There are two
primary causes. First, Russia has introduced limited-war military strategies that are backed by a
credible threat of nuclear escalation. Second, U.S. capabilities in Europe are decreasing and the
political and strategic unity of the NATO Alliance is at an all-time low. These security dynamics
have placed the frontline CEE states in a new and more dangerous position than at any other
point in the post-Cold War era. NATO’s most exposed member states must consider the prospect
of a military crisis in which the Alliance’s collective security mechanisms fail or are delayed,
and Russia is able to achieve a stealth seizure of territory, inflict an outright military defeat, or
threaten nuclear escalation if initially thwarted. In response, many regional allies are reconsidering
their national military postures. Unlikely to acquire nuclear weapons to enhance
their security, they have considered bolstering their conventional capabilities through the
acquisition of advanced offensive weapons or the placement of NATO tactical nuclear weapons
and Ballistic Missile Defense on their soil.
Allied postures could have an important bearing on future regional stability, in some cases
reinforcing the U.S. effort at strategic reassurance and plugging critical gaps in the extended
deterrence architecture. In other cases, allies’ efforts could decouple them from NATO plans or,
in an extreme case involving offensive weapons, even contribute to an escalation in security
threats. Little is known about which CEE conventional military options, defensive and offensive,
could best deter the Russian nuclear threat and help stabilize the regional security environment.
Equally under-analyzed are the options that might be considered an existential or strategic threat
to Moscow. Understanding these issues is important for United States and its allies as they seek
to maintain strategic security in Europe East within an increasingly unstable environment that
could have lasting implications for global security.