JULIANNE SMITH: All right, folks, I think we’re going to go ahead and get started. Please enjoy lunch. Keep eating. We’ll have a couple more people coming in, but we’re going to go ahead and get started. We don’t have a lot of time. We’ve got just a little more than an hour to do something rather unusual.
So just to make sure you’re in the right room, welcome to – your move – Contesting Russian Aggression in the Baltics. And my name’s Julie Smith. I run the Strategy and Statecraft Program at CNAS and welcome to all of you here today. As some of you know, in February of this year, CNAS ran a war game on Nordic Baltic security. We did it over two days with a group of about 50 people. A number of them were from Europe, particularly from the Nordic Baltic countries, but also a number of other European countries across the continent. And over two days, what we wanted to do is go through three different scenarios. Two hybrid scenarios and one conventional military scenario to look at the ways in which NATO, the U.S. government, the Nordic states and the Baltic states, as well as the EU would respond to different types of Russian aggression.
And what we want to do today is we’re going to ask all of you to go through those three scenarios and answer a series of questions about how you would respond to some of these scenarios. And that’s going to be interesting for a couple of reasons. One, this is a largely American audience, which flips the audience that we had in February. We do have some friends from Europe joining us here today, including some ambassadors, but we really wanted to run this scenario with a different group of people to see what might happen and what might change.
Obviously, we don’t have two days to go through the three scenarios. We only have the better part of an hour, but we’re going to use the app that I hope most of you have downloaded on your phones and if I might take a minute to explain to you. You’ll go into the session that’s titled Contesting Russian Aggression in the Baltics and you’re going to see two different areas where you can click. You’re going to see the scenarios, which are written up, two short paragraphs, and I’m going to brief you on those scenarios, so don’t feel like you’ve got to read through them. Some of you may have seen them in advance already. And then, after that, you see a live poll section and you’re going to come across your first question.
As we go through this, in the next hour, the questions will resurface on your app and you’ll get the next question as soon as you answer the first one. You cannot go back after you answer a question. Don’t change your mind. You get one shot at it, so think carefully. And if you have any questions, you know, raise your hand and let us know, but hopefully this is going to run quite smoothly.
We’re going to run through about a little less than a dozen questions, and then, what’s interesting about this is after we see how you guys are responding to these questions, I’ve invited two people that played the game in February. Dr. Evelyn Farkas is here. She’s a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. She played on the so-called Russia team during the game and has some insights from that. And we’re also joined by Ian Brzezinski, who’s a resident fellow at the Atlantic Council. And he played on the U.S. government team over the two days.
And so what I want them to do after you guys go through these questions is I want them to provide some insights on what’s new and different and what changed between you playing this abridged version of the game and their experience playing the full two-day game and offer some insights on Nordic Baltic security.
So we’re off to the races. Let me go to the first slide here, make sure this is working. And I want to brief you on two fictitious countries that you may recognize, not so cryptic here. We have the country of Baltia, which is kind of an amalgamation of the three Baltic states. It’s capital is Vilrilin (sp.), over there, you can see, close to the sea to the left. And Tagavas is the region where they have most of their Groslandian minorities. Grosland, you can kind of imagine what Grosland is supposed to represent, with its capital there, just above the text.
So let me say a few things about Baltia. Baltia was, as you can imagine, once part of the Soviet Union and now it’s well integrated into Western institutions. Baltia is a member of both the EU and NATO. As I mentioned, it does have a number of cultural and linguistic ties to Grosland. It has a Groslandian minority in this Tagavas region, which will be important later in the game, that’s just a little under 20 percent of its population.
As one would expect, Baltia relies quite heavily on Groslandian energy. And that will come into play later in the game. And Baltia’s defense forces are very focused on Russian aggression or Groslandian aggression, but they have not been particularly apt at dealing with hybrid warfare, which is – you can imagine is – you know, mirrors the truth today in terms of how some of these Western integrated countries, like the Baltic States, are grappling with some of the challenges that they see coming from Russia today.
So tensions between these two fictitious countries have been on the rise. Recently, we’ve seen a great deal of probing by their naval forces, but their air forces, in some cases ground forces calling snap exercises on the border. Baltia has also experienced a number of cyber intrusions of late. And Grosland has actually sent some small teams of civilians into Baltia with the goal of fomenting dissent and discord, mostly in the Tagavas region, where there’s minorities.
Okay, so before we get to the actual game, there’s going to be three different moves, as I mentioned earlier. These symbols give you a little bit of a hint of where we’re going. All of that will become clear as we go. And what I’m going to do is I want to set the stage and I want to get a feel for what your thinking is in advance of playing the game. So I’m going to ask you a couple of framing questions before we actually get to the scenarios. And so I’m going to go to the first question here.
The first question for you is if Grosland were to violate the territorial sovereignty of a NATO country, say like Baltia, do you believe that the West has not the capabilities and assets but the actual political will to invoke Article 5 in the NATO alliance, which is an attack against one is attack against all. NATO would then come to that country’s defense.
We’re going to go ahead and ask each of you to look at your phone and go ahead and vote. I don’t think there’s too much to dispute here. I’m not going to comment on the results. I’m noting that Evelyn and Ian are watching the numbers carefully. We’ve seen a little bit of a drop in the Yes, but it does look like there’s quite a bit of confidence in this room, in any case, that the West has the political will to invoke Article 5. Oops, it’s slipping. We’ll give you another few minutes here. Make sure everybody can get their votes in.
All right. Next question. If Grosland were to violate the territorial sovereignty of a NATO country, again like Baltia, do you believe, in this case, that it actually has the military assets and capabilities it would need to respond to that type of incident? Does the NATO alliance have the capabilities that it needs in hand? Let’s go ahead and vote. Yes, no, or perhaps.
Quite a bit of confidence in this one, still quite high. Although, I’ll note there’re some noes out there, more so than maybe.
All right, great, 60 percent, hovering somewhere around there. Here’s the last framing question. What key investment should the NATO alliance prioritize to respond to Groslandian aggression? Does the NATO alliance need to invest in strategic communications, looking at things like countering disinformation campaigns? Should it be focused more on conventional military assets, ISR or Lift? Does it need to hone or develop new rapid response forces? It already has the VJTF, a new initiative that was launched at the Wales Summit, the last NATO summit, but does it need more in this regard or does it need to focus on Anti-Aerial/Anti-Denial – counter A2/AD capabilities? Let’s go ahead and vote. Anti-Access/Area Denial, sorry, tongue twisting.
All right. This is a little bit tighter here. Just a few votes could tip the scales here. Let’s see. All right, so looks like we’re coming in with almost – well, not quite a three-way tie. Okay, great, all right. So we’re going to go ahead and move to the first scenario. And I’m going to brief you on kind of what’s been transpiring and what’s going down in the neighborhood.
So what we’ve been seeing in recent weeks is that non-military folks in civilian clothes from Grosland, Grosland sending sympathizers to execute a strategic communications campaign aimed at discrediting the Baltian government. As they’re doing that, as teams are in trying to stir kind of some dissent and discord among the ethnic minorities, primarily in the Tagavas region, we get word that there’s been an explosion at a decommissioned nuclear plant in the vicinity of Tagavas.
The Baltian government doesn’t respond or issue any statements on this explosion right away, but social media, particularly the social media accounts of Groslandian sympathizers, immediately start to send out images, images of fireballs, images of folks in hazmat suits, injured civilians, and all the rest. And what happens is the Groslandian media starts to authenticate this story. That there’s been an explosion and the Baltian government is not responding accordingly.
The Baltian government does, a few hours later, confirm the explosion. It orders its own CBRN team, it’s chem-bio containment union – unit to head out to assess the damage. And Baltia then activates the National Guard.
Grosland sympathizers simultaneously organize protests in the immediate region. They’re creating some outrage that the Baltian government is not responding quick enough and not protecting Baltian citizens. Grosland then announces its intention to send its own CBRN response force to evacuate Baltians from the affected area. As you might imagine, Baltia’s furious about this news and it doubles its National Guard troops in the area. It also deploys forces right to the border region and it says it will treat any infraction by Grosland as an act of war.
So here are the questions I want you to answer in regard to this scenario. Let’s go to the first question. How do you think Baltia should respond to Grosland’s deployment of its own CBRN force? Should Baltia call up NATO and request Article 4 consultations? Should it immediately invoke or ask that NATO invoke Article 5, again, ramping it up so that an attack on one is an attack on all, ensuring that NATO can immediately come to the aid of Baltia in this case? Or should it sit in its seats and not overreact in – at the risk of avoiding – at the risk of escalating an already tense situation?
Let’s go ahead and ask you guys to vote. Oh, goodness. Here we go. Seems like a straight up answer from this crowd. Already, heavy, heavy, heavy support, broad support for calling for Article 4 consultations. Great, let’s go to the second question. Second question for all of you is when faced by an unconventional threat like this, what do you think NATO’s biggest hurdle will be in determining the next steps? Will the alliance to counter disinformation associated with this incident? Will it struggle to determine whether or not this incident actually merits Article 5? Will NATO’s own slow and bureaucratic decision-making process slow its ability to respond down – slow it down? None of the above or would you like to pick answers two and three? We gave you the option to pick a couple of challenges there.
Let’s go ahead and see how the voting goes. An array of views here. Two percent none of the above. All right it looks like folks would like to go with two and three in large part. Okay, great.
All right, now, I’m going to quickly walk you through – this is all continuous – tensions are still brewing and there’s more to come. Now, in this scenario, we’re going to look at energy coercion in particular, as well as some cyber incidents and a couple of other things going down. So let me explain to you what’s happening on the energy front. So while these tensions are brewing around the decommissioned nuclear plant, Grosland’s Promgaz has decided to increase the price of gas to Baltia by 30 percent. This, as you can imagine, irks Baltia a great deal. They then threaten to cut off all their gas imports from Grosland. And as they threaten to do that, the Baltian government immediately experiences a series of DDoS attacks, disrupting electricity imports from an undersea cable with Sweden. We believe that Grosland is responsible for the DDoS attacks, but these reports cannot be confirmed.
Days later, reports start to break out that Grosland is sending 30,000 troops to the Finnish-Groslandian border and that Grosland has decided to activate its A2/AD capabilities, in particular Iskander Tactical Ballistic Missile System, advanced surface-to-air missiles, submarine patrols, and routine over flights.
Now, while all of this is happening, both in terms of energy coercion and the cyber attacks and Grosland calling this snap exercise, 36 hours later, Grosland loses contact with one of its commercial airliners traveling between Grosland and Finland. There’s no distress call. It simply disappears from radar. And it had recently undergone routine maintenance, so there’s some doubt as to whether or not it was a mechanical failure or issue.
Grosland immediately halts all flights to the region and directs its naval vessels to canvas the Gulf of Finland. As it’s doing that, some Finnish fishermen actually do come across debris in Finnish water and the Finns cordon off the area, but Grosland insists that the Finns leave the area and let them deal with the debris. So immediately, there’s some friction between Finland and Groslandians, first and foremost because Grosland has called this snap exercise on its boarder and activated all of these A2/AD capabilities, but also some tension over who’s in charge of this commercial airliner going down over Finnish waters.
So let’s go to a couple of questions in this regard. Move two, question one. Do you believe Finland and Sweden, not members of the NATO alliance, by the way, have the right arrangements with NATO to deal with all of these types of crises? We had energy. We got snap exercise. We have a downed airliner. We’ve got the DDoS attacks. Do these countries have the right connective tissue with the NATO alliance to cope with crises of this kind?
Some doubt about whether or not they actually do have what they need. Interesting. Okay. Let’s go to the next question. Who should be coordinating the efforts to address the downed airliner? Is this something for the Nordic Baltia Council? Is it for Finland as a sovereign nation to handle because it’s in Finnish waters? Does the NATO alliance need to come and play a role in this regard? Should the EU be called in to assist? Or should there simply be a coalition of likeminded allies that can come together to address this crisis in particular?
All right, a strong sense that Finland, it sounds like should be left in charge, with, perhaps, some friends, I don’t know. The bottom.
All right, great, let’s go to the next question. How should NATO respond to the combination of the cyber and energy intimidation in this move? Should it, as it likes to do, issue a strong worded statement, get out there rhetorically? Should it propose a NATO-Grossland Council meeting? Should NATO call a snap exercise in the neighborhood, much like Grosland did on the Finnish border? Suggest Article 4 consultations with Baltia in particular, given that they’ve been the target? Or invoke Article 5 and escalate pretty rapidly? Go ahead and vote. Sorry, I’m probably blocking your view up here.
Oh, this is interesting, so pretty close – Article 4 consultations are high on our list, but some want engagement with Grosland, get NATO and Grosland chatting about this. Okay, great.
All right, in our rapid, quick fire war game here, let me brief you on the tensions kind of boiling over in move three. So obviously Baltia is – and their military is on very high alert. And they deploy an army company to patrol the outskirts of Tagavas, where a lot of these tensions are starting to boil over. And about five kilometers from the border, as they’re patrolling, the Baltian forces encounter some Groslandian troops that are conducting a reconnaissance mission inside Baltia.
Baltia, for all the obvious reasons, attempts to arrest these forces, but they come under fire and Baltia suffers casualties. The commander then requests reinforcements, as well as medevac to deal with the dead and wounded. Now, the nearest base in this neighborhood that actually has helo-medevacs is actually hosting NATO helos, including gunships. And so without much coordination through the normal chains of command here, the NATO gunship commander launches, so that he can provide cover and some medevac to evacuate those dead and wounded.
As they head over to the affected area, where all of this is unfolding, the medevac actually lands and the two gunships are overhead. Grosland immediately sends two jets into Baltian airspace and shoots down the NATO gunships. The medevac lifts off safely, takes the wounded back, but we’ve lost the two NATO gunships. The skirmishing forces eventually retreat and Grosland immediately issues a statement saying that all of this occurred on not Baltian territory, but Grosland’s territory.
All right, we’re going to go to a couple of questions here, as things have heated up significantly. Given the fact that Baltia has a limited set of capabilities, what strategic vulnerabilities should it ensure that it can secure in the event of this type of territorial incursion? Should it focus on the Suwalki Gap, keeping those transit routes into Baltia from Poland open? Should it focus on its major population centers, particularly in that border region? Should it ensure that its main transportation hubs are secure, assuming that reinforcements are coming from, say, NATO or other allies as individuals? Or should it avoid potential escalation by limiting its troop movements altogether? Where would you recommend that the Baltian government focus?
This is going back and forth here. Some – an array of views. We’ll have to discuss this later. This is interesting. So it almost looks like a three-way tie. Some folks want to ensure the transportation hubs, population centers, Suwalki Gap, interesting. No one wants to avoid potential escalation.
All right, great, let’s go to – everybody’s all-in. Let’s go to the next question. All right, in this case, in this type of scenario, Kaliningrad, how do you think it looks? Is it a strategic vulnerability or is it a boon for Grosland in the event of this type of crisis? We deliberately did not give you both as the third option. You’ve got to pick one or the other. Kaliningrad is either a vulnerability or a strategic asset. How do you think Grosland looks at it and what is the real answer for them, for Grosland.
Not that vulnerable. Interesting. All right, folks, thanks for bearing with us. We’re at the end here. Do you believe that – last question – that Finland and Sweden would intervene on Baltia’s behalf in the event of a scenario like this, where you have Groslandian troops on Baltia’s soil? We did give you an out. Oh, a lot of noes. Not a lot of confidence here.
All right, that’s fabulous. Great. Well, thanks for bearing with us for this miniature TTX. It gives you a little bit of flavor of where we ended up and what we tried to take on. Obviously, it included a lot more detail, including some breaking news injects and we broke down the 50 people into five separate teams that were running up and down hallways. But it at least gives you a sense of what we tried to look at with this.
I’d like to now invite Evelyn and Ian up onto the stage and offer, have them offer some insights on what they found interesting about this. We’re also going to take Q&A and folks in the audience might want to chime in as well and ask them some questions or offer your thoughts on what you just saw unfold. So let’s bring these guys up. I’ll sit with them here up on the stage.
Thanks again for joining us today.
EVELYN FARKAS: Thank you.
MS. SMITH: And I’m going to start with Ian. Ian, you played on the U.S. government team, which kind of during – I remember during the actual game was moving at lightning speed. Maybe it was too effective. Didn’t represent the real interagency process. But from someone who played on the U.S. side, I mean, how do you look at what you just saw today? Do you think is more or less in line with what you actually experienced when you played the game in February, or were there a few things that kind of struck you as a little bit surprising?
IAN BRZEZINSKI: Well, Julie, I think I’d start by saying that, one, if you look to the U.S. team, which I thought was interesting, it was a pretty good cross-section of experienced Republicans and Democrats who’d served in state, some at very, very senior levels, some from defense very, very senior levels. So for me, it was interesting to see there was a lot of community in the team that I got to serve on.
There were a number of similarities between what registered here, but also some key differences. And then, what I will do is also share what I think is really – what I got out of this.
MS. SMITH: Great.
MR. BRZEZINSKI: That’d be relevant, particularly to the upcoming summit. And I have to had that Julie’s game, CNAS’s game is extremely timely because the scenario that they are – they exercise here is the one that’s essentially driving NATO’s current planning to develop a enhanced forward presence in the Baltics and in Poland. So your lessons are very, very relevant.
Some quick similarities. First, I was struck that there wasn’t a mad rush to Article 5 here. People, most in the room, apparently said, you know, for scenarios like one, which is kind of more political and hybrid and even two, which had some squirrely things happening, like the downing of an aircraft, they didn’t rush to Article 5. My team in the game didn’t rush to Article 5. There were some, like the Balts in the scenario who were eager – more eager to do so, clearly looking at the experiences they had in their region with Ukraine being fresh in their mind.
Second, it did highlight a clear lack of planning between NATO and Sweden and Finland. That became very evident in the game and became a bit of a grist. That was highlighted in your responses here.
The complete community between the game and the lunch over who should manage that very strange downing of an aircraft. Can I say who –
MS. SMITH: Yeah, go ahead.
MR. BRZEZINSKI: The plane was actually turned out – down by a Russian MIG or a Grosland MIG that – (inaudible) – in it because it was flying around without transponders on, hit the aircraft and crashed into the ocean. The U.S. team didn’t know that ‘till later. But there was general belief that, no, this is a Finnish thing. It’s their territorial waters. We’re encouraging them to internationalize it, but we weren’t going to push it too hard. We were focused on what’s going on in Baltia.
I left skeptical that you could assume – that without advanced planning and advanced arrangements, you could assume that countries like Sweden and Finland would just jump right in because there are some governments that would and there’re some governments that wouldn’t. We have democratic elections and they change and with change can come risk.
A key similarity – another key similarity was the U.S. team really didn’t have fear of escalation. I was actually surprised of the consensus in the team that I worked with that, I guess they had Ukraine and Georgia fresh on their mind, the provocations that we’ve seen in the Baltic Sea and the Arctic and they were, we’ve got to move quickly, so we can secure control of dynamics.
So those who say, hey, escalation is a risk, we were saying, by not acting, by not moving assets quickly to control the dynamics of the situation, we’re actually increasing the risk of escalation.
Key differences. I would say, and Julie correct me, that most people in the game left that game feeling that NATO doesn’t have sufficient assets in a region like Baltia today. And that’s a real vulnerability. And that there’s a need to invest more in that. And let me touch on what I drew from that – this game because it relates to that. First and foremost, American leadership is imperative. What I could see in the game – particularly, I was looking from my U.S. team, looking over to the NATO team, without the U.S. pushing hard, there wasn’t going to be a real rush to action. There was going to be risk aversion. That’d be fear of escalation. But when United States kicked in and said, we need to do this or we are doing this unilaterally, it brought allies along.
Biggest thing out of the game for me that was highlighted was the time-space disparity. In Grosland, you have a large military, right up on the border of Baltia. And the Baltian forces are small. NATO’s presence, U.S. presence is very limited. It was company level positions over there. So they had all the advantages that come with time and space and location and mass. Particularly that force has real mobility. They could control the flow of a crisis. They could control escalation dynamics far more than the West could at the beginning.
So my team, the U.S. team was immediately, at the phase one figuring out what we could move into the Baltic Sea, what could we move into Baltia, so we could make up that lost control. And when you think about these requirements, you’re talking about moving forces and that one can survive an onslaught, that have real combat power. You have to have a certain amount of lethality. That makes people very, very nervous. But if you can – to deter something, you have to be able to have some punch, even if you’re not going to be able to defeat it. You have to be able to impose cost on it. They’ve got to be rapidly re-enforceable. There has to be the ability for the alliance – that coalition are willing to re-enforce those deployed forces very, very quickly. And we were struggling with that because we didn’t have that.
I was struck also by the assumptions that people had that, oh, you just fold those forces in and they mingle with the host nation. It became very clear that in the absence of advanced planning, integration of host nation defense plans, NATO defense plans. The operational plans would guide a unilateral presence like that of the United States in these countries. You’re going to end up having inefficiencies that could be dangerous.
There was a real need to delegate more authority to NATO commanders. NATO commanders didn’t have that in Baltia. That slowed things down. Sweden and Finland, I walked out saying that, wow, we need to really tighten those ties. Progress has been made between NATO and Finland and Sweden. Sweden did just ratify the Host Nation Support. But we have to get the real serious operational scenario planning with them, so that we’re not debating these things out in the heat of a crisis.
And bottom line, advanced planning, advanced preparation, advanced placement. That’s what I drew out from this exercise. It needs to be done now. It needs to be done with real combat capability. It has to be done with a really unified Western policy. It just can’t be the United States with the NATO flag. It’s got to be the Europeans and the Americans, so you have that consensus. And this could be done tight with the Swedes and the Finns. And the Swedes and the Finns should not assume they can flow – control the flow of this crisis, even though they have important territory. They’re either going to be shaping the crisis through planning or they’re going to be left on the wayside. Those are my key takeaways.
MS. SMITH: Great, thanks, Ian. We really appreciate that, very, very useful in terms of looking back at what happened in February and kind of figure out kind of what we’re able to do in the last couple of minutes here. I sat on the NATO team and I just would echo what Ian said. We had a lot of disagreement in the NATO room. I mean, tremendous amount of pressure obviously coming from Baltia, specifically asking for Article 5 very early on in the game. But we also had the U.S. government coming in and asking the NATO alliance repeatedly: how are you going to respond? What are you going to do? What can you do now in the immediate, not, you know, six weeks from now? And it raised a lot of questions, as Ian noted, about the authorities that – (inaudible) – has to call a snap exercise, to deploy those high readiness forces like the VJTF. It really looked – helped us look at a number of the shortcomings inside the NATO alliance, the decision-making process, but also it played out in real time.
We had so many countries represented at the NATO table. We had some pretty heated debates among – as you would imagine – among some of the countries in Western Europe and those that sit in Central or Eastern Europe. But again, with that U.S. push and the calls coming from Baltia, it changed the dynamic of the conversation. So that point about U.S. leadership I think is really important.
Evelyn – we have two former – (inaudible) – here, by the way, which is terrific. Evelyn served in the Obama administration most recently, and Ian was in the prior administration, also a European – (inaudible) – so it’s great to have this Europe-Russian combination here.
Evelyn, you sat on team Grosland, and so very interested in kind of how you look at this. You were experiencing a different set of issues. You guys were putting out some very clever disinformation campaigns. I remember there were some breaking news coming from Grosland that terrorism was the cause of the commercial airliner going down. It confused all of us. Anyways, over to you, how did you see what just happened here, in the miniature version, versus the actual event in February.
MS. FARKAS: So if I could, Julie, I’d like to just make a couple of general points, so reverse the order and then talk little bit, pick up some of the little differences here. I mean, what really struck us on the Groslandia team, and I think obviously struck you guys as well, but from the other side, was the time-space issue. And so we felt very acutely that we had the upper hand and we knew that every decision we made had to come as fast as possible. We counted on you guy to be, you know, unorganized and indecisive. But we had a healthy respect for the fact that once you got your act together, you could come with a lot of force and you could make life difficult for us.
So I think the one thing I would, you know, kind of emphasize is that we really felt all through the game that we had to maintain our momentum. And then, the second thing you mentioned, and I can kind of tip a little bit towards what I thought about would happen today, the strategic communications. We really felt that we had the upper hand in terms of the narrative and what people thought was going on.
You know, you mentioned the aircraft in particular, but even with the nuclear, you know, the nuclear incident and our people going across the border, we thought that, you know, it was all – we had very good campaign, the demonstrations and the coverage, the media coverage was very much oriented towards our favor. There wasn’t a lot of alternative voices. I mean, there were alternative voices, but they – we didn’t think they came across as strongly and we thought that would play into the normal, you know, friction that you have in the alliance, whether it’s EU or NATO. You know, well, the Baltians are not treating their ethnic minorities very well and so maybe we should give it a pause. You know, we felt pretty good that that got right into that sweet spot.
On the aircraft, it was interesting because, of course, we knew that we were to blame. We definitely didn’t want you guys to know. So we didn’t want the United States, NATO, the world, we didn’t want our people to know. And so we were quite anxious about the little black box. So we definitely didn’t want it internationalized. I think at one point we contemplated making some kind of deal with the Finns, but we were also ready to go in there unilaterally and like grab the plane. I mean, we had all kinds of, you know, options that we were considering because we really just didn’t want the word to get out that we had actually, you know, caused our own aircraft and our own civilians to go to their death, our own aircraft to go down and civilians to go to their death. So I think that was interesting and I think also, you know, is very realistic.
On the cyber part, I think, I felt that that was realistically done through the exercise in the sense that we had the denial – the DDoS, you know, the denial of service attack, but I felt that there could have been more, that in the real world there might have been more use of cyber or asymmetric means to keep the United States out of this European conflict. And what I mean now is sort of the escalate to de-escalate doctrine of the Russians, which is really – it’s a higher level of A2/AD. It’s keep us out politically. And I didn’t really see that played out very much.
And then, of course, the nuclear, we haven’t mentioned the nuclear here. And that really wasn’t mentioned in the scenario that the Russians may well, at the minimum rattle their verbal nuclear saber because they’re doing it right now in a regular peacetime situation. So – and we didn’t consider – we didn’t see any signs, I should say, from the Groslandian side that that was considered. And I think it would be a very real concern.
Also on A2/AD, we didn’t think that you guys fully understood what you were facing. However, at the same side, and now to get to some of the issues that were addressed today in differences, this group here today said that Kaliningrad – you know, 77 percent said it was a strategic asset. Well, we in Groslandia actually felt that it was a vulnerability. And that’s again where the time-space issue came into play because we thought, well, we better do something quick, you know, to deny NATO access to Kaliningrad.
So we were thinking more aggressively with regard to Baltia and Baltian territory to protect Kaliningrad. So I think that’s important to note that from the other perspective it may not be regarded as a strategic asset. And that can also change with time.
The other issues, you know, Article 5, I think because our group also had members of the Baltic States in real life, we kind of assumed that there would be Article 5 and we were not surprised, I guess, that Article 5 came quickly, although that is the difference between this group and the group that we had in your exercise.
The issue about assets, I think again, we in Groslandia, just as you all indicated, you didn’t believe that NATO and the EU had the proper assets. We also didn’t think that you guys have the proper assets. Again, that’s why, as much as possible, we wanted to just wrap the whole thing up, you know, and get what we needed, which was basically a long-term influence over Baltia. So in that respect, it was very similar to what we see in Georgia and Ukraine and, you know, Moldova today.
So those are kind of the big points that I would make. You know, we didn’t get into a lot of the detail about what kind of assets because, of course, we were focused on our own issues.
MS. SMITH: Sure. Great. Well, thanks to both of you and thanks to all of you for joining us and playing via the app. We’re going to open it up to the audience and ask if any of you have questions or comments. If you want to look at kind of how this played out and see our full write-up of the two-day war game, we do have a full report on this. The game was called Assured Resolve and you can find it. We have copies here, but also online.
So I saw a hand go up here, a bunch of hands. All right, we’ll start bringing the mike around. It’s coming up right here. Gabriel’s got it. Why don’t I take two or three questions? There we go. We’ll take the first question. We’ll group these together. Go ahead. Please introduce yourself.
Q: Yes, Steve Benson. I’m with Saab USA and I’ve been working on this region and the littoral operations aspects of it. And you mentioned Kaliningrad as a vulnerability that you’d explored. But I’m wondering from both sides, did Skagerrak and Kattegat come up and the access ingress and egress of the Baltic for the incredible commercial flow that has to happen every day. Did that come up? And what were the different – and if it did, what were the different views?
MS. SMITH: Great. We’re going to – I saw another hand right here. Yes.
Q: Yes, Anthony Scerbo with Discerning Foresight. One of the options earlier regarded strategic communication. And I know with TTXs and war games in general, we tend to focus on metal bending and hardware and occasionally on paperwork. But I was just curious from the two participants what amount and what were the dynamics of discussions regarding either IO (SIOP ?) strategic com, et cetera.
MS. SMITH: Great, and then one more question right here. We’ll take these three first.
Q: I’m curious –
MS. SMITH: Could you introduce yourself?
Q: Sorry, Kim Dozier with the “Daily Beast.”
MS. SMITH: Great.
Q: So I’m curious as to whether some of the NATO moves in the past couple of months to increase the number of brigades available, to move equipment there for faster response time, does it address some of the concerns that you have? Is it enough to meet what you found in this – the weaknesses you found in this tabletop exercise?
MS. SMITH: Great question. I’ll start with Evelyn and then turn it to Ian. One thing I will say is we deliberately in this game wanted to have two of the three scenarios focus on hybrid challenges because we were well aware of the fact that these exercises have been run at other think tanks, also inside various governments, including our own, in a classified setting. They tend to focus more on conventional military threats and not always get to the hybrid piece, although some of them do. But I think I had some of the work at Rand in my head when we started crafting this. And so we deliberately tipped the scales towards hybrid. That was very deliberate on our part.
So Evelyn, why don’t I start with you if you want to take some of these questions and we’ll turn it over to Ian?
MS. FARKAS: Well, I will be honest. In the Groslandia context, we weren’t focused on trade. You know, it may have just been the group that we had there, but – so that really didn’t come up. On the STRATCOM, as I mentioned earlier, we were feeling pretty good about our STRATCOM and our (SIOP ?). I mean, across the board, we felt like we had pretty good control over the narrative. And we were more worried about the fact that the reality would come out – as I mentioned, specifically in the case of the aircraft, but also in the other instances, we just felt good about where we were. So that would be all I would say on that one.
On our deployment, so the kind of real life question, I think that it’s – these new deployments are significant and it’s not to say that maybe we couldn’t do more because frankly speaking, you know, I think in an ideal world, we would redeploy the two brigades we had there before and maybe that’s where we’re headed anyway. But I do think that the moves that we’re making are critical and, you know, they can be done relatively quickly within current budget constraints. And you know, the other thing that’s good is I think it’s not just the U.S. Obviously, there’s now NATO countries that are coming to the table and they’re also going to provide their assets.
But the most important thing, and it’s also in the report that Julie mentioned, the full report, is really – and maybe I’m beating Ian to the punch because he likes to talk about this, too, but really giving the NATO commander the proper authorities to be able to move forces, to exercise them, to make sure that VJTF – you had some term for it – like it doesn’t become some kind of a exquisite Ferrari or something.
MS. FARKAS: Exactly. So, you know – and there’s also been proposals to increase the size of the VJTF. I’m not sure whether it was in your paper, but elsewhere. So it’s definitely all a step in the right direction to include, of course, the other things that are funded by ERI, the existing training and equipping and working also with partner nations.
So I think this is all – it’s all a step in the right direction. Is it enough? Maybe not quite yet, but I think it’s getting there. And more than anything else, it shows political resolve because that’s, of course, what the Russians worry about most. Because in the time-space continuum, you know, initially as the game showed and frankly speaking during the Cold War, they always had that advantage, but it’s what do we do next that’s most important.
MS. SMITH: Great, Ian.
MR. BRZEZINSKI: Yeah, on – for Steve, on – I didn’t get your faces, but when it comes down to sea lines of communication, we didn’t get into commercial routes. But there was a real concern about security seal lines of communications, airlines – air lines of communications, Suwalki Gap and such to ensure we could get our forces in there.
On STRATCOM and IO, my team, the U.S. team really didn’t spend that much time on that. I don’t know why. It might be because we recognized that U.S. doesn’t have that much capability in that realm. We’re kind of weak, kind of hamstrung. We don’t have the resources. We have to – (inaudible) – resources to do it. So we focus really more on kind of the hard stuff, the conventional deployments.
Let me reiterate what Evelyn said about what’s coming down the pike. And I fall into the camp that I don’t quite think it’s enough a battalion each, but I don’t want to – I want to reserve judgment because I think we need to see what comes with those units. A battalion is 800 to 1,000 personnel. That is a tiny force to be juxtaposed up against Estonian, Lithuanian, Latvian, and Polish borders against divisions of mechanized infantry, airborne infantry, tanks, backed by Iskanders, airplanes, helicopters, and the Black Sea Fleet.
So this is a very forward-deployed exposed force. Can it be enough? Well, it might be enough, depending on how you equip it and how you integrate it into defense plans. So what will I be looking for? Survivability. The key thing for survivability is going to be what kind of intelligence, reconnaissance, surveillance assets are going to be either provided to them for – (inaudible) – operations or the data provided to them. So they have an ability to minimize the surprise the aggressor force can impose. So that there’s all of a sudden movement happening, they can hunker down, disperse, and do what they need, so they can do the battle.
They’re going to need some kind of defensive capability. Air defense strikes me. The Russians have in their doctrine heavy emphasis on strike. Now, increasingly precision-guided munitions is demonstrated by caliber in Syria and such. Air missile defense is a little bit harder because those are – assets few and far between, but air defense. Then they’ve got to have punch. These forces might not be able to defeat the Russian or a Groslandian aggressor – in this case, Russian aggressor – but can they impose real penalty in costs? Can they wreak havoc on those aggressing forces?
So they’re going to be – have to be bristling with anti-tank weapons, surface-to-air missiles, maybe even artillery and tanks. They are they going to be – does NATO have the capability to reinforce them in real time? Now, NATO’s been making progress in that regard. The two major exercises Anaconda, 31,000 folks in Poland just these last two weeks, 14,000 of them being Americans. One battalion airlifted from Fort Bragg, 82nd, into the exercise. BALTOPS, (5,000 – 40-50 ?) ships demonstrating the ability to reinforce the Baltic.
That’s good steps in the right direction. Immediately after NATO makes its decision on what it’s going to deploy, it then needs to start exercising brigade and division level for reinforce. Anaconda and BALTOPS is not going to be sufficient. What I’m getting at is this is a little bit different than the Berlin Brigade, you know? I mean, there you had a brigade that was toothy. It was tested. It was ready for battle, backed by hundreds of thousands of allied troops, about 50 to 100 kilometers away. Engines roaring, exercise regularly. It was very clear what was going to be triggered or tripped if the Baltic Brigade tripwire got hit.
That’s what we have to be looking at with this very small light force that’s going to be forward deployed in the Baltics and in Poland. That’s how you measure success.
MS. SMITH: Yeah, I would just echo everything that both of these guys said. I think it’s a major step forward in terms of what we’re going to see come out of the Warsaw Summit in very short order. But I would note that these are all initiatives that are not long-term in nature. We have to ensure that the U.S. government, in particular, maintains this type of commitment. We’ve done a lot in the last year and we’re about to do a lot more with ERI and all the rest, but I want this to be a permanent fixture. Putin is not going away. He’s with us at least until 2024 and we need to ensure that this force posture is not a temporary measure that will show up and disappear next year. it has to stay and be part of our presence in Europe over the long-term.
So I think I’m with Ian. Let’s wait and see how all of this evolves and develops. But in some ways, because of the way in which the funding is being made available, it is in fact temporary. And so we’ve got to think about how do we make this more lasting.
Let me take a couple more questions. Let’s see. Yes, we’ve got – (inaudible) –here from the Lithuanian embassy. So we’re glad that you’ve joined us. Lithuania was an integral part of this game. We couldn’t have done it without them. Please – (inaudible).
Q: Thank you so much, CNAS, for hosting this and certainly for doing the exercise that you’ve done. I think this was one of the – one of the better, much better than many have, and one of the best, for sure. But actually, Ian, certainly I appreciate very much what all of you have said, but one of the questions I have, when you look at Russia’s broader goals here, and when we talk about our response measures and the ones that we look into in the buildup to Warsaw, certainly they aimed to deter. Certainly, they’re not aimed to engage, or at least hopefully.
Well, when you look – and I look at Ms. Farkas here as well – when you look into Russia’s playbook, when you look at what in the initial stage may be Russia’s vulnerability, but may become a strategic asset, like Kaliningrad, do you think that’s the end game? Do you think taking Baltic States is their end game? And how our own strategic planning fits into that because it’s Baltic States, but they’ve beaten the Ukraine off. They’ve beaten Georgia off the NATO integration track. Now they have page number two turned on. What’s next? What’s next? Thank you.
MS. SMITH: Great. Okay, let’s see who else. Yes, please.
Q: Hi, Vince – (inaudible). In a scenario like what you’re describing you faced in February, in my experience, it’s – there’s a tendency to get tactical and to take the military tools out of the toolbox. And this is a situation with a sort of military set of answers to it. But what, during the game and after the game, informed you about red lines, their utility, what they would be – their articulation, and how they would not only form something that NATO would coalesce around, but what would be ideally instruments that you articulate to the Russians and make that known in advance. If you could unpack that a little bit in essentially any way you like to.
MS. SMITH: Great, thank you. I want to get the Latvian ambassador, give him a chance. Also, very grateful for Latvia’s support with this game.
Q: Well, thank you so much really for making this game possible. I think it’s very timely. We are looking forward for having continuation at some point. It’s extremely difficult to really, psychologically, to listen to what you are talking about. What we are thinking about, it’s about us. (Laughter.) But it’s very important. My question goes to Ian. And the question is about what’s the biggest difference in opinions among, let’s say Baltic NATO allies and maybe other NATO allies, the 28 countries that are on the table? And there might be differences when it comes to invoking different articles of Washington Treaty or something else.
MS. SMITH: Great. I’m going to sneak in a fourth question. You had your hand up. Go ahead.
Q: Thank you. Leanne Howard, Special Operations Command. My question is about the concept of little green men and if we could go back in time, how big of an advantage is it? And looking forward, is it something we should put less weight on, more weight on as a coalition?
And then, part two, CNAS did a fantastic job kicking this event off with a panel on inclusivity. I look at the history of units in that regard and I wonder, do we have it right? Should we be thinking more creatively? You look at the OSS and you even look at Russia beat about women or diversity or different types of units. Are there things we’re not thinking about from being in their shoes that we should be thinking about in preparation to deter in the future? Thanks.
MS. SMITH: Thank you. Ian, do you want to start this –
MR. BRZEZINSKI: Sure, sure. Let me just go back to the previous set of questions for a quick point. I want to add an important point, complement to Evelyn’s point on, you know, you need to have real fire power in these forward based units that NATO put out. I really wanted to second your point about these really should be permanent. I fall on that camp.
These deployments also have to reflect equitable burden-sharing in the alliance. And I’m really concerned that we have a major muscle movement, I would say maybe not enough, but still, it’s a major muscle movement by the Obama administration reversing their withdrawal of forces from Europe. Putting an ABC – a armored brigade combat team into Europe, throwing another pre-post set on top of that, maybe throwing another battalion on top of that, all four enhance forward presence. And all I’m reading – and I’m out of it, so I may be missing things, but all I’m reading is a German battalion, a UK battalion, a possibly a Canadian battalion. Where are the French? The French command – allied command transformation, they do 2nd Strategic Command. Where are they? Where’re the Italians? Where’re the Spanish? Where’re the Benelux? How come they’re not punching more in?
I’m worried that there isn’t real fair burden-sharing in this deployment. We’re going to take a real act of determination and resolve by the alliance and transform it into a re-animated divisive burden-sharing debate. So I’m looking for the West Europeans to punch up, aside from the Germans who are doing that.
All right. Baltic States, what’s the end game? My sense is – and this is my personal sense – I don’t think Putin’s there conniving about whether he’s going to seize the Baltics. I think he wants to form a Soviet space minus the Baltics. What I’m worried about in that region is inadvertent conflict. Because the Russians have become increasingly provocative. And there could be a mistake, a collision that can unleash their locked in plans that we’re not going to be prepared for.
We have to deter that. Sitting passively, as we have, over the last several couple of years, in response to the invasion of Ukraine, has not done the right thing. Since February 2014, Russia has become more brazen, more provocative. It sees weakness, it exploits it. So that’s why I emphasize the conventional side of contingencies of that region. And a big fear that I have – the big fear that I have for the Baltic region is that there’s such a buildup over there by the Russians in contrast to us. That the Russians stay on a position where they could execute a sudden mass movement to seize limited territory along its periphery and complete that mission well before the North Atlantic Council straighten their ties, sit down, and decide what had happened and whether or not to reverse it. And that’s what this – this is all about deterring.
Russia, one thing that’s missing in our conversation is that as we do these things, we also need to continue engaging the Russians. We should always be extending a hand of partnership out to them. That doesn’t preclude us from acting with resolution and with determination and with force, but we need to have that communication if and only to reestablish those kind of confidence building measures and rules of the road to minimize the risk of inadvertent conflict.
Little green men, little green men to me are not a hybrid deal. They are regular soldiers without their uniforms on. And Crimea was not a hybrid invasion. There were two companies that came out. Everyone knew who they were. Nobody in the West wanted to recognize who they were. And then, they were rapidly followed up by 20,000 to 30,000 little green men. Now, that wasn’t a spontaneous action by the local Ukrainian hunting club. We knew where they all flew in. Those were conventional forces. And when you deal with conventional forces, you can deal with them with your own conventional forces.
That’s kind of my response to the little green men. We’ll see more of them, but little green men wasn’t an effective subterfuge to confuse the West. What was effective by the little green men, it gave them a rationale to cover up the lack of will to respond forcefully to that.
MS. SMITH: Yeah. Evelyn, last word?
MS. FARKAS: Well, so I agree with that on the little green men. I do think, though, oftentimes we use the term and I guess I use it to talk about any kind of group that could come in or that might be already there funded by the Russians that would then be their fifth column, if you will, to use old Cold War language, to help them foment a crisis and then sort of take control a la Eastern Ukraine, you know, of a building. And then, through that, kind of start a movement, et cetera.
So I think it is a real – that is a real challenge and I think we recognized in the game and in real life that if it’s conventional and we have the will, we got it, but it’s a lot – I mean, having said everything we said before with those caveats. But if it’s unconventional or there’s kind of – whatever you want to call, little green men, it’s a lot harder.
I mean, allies – I think Ian put it very well – you know, we need to see more understanding of the threat coming from the Western Europeans, and more skin in the game. I’ll leave it at that because there’s a lot more I can say about I coming off of – you can read who was that in Saint Petersburg, at the Economic Forum, and what they said.
Then, what informed us about red lines? I didn’t mention it earlier, but we had this track two going, where Ambassador Grossman and I – I was a foreign minister and he was, I guess, the secretary of state. And we had this track two going. The problem was – so in that track two, I think what we’re trying to find out was what are the red line and what’s maybe some kind of solution. And it failed because all we communicated to one another was resolve. And we couldn’t get beyond that. And part of it was, I think, because our teams truly were dug in and they – nobody had worked out a compromise. We didn’t – interestingly enough, even in the course of two days, nobody thought, let’s try to foil this game of Julie’s and come up with a compromise and send it through the track two.
So, you know, in retrospect, if I had a little more – you know, now – next year, when we do it – (laughs) – you know, I’ll be a little more creative there. And then, I think on the end game, I would like to say there that I agree with Ian. You know, I see the Kremlin wanting to exert political and economic control of its periphery, which is the Eastern European, Central Asian, the old Soviet space minus the Baltic States because I do believe that Putin and the Kremlin has a healthy respect for Article 5.
However, I would caveat that with the very real understanding that if the Kremlin sees weakness, they might be tempted. And it would depend on, you know, sort of like that answer it depends, it would depend on what is going on internally because their number one objective is stay in power. And the way they do that is show on TV all the conflicts and how the military’s doing great job. So if they had a chance, you know, and it looked like they could get away with it, they might try something with these, you know, little green people or whatever, these activists inside Baltia.
And the other thing I would say is that – but I guess that’s the main point. I mean, just that it could be tempting, so therefore, we have to maintain our political will, as well as our military deterrence.
Oh, I know, and the last point I wanted to make is that ultimately, if the Kremlin could do it, of course, they would love to destroy NATO and the EU. And all the players in the game were acutely aware that if we capitulated and the Russians got their – so we, Groslandia, also knew, if we got our way and these guys went away and let us keep our little hybrid people, you know, in that town and maintain a beach head in Baltia that allows then Moscow to continue to – sorry, Groslandia to continue to exercise influence over Baltia, that we would have then won and it would have been sort of the first step towards breaking apart NATO because NATO would not have succeeded through Article 5 in defending Baltia. And it would have resulted also in the EU being weaken because, in our scenario, the EU was running around trying to play an active role.
So I think, you know, we just have to make sure we, the West, that there’s nothing tempting about it and that the Kremlin continues to understand the meaning of Article 5.
MS. SMITH: Great, well, thanks to all of you for giving us a chance to try something new and different. We wanted to spice it up a little bit and not give you just another panel over lunch. Thanks for using the app and giving it a go. Very interestingly, only is only as much you can do in the span of an hour, but I know I have a couple of interesting takeaways.
We’re going to continue work in this space, particularly in the Nordic Baltic neighborhood. We hope that you’ll all stay engaged with CNAS, but right now, please join me in thanking our two panelists today. (Applause.) Thanks so much and we’ve got to get settled into our seats. Vice President Biden should be with us in about 10-15 minutes. Thanks so much.
MR. BRZEZINSKI: Thank you.
MS. SMITH: That was perfect.
MR. BRZEZINSKI: That was a lot of fun.
MS. SMITH: Yeah, it was great.