.S. brigade with multinational brigades. Why is this important? The reason why this is important is because the geography being the way it is, in the very unlikely crisis in the Baltic States with Russia, NATO should be prepared to deter and defend the Baltic Allies. Indeed, that preparation is the best step toward avoiding such a crisis in the first place. In order to do this, the realities of geography make it difficult for NATO as it is postured now to get there with sufficient amount of lead time to ensure an effective near term defense of the Baltic States.
On the long-term there is no question if NATO can defend the Baltic States. Certainly even if adversary forces were to occupy the Baltic States, NATO could eject them. But ejecting those forces would be a very time-consuming and an extremely costly operation (NATO would need to degrade Russian air and missile defenses in the region before NATO reinforcements could deploy) that would risk escalation including to the nuclear threshold.
To what extent are the emerging Russian access-denial capabilities changing the strategic security equation in the Baltic region? How does the emergence of the Russian A2/AD affect NATO?
The A2/AD challenge means different things for different regions. What it means when we are talking about China is somewhat different than what it means when we are talking about Russia in that the strategies for dealing with it may be different. But the concern in particular with regard to the Baltic States is the potential for Russia to deploy air defense and offensive missile systems in Kaliningrad which would make very difficult for U.S. and allied air power to operate over the Baltics. The U.S. is accustomed to operate ground forces holding that it has air dominance. That will challenge the whole concept of operations that the United States is used to. At the same time, Russian forces would likely attempt to entrench their positions by surging highly capable, mobile air defense systems behind their troops. The combined outcome of these steps would quickly make access to the entire Baltic Sea region costly for NATO. These are the kinds of things that increase the pressure to pre-position forces in the Baltic States and we are not talking only about conventional ground forces, but also potentially about an integrated air and missile defense system for the whole region.
You have emphasized a persistent presence. Shouldn’t NATO develop a more permanent forward presence, going beyond persistent and rotational on the Eastern Flank?
I don’t think, whether these are “persistent” or “permanent” deployments, that actually in military terms it makes too much of a difference. The forces are there and that is what matters. The questions are more about what is the composition of forces likely to be, how much is enough, what is an adequate level of forces that NATO can be confident that there is a very low-risk in the event of a crisis with Russia. The VJTF should be a supplement to any kind of persistent or permanent deployment that could take place down the road.
Does NATO have an access problem in the Baltics?
Let’s just say that the geography favors the likely adversary.
Should NATO develop its own A2/AD bubble along the Eastern Flank, between the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea (Crimea is rapidly becoming a Kaliningrad of the South, and A2/AD vanguard)?
NATO has multi-layered air and missile defenses now that it is and should continue to work to strengthen, both within the Baltics and across Europe more broadly. These defenses are an important part of a robust and integrated deterrent posture, provided they are deployed in ways compatible with strategic stability. European states may need to increase their defense spending – even beyond the 2 % of GDP NATO goal – in order to pay for such systems, however.
Interview conducted by Octavian Manea
July 29, 2015