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The Post-INF European Missile Balance: Thinking About NATO’s Deterrence Strategy

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Abstract

The demise of the INF Treaty in 2019 raises questions about the future of deterrence in Europe. For more than a decade, Russia has sought to leverage the potential of precision-strike technologies to strengthen its missile arsenal, having developed systems that either violated INF range regulations or were just below the threshold. As the termination of the treaty removes any outstanding legal barriers to the deployment of ground-based, “theater-range” systems, questions related to the missile balance become central to European security. Of particular importance is the Baltic region, where Russia appears to have acquired a position of “local escalation dominance” that could drive a strategic wedge within NATO. In this essay, we assess what a post-INF Treaty context may mean in light of recent NATO efforts to deter Russia. We argue that the introduction of ground-based, theater-range missiles could help NATO restore the local strategic balance in the Baltic region, thereby strengthening deterrence and helping to create the necessary leverage to get Russia back into meaningful arms control talks in the future.
The Scholar
Luis Simón
Alexander Lanoszka
Texas National Security Review: Volume 3, Issue 3 (Autumn 2020)
Print: ISSN 2576-1021 Online: ISSN 2576-1153
The Post-INF European Missile Balance: Thinking About NATO’s Deterrence Strategy
13
The demise of the INF Treaty in 2019 raises questions about
the future of deterrence in Europe. For more than a decade,
Russia has sought to leverage the potential of precision-strike
technologies to strengthen its missile arsenal, having developed
systems that either violated INF range regulations or were just
below the threshold. As the termination of the treaty removes
any outstanding legal barriers to the deployment of ground-
based, “theater-range” systems, questions related to the missile
balance become central to European security. Of particular
importance is the Baltic region, where Russia appears to have
acquired a position of “local escalation dominance” that could
drive a strategic wedge within NATO. In this essay, we assess
what a post-INF Treaty context may mean in light of recent NATO
efforts to deter Russia. We argue that the introduction of ground-
based, theater-range missiles could help NATO restore the local
strategic balance in the Baltic region, thereby strengthening
deterrence and helping to create the necessary leverage to get
Russia back into meaningful arms control talks in the future.
1 See, Thomas G. Mahnken, “Weapons: The Growth and Spread of the Precision Strike Regime,” Daedalus 140, no. 3 (Summer 2011): 45–57,
https://www.jstor.org/stable/23047347. For another view regarding U.S. military superiority, see, Andrea Gilli and Mauro Gilli, “Why China Has not
Caught Up Yet: Military-Technological Superiority and the Limits of Imitation, Reverse Engineering, and Cyber Espionage,” International Security 43,
no. 3 (Winter 2018/19): 141–89, https://doi.org/10.1162/isec_a_00337.
2 Stephan Frühling and Guillaume Lasconjarias, “NATO, A2/AD and the Kaliningrad Challenge,” Survival 58, no. 2 (2016): 96, https://doi.org/10.
1080/00396338.2016.1161906; Luis Simón, “The ‘Third’ US Offset Strategy and Europe’s ‘Anti-access’ Challenge,” Journal of Strategic Studies 39, no.
3 (2016): 417–45, https://doi.org/10.1080/01402390.2016.1163260; Fabrice Pothier, “An Area-Access Strategy for NATO,” Survival 59, no. 3 (2017):
73–80, https://doi.org/10.1080/00396338.2017.1325600; Robert Dalsjö, Christofer Berglund, and Michael Jonsson, Bursting the Bubble: Russian
A2/AD in the Baltic Sea Region: Capabilities, Countermeasures, and Implications (Stockholm: Swedish Defense Research Agency [FOI], 2019); Alex-
ander Lanoszka and Michael A. Hunzeker, Conventional Deterrence and Landpower in Northeastern Europe (Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute,
2019); and Keir Giles and Mathieu Boulegue, “Russia’s A2/AD Capabilities: Real and Imagined,” Parameters 49, no. 1-2 (Spring/Summer 2019): 21–36.
Precision-guided technologies, once con-
fined to the United States and its allies,
have become increasingly available to
other countries, including Russia and
China. Those specific countries have leveraged
such technologies to acquire military capabili-
ties like precision-guided anti-ship, anti-aircraft,
land-attack, and anti-satellite cruise and ballistic
missiles.1 Accordingly, many observers and analysts
worry about the sustainability of U.S. deterrence
in Europe and East Asia. In Europe specifically,
ever since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014,
a debate has unfolded around Moscow’s short-
and medium-range missiles, and their potential to
undermine regional deterrence.2 Russia has been
consistently investing in precision-strike systems
since the mid-2000s. In so doing, it has added to its
growing arsenal of advanced land-based missiles in
Kaliningrad and its Western Military District, as
well as several sea- and air-launched missiles as-
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14
signed to the Kaliningrad-based Baltic Fleet and
elsewhere. Complementing these capabilities are
Russia’s efforts to modernize and expand its mis-
sile defense system, aimed at both strengthening
Russian defenses in case of Western retaliation and
securing a missile architecture that can perform of-
fensive functions. Critically, the termination of the
Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in
2019 — which had prohibited land-based missiles
with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers —
removes any possible barriers to Russia fully ex-
ploiting its technological advances to deploy more
theater-range missiles on land.3
Theater-range missiles constitute the center-
piece of what many observers describe to be Rus-
sia’s anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) strategy in the
Baltic region.4 The purpose of Russia’s short- and
medium-range missile architecture in this area
— and the broader A2/AD strategy it purportedly
supports — is to interdict efforts by the United
States and its North Atlantic Treaty Organization
(NATO) allies to enter and to operate in the air and
maritime space across the region. Put differently,
if Russia were to try to take the Baltic countries,
NATO would have to pay a prohibitively high price
in trying to burst the Russian A2/AD bubble.5 Rus-
sia thus aims to undermine the credibility of the
deterrence guarantees that the United States and,
to a lesser extent, Western Europe have extended
to Eastern European allies, while shifting the local
strategic and political balance in its favor.
Some experts have raised skepticism about Rus-
sian capabilities and strategy, whereas the broad-
er utility of the A2/AD concept has been subject to
mounting criticism in both Asia and Europe.6 To be
sure, Russia’s A2/AD bubble is not impenetrable.7
The promise of NATO — and, in particular, U.S.,
British, and French — air-to-ground and ship- and
submarine-launched missiles partly offsets any lo-
cal advantages Russia may have in the Baltic re-
gion. Moreover, NATO’s recent decision to deploy
multinational battalions in the Baltic states and Po-
3
“Theater-range missiles” refer to those missiles that are based in the theater of operations in question — Europe in this case — and can reach
different targets within that very theater. Theater-range missiles thus include short-, medium-, and intermediate-range missiles. The latter two were
covered by the INF Treaty.
4 See, footnote 2.
5 Pothier, “An Area-Access Strategy for NATO.”
6 See, e.g., Giles and Boulegue, “Russia’s A2/AD Capabilities”; Michael Kofman, “It’s Time to Talk About A2/AD: Rethinking the Russian Military
Challenge,” War on the Rocks, Sept. 5, 2019, https://warontherocks.com/2019/09/its-time-to-talk-about-a2-ad-rethinking-the-russian-military-
challenge/; John Richardson, “Deconstructing A2/AD,” The National Interest, Oct. 3, 2016, http://nationalinterest.org/feature/chief-naval-opera-
tions-adm-john-richardson-deconstructing-17918; and B.J. Armstrong, “The Shadow of Air-Sea Battle and the Sinking of A2/AD,” War on the Rocks,
Oct. 5, 2016, https://warontherocks.com/2016/10/the-shadow-of-air-sea-battle-and-the-sinking-of-a2ad/.
7 Dalsjö, Berglund, and Jonsson, “Bursting the Bubble.”
8 “NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence: Factsheet,” NATO, May 2017, https://www.nato.int/nato_static_fl2014/assets/pdf/pd-
f_2017_05/1705-factsheet-efp.pdf.
9 See, Diego A. Ruiz Palmer, “Back to the Future? Russia’s Hybrid Warfare, Revolutions in Military Affairs, and Cold War Comparisons,” NATO
Defense College, Research Paper No. 120 (October 2015).
land demonstrates that older NATO members have
“skin” in the local deterrence game.8 Nevertheless,
bringing those combat aircraft and long-range
missiles to bear could be profoundly escalatory
because Russia will almost certainly reject NATO
precision-strikes in its territory. Moreover, that the
local missile balance favors Russia raises questions
about NATO’s ability to bring airpower into the
theater. At worst, the evolving missile balance in
the Baltic region gives Russia local escalation dom-
inance, thereby undermining deterrence. At best,
the perception of Russian local escalation domi-
nance — and Moscow’s sustained efforts to decou-
ple local, regional, and global levels of deterrence
— will drive a wedge within the alliance, enabling
Russia to behave more aggressively even without
engaging in traditional military operations.9 Simply
put, Russia can leverage its improved missile capa-
bilities not only to sever Europe from North Amer-
ica in security terms, but also European countries
from each other. How should NATO respond?
We make two claims in this essay. First, whatever
our feelings regarding the A2/AD concept, Russian
advances in deploying theater-range missiles mean
that the Baltic region is likely to remain a contest-
ed environment. NATO countries would pay dear-
ly in defending against conventional aggression if
deterrence were to fail. The three Baltic countries
of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania might receive re-
inforcements in the event of war, but they still have
incentives to prepare for contingencies lest those
reinforcements are slow to arrive or suffer high at-
trition rates. Second, and critically, NATO defense
planners should reconsider the missile balance,
which is likely to become the center of gravity of
deterrence and security in Europe in a post-INF
and maturing precision-strike context. Our main
contribution is to examine how theater-range mis-
siles could help strengthen deterrence in NATO’s
northeastern flank — that is, Poland and the three
Baltic countries — by giving NATO more inter-
mediate options on the deterrence ladder. NATO
The Post-INF European Missile Balance: Thinking About NATO’s Deterrence Strategy
15
Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has ruled out
nuclear-tipped missiles, but has implicitly allowed
for the possibility of conventional missiles being
deployed.10 We specifically make the case for the
deployment of ground-based, land-attack, theat-
er-range, road-mobile conventional missiles in
Europe.11 These missiles can hold at risk Russian
assets, whether in Kaliningrad or elsewhere, while
pushing Russia to make costly investments aimed
at trying to improve its own capabilities. Such a
move would help restore the local strategic bal-
ance in a post-INF context, thus creating leverage
to get Russia back into meaningful arms control
talks in the future. Moreover, as COVID-19 will
likely take a toll on defense spending, NATO will
be compelled to look for cost-efficient solutions to
deterrence. Ground-based, theater-range missiles
may be cheaper than existing alternatives such as
additional F-35s or Rafales.
The fact that Washington has begun to think
about the potential role of ground-based, theat-
er-range missiles in strengthening deterrence in
East Asia could lead to important synergies, in that
some of the technologies and systems developed
could also be used in a European context. For ex-
ample, upgrading U.S. Army programs like the Mul-
tiple Launch Rocket System and the High Mobility
Artillery Rocket System with longer-range missiles
such as the U.S. Army’s Tactical Missile Sys-
tem could offer relatively fast and cost-efficient
solutions to close the local missile gap in the Baltic
region. However, any NATO response to Russia’s
local missile advantage should be as collective and
widely distributed as possible. In this regard, Po-
land’s plans to introduce the above systems means
that upgrades to them could pave the way for a
European contribution to NATO’s theater-range
missile capabilities.12 Moreover, allies located with-
in range of Russian missiles can also play an im-
portant role by hosting missiles in their territories,
ensuring their own security and, in the case of Ger-
many and Poland at least, even taking part in the
future development of theater-range missile sys-
tems. Beyond such measures, those more capable
Western European allies that are eager to assert
10 “Secretary General: NATO Response to INF Treaty Demise Will Be Measured and Responsible,” NATO, Aug. 2, 2019, https://www.nato.int/
cps/en/natohq/news_168177.htm. Other types of missiles, including anti-ship or anti-air missiles, could complement these missiles. However, we
confine our analysis to ground-based missiles, especially because the termination of the INF Treaty permits their possible deployment in Europe.
11 Given the unwieldiness of this phrase, we use “ground-based, theater-range missiles” as an imprecise shorthand in its place.
12 Allen Cone, “Lockheed Awarded $492.1M to Produce HIMARS for U.S., Poland, Romania,” UPI, July 16, 2019, https://www.upi.com/De-
fense-News/2019/07/16/Lockheed-awarded-4921M-to-produce-HIMARS-for-US-Poland-Romania/7991563279020/.
13 In recent years, a so-called fourth wave in deterrence theory has focused on non-traditional areas, addressing such questions as how to deter
non-state actors or how to achieve deterrence in cyberspace. See, e.g., Jeffrey W. Knopf, “The Fourth Wave in Deterrence Research,” Contem-
porary Security Policy 31, no. 1 (2010): 1–33, https://doi.org/10.1080/13523261003640819; Uri Tor, “‘Cumulative Deterrence’ as a New Paradigm
for Cyber Deterrence,” Journal of Strategic Studies 40, no. 1-2 (2017): 92–117, https://doi.org/10.1080/01402390.2015.1115975. On the differ-
ent waves in deterrence theory, see, Robert Jervis, “Deterrence Theory Revisited,” World Politics 31, no. 2 (January 1979): 289–324, https://doi.
org/10.2307/2009945; and Colin S. Gray, Strategic Studies: A Critical Assessment (London: Aldwych Press, 1982), 15–17.
their strategic and technological autonomy should
think harder about developing ground-based,
theater-range missile capabilities.
This essay proceeds as follows. We begin with a
discussion of how missiles matter for deterrence,
arguing that their importance will grow in Europe
(and, for that matter, East Asia) given the prolifer-
ation of precision-strike technologies and the de-
mise of the INF Treaty. We then examine the evolu-
tion of the European missile balance since the end
of the Cold War, focusing mainly on NATO’s north-
eastern flank, and assess how the local missile
balance affects NATO’s deterrence posture in that
region. We go on to propose several measures that
are now available to NATO and the United States
for addressing existing deterrence gaps in the new
post-INF environment. Specifically, we argue in
favor of deploying ground-based, theater-range
missiles in Europe and discuss their advantages
vis-à-vis other missiles and how they may relate
to other elements of NATO’s deterrence strategy.
We also address potential counterarguments to
their deployment. In the conclusion, we discuss
how the debate over ground-based, theater-range
missiles may tie in to the debate over transatlantic
burden-sharing and identify a number of relevant
questions going forward.
Deterrence Theory, Missiles,
and the INF Treaty
Because our argument centers on how ground-
based, theater-range missiles can enhance deter-
rence, it is helpful to review what is the theoretical
motivation underpinning this mission. Put plainly,
deterrence aims at preventing an adversary from
using military force to revise the status quo. The
scholarly literature on deterrence can be broken
down into three waves.13 The first wave grappled
with the advent of nuclear weapons following the
end of World War II. In this period of nuclear unipo-
larity, deterrence theory was largely detached from
policy discussions. The second wave of deterrence
theory — its purported golden age — ran until the
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16
end of the 1960s. Building on the problems and as-
sumptions identified during the previous wave, the
second wave became inextricably tied to policy dis-
cussions, as the Soviet Union’s development of nu-
clear weapons and delivery systems compelled U.S.
decision-makers to think about deterrence in a bi-
polar context characterized by parity or near pari-
ty. Scholars like Bernard Brodie, Thomas Schelling,
or Hermann Kahn assumed a rational actor model
and applied game theory to nuclear strategy. With
the focus mostly on the deterrence relationship be-
tween the two superpowers, deterrence revolved
around the threat of punishment, and — more spe-
cifically — that of mutual assured destruction.
The third wave developed in reaction to the sec-
ond by trying to remedy its perceived gaps. It chal-
lenged the assumption of rationality and empha-
sized the psychological, cultural, and other real-life
factors that make deterrence inherently complex.
In doing so, it focused on empirical analysis rather
than abstract modeling. Importantly for our pur-
poses, this wave of deterrence theory sought to ad-
14 Paul K. Huth, “Extended Deterrence and the Outbreak of War,” American Political Science Review 82, no. 2 (June 1988): 423–43, https://doi.
org/10.2307/1957394.
15 Barry Buzan, An Introduction to Strategic Studies: Military Technology and International Relations (London: Macmillan, 1987), 157.
16 See, Colin S. Gray, “War-Fighting for Deterrence,” Journal of Strategic Studies 7, no. 1 (1984): 5–28, https://doi.
org/10.1080/01402398408437174.
17 For a seminal discussion on denial and punishment, see, Glenn H. Snyder, Deterrence and Defense: Toward a Theory of National Security
(Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1961).
18 See, Patrick M. Morgan, Deterrence Now (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003); and Stephen L. Quackenbush, “Deterrence
Theory: Where Do We Stand?” Review of International Studies 37, no. 2 (April 2011): 741–62, https://doi.org/10.1017/S0260210510000896.
dress the problem of extended deterrence — that
is, those situations aimed at deterring an adver-
sary from attacking one’s allies.14 Because the So-
viet Union achieved nuclear parity with the United
States by the early 1970s, the association between
successful deterrence and having intermediate
options between doing nothing and declaring all-
out war gained traction in U.S. strategic circles.15
This consideration produced the notion of limited
nuclear war and other warfighting doctrines, thus
heralding a shift in deterrence thinking toward
denial strategies that are based on the ability and
willingness to fight effectively against adversar-
ies.16 Of course, punishment strategies remained
in place as the ultimate threat at the top of
the escalation ladder. Yet, theorists paid more
attention to escalation at lower levels of con-
flict that might arise from adversaries prob-
ing extended deterrence commitments. De-
terrence-by-punishment thus co-exists with
deterrence-by-denial:17 The former threatens
to inflict unacceptable costs in one fell swoop,
whereas the latter implements measures that
would make a given action operationally difficult to
execute and prohibitively costly. Denial is often the
default option for the weaker party in a deterrence
relationship because the weaker party presumably
has fewer options for counter-escalation, encour-
aging it to use asymmetric means to raise the per-
ceived costs of an attack.
To simplify the theory in light of these waves
of scholarship, deterrence is operative when sev-
eral conditions hold.18 First, the deterring state
communicates which actions involving military
force are unacceptable. Second, the deterring
state indicates its ability and willingness to
impose prohibitively high costs only if the ad-
versary engages in those unacceptable actions.
Third, the adversary judges that the likely costs
for using force are unacceptable and so refrains
from the proscribed behavior.
Deterrence theory has been subject to intense
criticism on analytical grounds, not least because it
hinges on the adversary having certain intentions
The Post-INF European Missile Balance: Thinking About NATO’s Deterrence Strategy
17
regarding the status quo despite intentions being
extremely difficult to divine.19 Just because noth-
ing happened does not mean deterrence worked.
For example, some scholars argue that deterrence
was not operative in Europe during the Cold War
because the Soviet Union never contemplated
launching a surprise invasion of Western Europe.20
Nevertheless, because we do not know whether
the Soviet Union would not have attacked West-
ern Europe in the absence of NATO and any for-
ward-deployed military forces, we cannot dismiss
the possibility that deterrence was psychologically
in effect. From a planning perspective, deterrence
theory thus remains a guide for thinking about
crisis prevention and management under circum-
stances of profound uncertainty.
The military balance factors into the cost-ben-
efit analysis that underpins deterrence. In this
essay, we address the missile balance in Europe,
focusing specifically on how it may affect deter-
rence in NATO’s northeastern flank. The missile
balance refers to the missile capabilities — both
offensive and defensive — of two states or coali-
tions. Since missiles pertain to the air domain, the
missile balance is intimately linked to the airpow-
er balance, which, in turn, affects the broader mil-
itary balance that underpins deterrence relation-
ships.21 Yet, the particularities of missiles warrant
giving the missile balance a separate treatment.
Likewise, the specificities of NATO’s northeastern
flank — buffered from the southeastern flank by
Belarus and Ukraine and delimited in the north
by the Baltic Sea and non-NATO partners Sweden
and Finland — makes it deserving of individual
analytical treatment, especially given its proximi-
ty to Russia’s power base.22 However, the military
balance, much less the missile balance, in NATO’s
northeastern flank cannot be isolated from the
broader regional or even global balance of power
between NATO and Russia. Ultimately, deterrence
rests on the promise that any of the parties can
engage in some form of escalation, which means
that all the capabilities possessed by the United
States and its allies (both in Europe and globally)
19 See, e.g., Robert Jervis, Perception and Misperception in International Politics (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1976); and Charles
L. Glaser, “Political Consequences of Military Strategy: Expanding and Refining the Spiral and Deterrence Models,” World Politics 44, no. 4 (July
1992): 497–538, https://doi.org/10.2307/2010486; and David M. Edelstein, “Managing Uncertainty: Beliefs About Intentions and the Rise of Great
Powers,” Security Studies 12, no. 1 (Autumn 2002): 1–40.
20 Richard Ned Lebow and Janice Gross Stein, “Deterrence and the Cold War,”Political Science Quarterly 110, no. 2 (Summer 1995): 157–81,
https://www.jstor.org/stable/2152358.
21 Lebow and Stein, “Deterrence and the Cold War,” 13.
22
See, Luis Simón, “Assessing NATO’s Eastern European ‘Flank,’” Parameters 44, no. 3 (Autumn 2014): 67–79.
23 On NATO’s limited escalation options, see, Michael Fitzsimmons, “Horizontal Escalation: An Asymmetric Approach to Russian Aggression?”
Strategic Studies Quarterly 13, no. 1 (Spring 2019): 95–133, https://www.jstor.org/stable/26585376.
24 Bruce M. Sugden, “Speed Kills: Analyzing the Deployment of Conventional Ballistic Missiles,” International Security 34, no. 1 (Summer 2009):
121–23, https://doi.org/10.1162/isec.2009.34.1.113.
should be considered when examining their de-
terrence relationship with Russia.23 And so, in as-
sessing the missile balance in NATO’s northeast-
ern flank, we highlight its broader functional and
geographical connections.
Missiles and missile defense systems come in
many forms. Missiles vary on the basis of their
means of propulsion, type of trajectory, range,
and payload. With respect to propulsion, three
different types of missiles exist. Ballistic missiles
are rocket-propelled before following a largely
unpowered, parabolic, and free-falling trajecto-
ry toward their target. Jet engines propel cruise
missiles, which, although they are normally slow-
er, are more maneuverable than ballistic missiles
because of their constant propulsion. Hypersonic
boost-glide weapons are initially powered by a bal-
listic missile or a rocket booster but largely glide
on a non-parabolic trajectory. They are also more
maneuverable than ballistic missiles, although
slower. Missiles can be ground-launched (deliv-
ered from a silo or mobile platform), air-launched
(delivered from an aircraft), or sea-launched (de-
livered from a submarine or destroyer). Regard-
ing range, there are four different categories of
missiles: short range (less than 1,000 km), medi-
um range (1,000–3,000 km), intermediate range
(3,000–5,500 km), and intercontinental (traveling
more than 5,500 km). Missiles can also vary in
their guidance systems, especially if they are di-
rected at moving targets. A final, relevant category
relates to payload and yield. Missiles are capable
of delivering conventional or nuclear payloads, or
both. Warheads themselves can also vary by yield,
with some new high-yield conventional missiles
now being developed in the United States.24 Mis-
siles that have trouble overcoming enemy defens-
es are less effective for deterrence, whereas those
that do not are more effective because they poten-
tially hold at risk assets that the adversary values.
Accordingly, missile defense systems themselves
feature different characteristics with regard to
the type and range of the missile it is intercept-
ing (strategic, theater, or tactical), the trajectory
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18
phase where the interception occurs (boost, mid-
course, or terminal phase), and whether the inter-
ception takes place inside or outside the Earth’s
atmosphere.25
Throughout the Cold War, the missile bal-
ance was central to the East-West competition
and to deterrence in Europe. Although missiles
favor offense over defense, the notion that de-
fending against them would be too costly and
difficult meant that they posed an effective de-
terrent. Indeed, the Soviet Union decided ear-
ly in the Cold War to develop ballistic missiles
rather than bombers for its nuclear deterrent.26
Its deployment of the intermediate-range ballis-
tic SS-20 missile caused tensions with NATO be-
cause the intermediate-range missile exclusively
posed a risk to targets in Europe, thereby threat-
ening to decouple NATO allies from the United
States. Beseeched by allies like West Germany,
which worried about the quality of U.S. extended
nuclear deterrence, and after much intense de-
bate within the alliance, the United States and
NATO adopted the Dual-Track Decision in 1979.
The Dual-Track Decision called for deploying the
ground-based Pershing II ballistic missiles and
the longer-range BGM-109G Gryphon cruise mis-
siles while pushing for a mutual limit on such
intermediate forces.27 This decision was hugely
controversial among European publics at the
time. Nevertheless, thanks to the effective in-
tegration of their technological advantages in
electronics, computing, the Global Positioning
System, and stealth, the United States and its
allies were able to develop precision-strike sys-
tems, thereby outpacing the Soviet Union in mil-
itary-technological terms.28 These developments
worried the Soviet Union: The progressive con-
solidation of precision-strike technologies un-
derscored the growing importance of conven-
tional military power for deterrence and, more
specifically, that of missiles.29 The Soviet leader-
25 For a more comprehensive discussion on missile defense, see, Thomas Karako, ed., Missile Defense and Defeat: Considerations for the New
Policy Review (Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2017).
26 Pavel Podvig, ed., Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001), 4–5.
27 Leopoldo Nuti, “The Origins of the 1979 Dual Track Decision – A Survey,” in The Crisis of Détente in Europe: From Helsinki to Gorbachev,
1975–1985, ed. Leopoldo Nuti (London: Routledge, 2009).
28 See, e.g., Mahnken, “Weapons.” To be sure, Russia still had about 360 SS-20s opposite to NATO at the time, each with three nuclear war-
heads. Thus, it was well above the number of NATO Long-Range Theater Nuclear Forces warheads.
29 Mary C. FitzGerald, “Marshal Ogarkov on the Modern Theater Operation,” Naval War College Review 39, no. 4 (Autumn 1986): 6–25, https://
digital-commons.usnwc.edu/nwc-review/vol39/iss4/3/. See also, Amy Wilson, “Computer Gap: The Soviet Union’s Missed Revolution and Its Impli-
cations for Russian Technology Policy,”Problems of Post-Communism56, no. 4 (2009): 41–51, https://doi.org/10.2753/PPC1075-8216560404.
30 Podvig, Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces, 18.
31 We thank Lt. Gen. (ret.) Ben Hodges, U.S. Army, for this point.
32 See, e.g., Mahnken, “Weapons.”
33 Justin V. Anderson and Amy J. Nelson. “The INF Treaty: A Spectacular, Inflexible, Time-Bound Success,” Strategic Studies Quarterly 13, no. 2
(Summer 2019): 97–98, https://www.airuniversity.af.edu/Portals/10/SSQ/documents/Volume-13_Issue-2/Anderson.pdf.
ship feared that U.S. modernization efforts could
lead to a first-strike capability.30 That NATO went
forward with its missile deployments despite do-
mestic opposition demonstrated a strong polit-
ical will on the part of the alliance’s leaders to
pursue deterrence.31 In the end, the pressure of
Western precision-strike capabilities on the So-
viets helped pave the way for the signing of the
INF Treaty between the Soviet Union and the
United States in 1987, subsequently making the
missile balance much less important in Europe-
an security discussions.
The INF Treaty prohibited the signatories from
developing and fielding medium- and interme-
diate-range, land-based missiles regardless of
whether they were armed with a nuclear weapon.
Air- and sea-launched missiles, however, were still
permitted. Moreover, by excluding intercontinen-
tal missiles from its prohibitions, the INF Treaty
preserved mutual deterrence while removing Eu-
rope’s status as a key battleground or bargaining
chip in U.S.-Soviet relations. From Moscow’s per-
spective, the INF Treaty made strategic sense.32
The Soviet Union could not keep pace with the
U.S.-led precision-strike revolution given the eco-
nomic difficulties and bureaucratic paralysis it
was experiencing in the 1980s. It became too vul-
nerable to the precision-strike systems that would
allow the United States to “see deep” and “strike
deep” into Eastern European territory.33 With the
INF Treaty, the United States would no longer be
able to target Soviet (and later Russian) territo-
ry with missiles positioned on European soil. The
extended nuclear deterrence mission never went
away, even after the Soviet Union collapsed. Still,
in subsequent years, thanks largely to advances
in precision-strike technologies and capabilities,
the United States became so vastly superior to
its potential adversaries in terms of conventional
military power that deterrence could be assumed.
The Post-INF European Missile Balance: Thinking About NATO’s Deterrence Strategy
19
The Evolving Missile Balance
in Northeastern Europe
Despite the so-called peace dividend of the 1990s
that the INF Treaty helped bring about, concerns
about the missile balance slowly regained salience
in the early 2000s. Because that agreement was
confined to the United States and Russia, China
was able to develop the capabilities covered by
the INF Treaty in order to strengthen its strate-
gic position in East Asia. And so, beginning in the
late 2000s, U.S. defense experts started to worry
that China’s exemption from the INF Treaty and
its efforts to incorporate precision-strike systems
into its military were allowing the country to de-
velop an A2/AD envelope in East Asia, thereby un-
dermining America’s strategic position in the re-
gion and eroding regional deterrence.34 In Europe,
relations between Russia and the West worsened
over the course of the 2000s, with each side blam-
ing the other for causing tensions. Russian lead-
ers protested NATO enlargement and decried the
decision of the Bush administration to withdraw
from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002 — a
move that the United States said was necessary for
confronting new missile threats from countries like
Iran. For their part, the United States and its NATO
allies saw in Russia an increasingly authoritarian,
revisionist power willing to weaponize energy sup-
plies in neighborly disputes and perpetuate frozen
conflicts in territories that were once part of the
Soviet Union.35
Most alarmingly, at a time when European de-
fense budgets remained low, Russia used its natural
gas revenue to fund major increases in its military
spending in the 2000s. This uptick in defense ex-
penditures facilitated Russian advances in preci-
sion-guided missiles, including the 9K720 Iskander
and the Kalibr cruise missile family. The land-based
Iskander was already being designed in the 1990s,
finally entering into service in 2007, and has since
featured prominently in military exercises.36 The
34 See, e.g., Thomas G. Mahnken, “China’s Anti-Access Strategy in Historical and Theoretical Perspective,” Journal of Strategic Studies 34, no. 3
(2011): 299–323, https://doi.org/10.1080/01402390.2011.574971; and Evan Braden Montgomery, “Contested Primacy in the Western Pacific: China’s
Rise and the Future of U.S. Power Projection,” International Security 38, no. 4 (Spring 2014): 115–49.
35 For a discussion on U.S. deterrence strategy in an era of great-power competition, see, Elbridge Colby, “Against the Great Powers: Reflections on
Balancing Nuclear and Conventional Power,” Texas National Security Review 2, no. 1 (November 2018): 144–52, http://dx.doi.org/10.26153/tsw/864.
36 Some observers argue that Russia may aim to inflict “prescribed or ‘dosed’ … levels of damage” against opponents. See, Dave Johnson, “Russia’s
Conventional Precision Strike Capabilities, Regional Crises, and Nuclear Thresholds,” Livermore Papers on Global Security, no. 3 (February 2018): 46.
37 Tor Bukkvol and Roger N. McDermott, Russia in the Precision-Strike Regime — Military Theory, Procurement, and Operational Impact (Oslo:
Norwegian Defence Research Agency [FFI], 2017), 11–14.
38 For a discussion of Russia’s evolving missile capabilities as they relate to the INF Treaty, see, Douglas Barrie, “Allegation, Counter-Allegation
and the INF Treaty,” Survival 59, no. 4 (2017): 35–43, https://doi.org/10.1080/00396338.2017.1349768. For an overview of how missile forces have
evolved in the post-Cold War context, see, Ian Anthony, “European Security After the INF Treaty,” Survival 59, no. 6 (2017): 61–76, https://doi.org/10
.1080/00396338.2017.1399728.
39 Frühling and Lasconjarias, “NATO, A2/AD, and the Kaliningrad Challenge,” 96.
40 We thank Diego Ruiz Palmer for this point.
Iskander-M variant is mounted on ground-based
transporter erector launchers and has a range of up
to 500 km, thereby extending Russia’s missile reach
to cover the Baltic states in their entirety as well
as much of Poland. Ground, air, and sea platforms
could launch Kalibr missiles to ranges up to 1,500
km, reaching almost as far as the United Kingdom if
those platforms are based in Kaliningrad.37 The re-
cent deployment of the 9M729 Iskander-M variant
in brigades belonging to Russia’s Western Military
District deepened concerns about the country’s ca-
pabilities, partly because this nuclear-capable mis-
sile does not follow a ballistic flight path, instead
pursuing an evasive flight path that could allow it to
defeat missile defense systems.38
These developments have impacted European
security in two ways. The first is that, according to
many observers, these new missiles have enabled
Russia to erect an A2/AD bubble around Kaliningrad.
As Stephan Frühling and Guillaume Lasconjarias
note, “[b]y emplacing highly capable and long-
range anti-air, anti-shipping and surface-to-surface
missiles in … the Kaliningrad enclave … Russia can
deny NATO forces the use of large areas of the sea
and air surrounding, and even within, the Alliance’s
territory.39 For the Baltic countries, this develop-
ment raises the prospect of a fait accompli much
like what Russia was able to achieve with its an-
nexation of Crimea in 2014. NATO reinforcements
would find defending the Baltic countries simply
too difficult of a proposition. The second is that by
violating the INF Treaty and developing the 9M729
missile (NATO codename: SSC-8 “Screwdriver”),
Russia acquired an even greater missile advantage
and pushed the United States to withdraw from
the treaty. Russia had already developed the 9M720
missile (the SS-26 “Stone”) from the earlier OTR-
23 (the SS-23 “Spider”) design — missiles which
were just under the threshold of the INF Treaty.40
The concern surrounding the SSC-8 is that it en-
ables Russia to strike military reinforcement-re-
lated infrastructure and European capitals at a
The Scholar
20
greater distance, thereby increasing Russia’s ability
to intimidate NATO members into accepting faits
accomplis on the alliance’s northeastern flank.41
Controversy over whether the SSC-8 could use the
ground-based Iskander-M launcher in Europe has
thus stoked fears that Russia could threaten NATO
allies with INF-prohibited weapons.42
To be sure, the United States and its European
allies do bring some missile and missile defense
capabilities to bear in the Baltic region. In Sep-
tember 2009, President Barack Obama announced
the European Phased Adaptive Approach — a plan
designed to protect Europe against Iranian medi-
um- and intermediate-range missiles.43 It consists
of sea- and land-based configurations of the Aegis
missile defense system, the centerpiece of which
is the Standard Missile-3 (SM-3).44 The Integrat-
ed Air and Missile Defense system can also help
address the Russian missile threat more directly,
but it largely comprises radar facilities of varying
quality that serve to augment military surveil-
lance over NATO airspace. Because the European
Phased Adaptive Approach was not explicitly de-
signed with Russia in mind, and the Integrated Air
and Missile Defense system helps primarily with
detection and tracking, Poland has strengthened
its own missile defense capabilities to contribute
to NATO missile defenses in theater. In April 2015,
41 Heinrich Brauss and Christian Mölling, “Europas Sicherheit ohne INF-Vertrag: Politische und strategische Handlungs- optionen für Deutschland
und die NATO,” DGAP Kompakt, no. 1 (2019): 2.
42 See, Alexander Lanoszka, “The INF Treaty: Pulling Out in Time,” Strategic Studies Quarterly 13, no. 2 (Summer 2019): 54, https://www.airuniver-
sity.af.edu/Portals/10/SSQ/documents/Volume-13_Issue-2/Lanoszka.pdf. See also, Jacob Cohn et al., Leveling the Playing Field: Reintroducing U.S.
Theater-Range Missiles in a Post-INF World (Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, 2019); and Evan Braden Montgomery,
Extended Deterrence in the Second Nuclear Age (Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, 2016). Alarm over China’s grow-
ing missile forces in the Asia-Pacific also played a role in President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the INF Treaty. Not
being party to the treaty, China was able not only to close the missile gap with the United States and Russia, but also to field over 2,000 missiles
that hold at risk both U.S. partners and U.S. military assets in Asia. See, Debalina Ghoshal, “China and the INF Treaty,” Comparative Strategy 35, no.
5 (2016): 364–65, https://doi.org/10.1080/01495933.2016.1240982. On how the United States can address China’s missile threat in the Western Pa-
cific, see, Thomas G. Mahnken, “Countering Missiles with Missiles: U.S. Military Posture After the INF Treaty,” War on the Rocks, July 16, 2019, https://
warontherocks.com/2019/07/countering-missiles-with-missiles-the-u-s-military-after-the-inf-treaty/.
43 Jaganath Sankaran, The United States’ European Phased Adaptive Approach Missile Defense System: Defending Against Iranian Missile
Threats Without Diluting the Russian Deterrent (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2015), 4.
44 The European Phased Adaptive Approach comprises three phases. Phase 1 consists of a radar in Turkey, a command center at Ramstein Air
Base in Germany, and four ballistic missile defense-capable Aegis destroyers equipped with SM-3 interceptors that will patrol primarily in the Med-
iterranean and be home ported in Rota, Spain. Phase 2 features a land-based SM-3 interceptor or Aegis Ashore site in Romania to protect against
incoming medium-range missiles. Phase 3 will see the deployment of an SM-3 interceptor or Aegis Ashore site in Poland to intercept longer-range
missiles. Phases 1 and 2 have been operational since 2012 and 2016 respectively, whereas Phase 3 is expected to be operational by 2020 instead
of the original 2018 target. Former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel cancelled a fourth phase given budgetary constraints and the mounting need
to strengthen ballistic missile defense in Asia in light of North Korea’s advancements in missile technology. See, David M. Herszenhorn and Michael
R. Gordon, “U.S. Cancels Part of Missile Defense that Russia Opposed,” New York Times, March 16, 2013, https://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/17/
world/europe/with-eye-on-north-korea-us-cancels-missile-defense-russia-opposed.html. This phase would have entailed an advanced SM-3 Block
IIB interceptor whose function would have been to shoot down intercontinental ballistic missiles.
45 “Poland,” Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, June 26, 2018, https://missiledefenseadvocacy.org/intl_cooperation/poland/.
46 We thank Marek Świerczyński for this observation. Rafał Lesiecki, “Wisła i Patrioty za 4,75 mld dolarów. Kontrakt podpisany,” Defence24,
March 28, 2018, https://www.defence24.pl/wisla-i-patrioty-za-475-mld-dolarow-kontrakt-podpisany; and Matthew Kroenig, “Poland’s Missile
Defenses Are Critical for the Defense of Europe,” Defence24, Sept. 19, 2019, https://www.defence24.com/polands-missile-defenses-are-critical-for-
the-defense-of-europe-opinion.
47 Corporal Frisk, “A Further Look at the Gabriel 5,” Corporal Frisk – Analysis and Consulting, July 16, 2018, https://corporalfrisk.com/2018/07/16/
a-further-look-at-the-gabriel-5/; and “The Swedish Defence Commission Presents Its White Book on Sweden’s Security Policy and the Development
of Its Military Defence,” Swedish Ministry of Defence, May 14, 2019, https://www.government.se/articles/2019/05/the-swedish-defence-commis-
sion-presents-its-white-book-on-swedens-security-policy-and-the-development-of-its-military-defence/. For a pre-2014 review of European missile
defense capabilities, see, Keir Giles and Andrew Monaghan, European Missile Defense and Russia (Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, 2014).
Warsaw announced it would acquire eight Patriot
batteries by 2025, with two delivered within three
years of a final deal.45 The Polish Ministry of De-
fense announced in March 2018 a $4.75 billion
deal to purchase and co-produce a mix of air and
missile defenses comprising two layers, known as
Wisła and Narew. Currently in its first phase of de-
velopment, Wisła would include a version of Ray-
theon’sSkyCeptor missiles and several Patriot Ad-
vanced Capability-3 Missile Segment Enhancement
interceptors. The exact system to be used for the
Narew short-range air defense program is yet to
be decided, but, if approved, it could involve low-
er-cost interceptors that would replace Poland’s
Soviet-era missile systems.46 Poland’s capabilities
constitute an important foundation for NATO’s ef-
forts to respond to Russia’s theater-range missiles.
Still, missile defense is very costly and may have
limited effectiveness against the SSC-8. Non-NATO
member Finland has also invested in short-range
anti-ship missile capabilities, whereas Sweden has
expanded its air missile defense system coverage
to extend over the island of Gotland in the Baltic
Sea.47 Finally, NATO also relies on U.S., British, and
French conventional air-to-ground and ship- and
submarine-launched missiles in order to deter Rus-
sia from using its theater-range missiles in north-
eastern Europe.
Despite concerns about
Russia’s theater-range
missiles, scholars and
analysts increasingly doubt
whether the A2/AD bubble
is as robust as often alleged.
The Scholar
22
Despite concerns about Russia’s theater-range
missiles, scholars and analysts increasingly doubt
whether the A2/AD bubble is as robust as often al-
leged. Indeed, whether analysts focus on Europe or
East Asia, an emerging consensus holds that the very
concept of A2/AD is deeply problematic. With re-
gard to Europe, a recent Swedish Defense Research
Agency report shows that Russian air defense sys-
tems are limited in their ability to detect, track, and
shoot down aircraft at high altitudes and long rang-
es.48 Alexander Lanoszka and Michael Hunzeker, as
well as Keir Giles and Mathieu Boulegue, argue that
Kaliningrad is more of a liability for Russia than an
asset precisely because the exclave can be isolated.49
NATO could develop its own A2/AD capabilities to
complicate Russia’s ability to reinforce Kaliningrad.
Michael Kofman directly challenges the very notion
that the development of A2/AD capabilities is central
to Russian military planning.50
Nevertheless, even if NATO can burst the A2/AD
bubble does not mean that the price of doing so
would be low or even politically acceptable. Giles
and Boulegue observe that Russian A2/AD systems
are vulnerable to saturation, but acknowledge
that “casualty-averse Western forces must expose
themselves to risk and the likelihood of losses.51
Still, this scenario assumes that escalation will re-
main under control despite the possibility of nu-
clear exchange. Amid concerns that Russia has an
escalate-to-de-escalate strategy, whereby it would
threaten limited nuclear use in order to deter mil-
itary intervention, NATO countries might become
reluctant to get involved in a major crisis with Rus-
sia.52 As such, the Baltic countries still have incen-
tives to invest in deterrence-by-denial capabilities
— specifically, insurgency tactics that can attrite
Russian forces over a protracted period — rath-
er than assume that reinforcements would come
quickly.53 Kofman admits that “the [A2/AD] concept
has utility when looking at a maritime theater in-
48 Dalsjö, Berglund, and Jonsson, “Bursting the Bubble,” 31.
49 Lanoszka and Hunzeker, Conventional Deterrence; and Giles and Boulegue, “Russia’s A2/AD Capabilities,” 26.
50 Kofman, “It’s Time to Talk.”
51 Giles and Boulegue, “Russia’s A2/AD Capabilities,” 25–26.
52 Analysts are divided as to whether Russia really has such a strategy. See, Kristin Ven Bruusgaard, “The Myth of Russia’s Lowered Nuclear
Threshold,” War on the Rocks, Sept. 22, 2017, https://warontherocks.com/2017/09/the-myth-of-russias-lowered-nuclear-threshold/; and Katarzyna
Zysk, “Escalation and Nuclear Weapons in Russia’s Military Strategy,” The RUSI Journal 163, no. 2 (2018): 4–15, https://doi.org/10.1080/03071847.201
8.1469267. For a useful overview of post-Soviet Russian nuclear thinking, see, Michael Kofman, Anya Fink, and Jeffrey Edmonds, “Russian Strategy for
Escalation Management: Evolution of Key Concepts,” CNA, April 2020, https://www.cna.org/CNA_files/PDF/DRM-2019-U-022455-1Rev.pdf.
53 Alexander Lanoszka and Michael A. Hunzeker, “Confronting the Anti-Access/Area Denial and Precision Strike Challenge in the Baltic Region,”
The RUSI Journal 161, no. 5 (2016): 12–18, https://doi.org/10.1080/03071847.2016.1253367; and Lionel Beehner and Liam Collins, “Can Volunteer Forces
Deter Great Power War? Evidence from the Baltics,” Journal of Strategic Security 12, no. 4 (2019): 50–68, https://doi.org/10.5038/1944-0472.12.4.1747.
54 Kofman, “It’s Time to Talk.” See also, Corporal Frisk, “The True Face of the Baltic Fleet,” Corporal Frisk – Analysis and Consulting, Oct. 12, 2019,
https://corporalfrisk.com/2019/10/12/the-true-face-of-the-baltic-fleet/.
55 Luis Simón, “Demystifying the A2/AD Buzz,” War on the Rocks, Jan. 4, 2017, https://warontherocks.com/2017/01/demystifying-the-a2ad-buzz/.
56 See, Sydney J. Freedberg Jr., “Army Rebuilds Artillery Arm for Large-Scale War,” Breaking Defense, April 27, 2020, https://breakingdefense.
com/2020/04/army-rebuilds-artillery-arm-for-large-scale-war/.
volving Russia or China,” but argues that Russia
faces a deeper naval challenge than NATO.54 If Kof-
man is right that Russia’s war plans involve theat-
er-strike weapons that could destroy critical nodes
in adversaries’ command-and-control structures,
then war over the Baltics would still be ugly, howev-
er unlikely. The A2/AD concept certainly should not
imply impenetrability and immobility — indeed,
military competition has always been about deny-
ing access and movement to an adversary. Instead,
the A2/AD concept should denote that costs must
be paid in order to operate in a particular theater.55
For a state implementing an A2/AD strategy, these
costs serve to deter external aggression. Alterna-
tively, if a state has offensive motives, systems
that have A2/AD characteristics raise the costs for
states that are otherwise expected to defend allies
that fall within the very range of those systems.
From a force planning perspective, an improved
understanding of Russia’s capabilities and approach
to war does not fundamentally alter the strategic
needs and problems facing NATO and the Baltic
countries. The same strategic dilemma remains:
NATO may have global escalation dominance, or
even regional escalation dominance if we consider
Europe as a whole, but Russia still has local esca-
lation dominance in the Baltic region. Indeed, with
its missile strategy, Russia’s aim is to decouple local
deterrence from regional and global deterrence.
The Potential Role for Ground-Based,
Theater-Range Missiles in Current
NATO Strategy
Recognizing the growing strategic importance of
missiles, the U.S. Army has set to rebuild its artillery
arm for large-scale warfare after decades of neglect.56
Indeed, the demise of the INF Treaty has sparked
intense debate in the United States about the poten-
The Post-INF European Missile Balance: Thinking About NATO’s Deterrence Strategy
23
tial role of theater-range missiles in strengthening
deterrence in key regions.57 East Asia has so far been
the main focus of this debate: China’s growing theat-
er-range missile arsenal and North Korea’s nuclear
and missile programs have raised questions about
U.S. extended deterrence guarantees.58 Many U.S.
officials and experts contend that long-range strike
capabilities underscore Washington’s global esca-
lation dominance, offsetting China’s theater-level
advances and guaranteeing deterrence.59 Yet, others
worry that the lack of in-theater capabilities to bal-
ance Chinese (or North Korean) military power may
lead some U.S. allies to fear decoupling and alliance
abandonment.60 Unsurprisingly, the debate over
theater-range missiles in East Asia is mixed up with
political considerations. Though some experts and
policymakers in the region understand the strategic
logic of deploying these missiles, domestic politi-
cal opposition remains high, especially in Austral-
ia, Japan, and South Korea.61 But as the European
experience from NATO’s 1979 Dual-Track Decision
suggests, these attitudes may yet change or prove to
be surmountable.
In Europe, the debate over the possible deploy-
ment of theater-range missiles is much less ad-
vanced. This lack of serious discussion may be due
to diverging European perceptions about the Rus-
sian threat as well as the fact that Russia’s arsenal
of theater-range missiles is more limited than Chi-
na’s and that NATO enjoys much greater strategic
depth in Europe than the U.S.-led alliance system
does in East Asia. Nevertheless, the worsening of
NATO-Russia relations, growing awareness about
Russia’s newer military capabilities and their im-
pact on the Baltic region, and the termination of
the INF Treaty call for greater debate within NATO
on how theater-range missiles may enhance deter-
rence. Additionally, the ongoing discussion about
57 See, e.g., Jim Thomas, “Why the US Army Needs Missiles: A New Mission to Save the Service,” Foreign Affairs 92, no. 3 (May/June 2013):
137–44, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-states/2013-04-03/why-us-army-needs-missiles; David W. Kearn Jr. “The Future of US
Deterrence in East Asia: Are Conventional Land-Based IRBMs a Silver Bullet?” Strategic Studies Quarterly 7, no. 4 (Winter 2013): 93–116, https://
www.jstor.org/stable/26270779; Shahryar Pasandideh, “The End of the ‘INF Treaty’ and the US-China Military Balance,” The Nonproliferation Review
26, no. 3-4 (2019): 267–87, https://doi.org/10.1080/10736700.2019.1646466.
58 See, e.g., Lionel P. Fatton, “‘Japan Is Back’: Autonomy and Balancing Amidst an Unstable China-U.S.-Japan Triangle,” Asia & the Pacific Policy
Studies 5, no. 2 (May 2018): 264–78, https://doi.org/10.1002/app5.240.
59 Inwook Kim and Soul Park, “Deterrence Under Nuclear Asymmetry: THAAD and the Prospects for Missile Defense on the Korean Peninsula,”
Contemporary Security Policy 40, no. 2 (2019): 165–92, https://doi.org/10.1080/13523260.2018.1558750.
60 See, e.g., Cohn et al., Leveling the Playing Field. For allied views on abandonment, see, e.g., Stephan Frühling, “Managing Escalation: Missile
Defence, Strategy and US Alliances,” International Affairs 92, no. 1 (January 2016): 81–95, https://doi.org/10.1111/1468-2346.12501; and Benjamin
Schreer, “Abandonment, Entrapment, and the Future of US Conventional Extended Deterrence in East Asia (Part I),” The Strategist (Australian Stra-
tegic Policy Institute), Sept. 21, 2012, https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/abandonment-entrapment-and-the-future-of-us-conventional-extended-de-
terrence-in-east-asia-part-i/.
61 Benjamin Schreer, “After the INF: What Will US Indo-Pacific Allies Do?” Washington Quarterly 43, no. 1 (2020): 143–57, https://doi.org/10.108
0/0163660X.2020.1736885.
62 On NATO’s reassurance and deterrence measures in relation to Russia since 2014, see, Diego A. Ruiz Palmer, “A Strategic Odyssey: Constancy
of Purpose and Strategy-Making in NATO, 1949-2019,” National Defense College, Research Paper no. 3 (June 2019), http://www.ndc.nato.int/news/
news.php?icode=1330; and Sara Bjerg Moller, “Building the Airplane while Flying: Adapting NATO’s Force Structure in an Era of Uncertainty,” Nation-
al Defense College, Policy Brief no. 11 (May 2019), http://www.ndc.nato.int/news/news.php?icode=1315.
63 We thank an anonymous reviewer for raising this point.
the potential and pitfalls of theater-range missiles
in an East Asian context is likely to spill over to
Europe, not least because the development and
fielding of such systems might encourage their de-
ployment in multiple regions.
Despite the lack of discussion about new ground-
based, theater-range missile deployments, Europe
has not been idle since 2014. In the past six years,
NATO has adopted several measures to reassure its
Central and Eastern European members in addition
to enhancing deterrence in the Baltic region.62 Such
measures have included the Very High Readiness
Joint Task Force, an uptick in joint military exercis-
es, a bolstering of the Baltic Air Policing mission, and
the multinational battlegroups that make up the en-
hanced Forward Presence in Poland, Estonia, Latvia,
and Lithuania. More recently, NATO has revamped
its command structure following the April 2019
adoption of its new military strategy (MC400/4).63
This military strategy emphasizes horizontal escala-
tion and the imperatives of a theater-wide approach
so as to further improve the alliance’s readiness,
responsiveness, and reinforcement capacity for
addressing the challenge from Russia. In adopting
such measures, NATO has sought to signal that it
will consider any attack on a single or a few of its
allies as an act of aggression against the entire al-
liance, and will respond to it with a wide variety of
actions across the entire Euro-Atlantic area. Not-
withstanding these improvements, Russia’s widen-
ing missile advantage creates major gaps in NATO’s
deterrence posture and could foster the perception
in the Kremlin that it can aggress with relative impu-
nity in the Baltic region.
How can ground-based, theater-range missiles
serve NATO’s deterrence strategy in the Baltic re-
gion? To begin with, relying on theater-range mis-
siles poses fewer problems than relying largely on
The Scholar
24
air and sea combat assets based in Western Europe
or on U.S.-based ICBMs. The reason is simple: A
gap exists between NATO capabilities already in
theater (i.e., four multinational battalions and an
embryonic missile-defense architecture) and the
promise of long-range air and missile power. The
extreme downsizing of military forces in post-Cold
War Europe has hobbled conventional deterrence
in part because the alliance has few counter-at-
tack options. For example, a U.S. brigade could
take at least two weeks to arrive in Europe from
the United States, thereby leaving allies vulnerable
to territorial faits accomplis.64 Given the lack of a
serious military footprint in northeastern Europe,
this gap means that NATO has no intermediate op-
tions, forcing the alliance to take a significant esca-
latory leap in order to deter further aggression by
Russia in a crisis. An additional problem concerns
the assumption that air reinforcements based in
Western Europe would be able to get into theater.
Unfortunately, they may encounter sufficient re-
sistance from Russia’s theater-range missiles so as
to discourage them from being dispatched in the
first place. This problem may be mitigated as F-35
fighter jets come online, but Russia could poten-
tially learn to identify these stealth aircraft with
data collected from S-400s sold to Turkey if those
air-defense systems become activated.
Ground-based, theater-range missiles would also
close the gap in another way. Current NATO de-
terrence measures have largely been premised on
“contact warfare” with Russia. Shortly after the
annexation of Crimea, the United States began
to pre-position military hardware in the region
for possible use by ground forces in some future
contingency. Following the 2016 Warsaw Summit,
NATO countries agreed to create the enhanced
Forward Presence, deploying a multinational bat-
talion-sized battlegroup to each of the Baltic coun-
tries and Poland. The United States also rotates
an armored brigade combat team and additional
forces in Poland while pouring money into various
infrastructure projects aimed at improving logisti-
cal links between local allies. Yet, some critics ar-
gue that such measures are too tethered to land.
As Kofman writes, “proposing to engage Russian
forces in contact warfare, a metal-on-metal ground
fight, is not a good strategy. Russia holds a lot of
64 Robert C. Owen, “US Air Force Airlift and the Army’s Relevance,” Parameters 47, no. 2 (Summer 2017): 103–12.
65 Michael Kofman, “Permanently Stationing U.S. Forces in Poland Is a Bad Idea, but One Worth Debating,” War on the Rocks, Oct. 12, 2018,
https://warontherocks.com/2018/10/permanently-stationing-u-s-forces-in-poland-is-a-bad-idea-but-one-worth-debating/.
66 See, Michael Allen Hunzeker and Alexander Lanoszka, “Landpower and American Credibility,” Parameters 45, no. 4 (Winter 2015–16): 17–26,
https://publications.armywarcollege.edu/pubs/3711.pdf.
67 Cohn et al., Leveling the Playing Field, ii.
advantages in land warfare near its borders. This
plan does not hold at risk what Russia values, and
misses important changes in how Moscow sees the
character of modern warfare.65 Though Kofman
overlooks the assurance that ground forces can
provide to allies that host them, his critique does
highlight gaps in NATO’s deterrence posture.66
Deploying ground-based, theater-range missiles
could complement the NATO ground presence in
northeastern Europe. As one recent report high-
lights, “ground-launched theater-range missiles
could hold high-value enemy targets at risk while
helping U.S. air and naval forces obtain access to
hotly contested battlefields, thereby contributing
to military operations in challenging warfighting
scenarios.67 Ground-based missiles have certain
advantages over sea-launched and air-launched
missiles. If dispersed and well-hidden, road-mobile
transporter erector launchers can complicate tar-
geting by creating uncertainty about their location,
thereby requiring Russia to track and monitor their
movements. Russia cannot simply target airfields
or naval bases. Moreover, the European theater of-
fers much more territorial depth for ground-based
missiles than East Asia, where the maritime envi-
ronment is more of a constraining factor to their
deployment. To be sure, sea-launched missiles can
be effective deterrents, especially if very quiet sub-
marines carry them. The problem with these mis-
siles is not so much the so-called discrimination
problem, whereby Russia would be unsure wheth-
er an incoming missile is carrying a conventional
weapon or a nuclear one, but that surface warships
armed with them can be tracked once deployed to
the region. For their part, surface warships carry-
ing sea-launched missiles need to be outside the
range of opposing defenses in order to be most ef-
fective. Finally, strategic bombers by their nature
do not represent an intermediate option: Countries
may be reluctant to deploy theater bombers and
other delivery aircraft lest they suffer high attri-
tion rates due to anti-aircraft systems positioned
in Kaliningrad and elsewhere in Russia’s supposed
A2/AD bubble. We make the case specifically for
land-attack missiles because it is in the land do-
main where Russia’s missile advantage is clearest
and most relevant to the local balance. That said,
anti-ship missiles still have much value in holding
The Post-INF European Missile Balance: Thinking About NATO’s Deterrence Strategy
25
Russian naval assets in the Baltic Sea at risk.68
Ground-based, theater-range missiles comple-
ment NATO’s ground presence in another way. NATO
countries are unable and unwilling to provide the
conventional forces in Poland and the Baltic region
needed to deny Russian armed forces victory on the
battlefield. Meanwhile, the Baltic countries them-
selves are dwarfed by Russia’s capabilities and face
massive manpower and
budgetary limitations such
that they cannot develop a
suite of denial capabilities
against Russia.69 Western
European countries may
be larger and much richer,
but their own militaries have
been hollowed out by under-
spending in the post-Cold
War period, overstretched across
multiple missions around the
globe, or both.70 Ground-based,
theater-range missiles offer a
deterrence solution that can be strategically attrac-
tive and, comparatively speaking, politically feasible
since it would not involve Western European gov-
ernments paying for a forward ground presence.
Moreover, the fact that the United States is going
to develop such missiles suggests that there will be
significant economies of scale, making them rela-
tively attractive from a cost perspective. For NATO
allies in Europe, these missiles represent a solution
that is cheaper than alternatives such as the F-35 or
Rafale fighters. Indeed, cost-efficiency is likely to be
an increasingly important consideration in light of
the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic impact.
Although it may be too early to assess the implica-
tions of the novel coronavirus, it is relatively safe
to assume that the question of trade-offs between
policy priorities (including in defense) will become
increasingly acute. With cuts to defense spend-
68 On the evolving naval balance in the Baltic Sea as it relates to the broader strategic balance in the Baltic region, see, Heinrich Lange et al.,
“To the Seas Again: Maritime Defense and Deterrence in the Baltic Region,” International Centre for Defense and Security (April 2019), https://icds.
ee/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/ICDS_Report_To_the_Seas_Again_Lange_Combes_Jermalavicius_Lawrence_April_2019.pdf).
69 Lanoszka and Hunzeker, Conventional Deterrence.
70 See, e.g., Christian Mölling, “Europe Without Defence: The States of Europe Have to Re-evaluate the Interrelationship Between Political
Sovereignty, Military Effectiveness and Economic Efficiency,” German Institute for International and Security Affairs, SWP Comment 2011/C 38
(November 2011), https://www.swp-berlin.org/en/publication/europe-without-defence/; and Daniel Keohane, “Is Britain Back? The 2015 UK
Defense Review,” CSS Analyses in Security Policy, no. 185 (February 2016): 1–2, https://css.ethz.ch/content/dam/ethz/special-interest/gess/cis/
center-for-securities-studies/pdfs/CSSAnalysen-185-EN.pdf.
71 For preliminary analyses of how COVID-19 might impact defense, see, David Barno and Nora Bensahel, “Five Ways the U.S. Military Will
Change After the Pandemic,” War on the Rocks, April 28, 2020, https://warontherocks.com/2020/04/five-ways-the-u-s-military-will-change-af-
ter-the-pandemic/; and Daniel Fiott, “Will European Defence Survive Coronavirus?” Elcano Royal Institute, March 27, 2020, http://www.realinsti-
tutoelcano.org/wps/portal/rielcano_en/contenido?WCM_GLOBAL_CONTEXT=/elcano/elcano_in/zonas_in/commentary-fiott-will-european-de-
fence-survive-coronavirus.
72 See, Hal Brands and Evan Braden Montgomery, “One War Is Not Enough: Strategy and Force Planning for Great Power Competition,” Texas
National Security Review 3, no. 2 (Spring 2020), https://tnsr.org/2020/03/one-war-is-not-enough-strategy-and-force-planning-for-great-power-
competition/.
ing possible, there will be growing pressure to find
cost-efficient solutions to deterrence.71
Ground-based, theater-range missiles also have a
useful role to play in the strategic competition pres-
ently unfolding between the United States and Rus-
sia. The biggest worry revolving around the enhanced
Forward Presence battlegroups is their imperma-
nent nature. Russia will always be a neighbor and
so may be biding
its time for complacency to develop within NATO. It
can simply wait out these deployments. However, a
deployment of ground-based, theater-range missiles
in northeastern Europe could address this issue in
two ways. The first is that missiles can complement
existing deterrence measures in a more durable
manner and at a relatively low cost. Depending on
the force package, a missile force — based, for ex-
ample, in western Poland — could have a small foot-
print yet boast an outsized punch. NATO could then
range and hold at risk Russian targets on a perpetu-
al basis. Even if the United States prioritizes China
and prepares to fight only a single major war against
that great-power competitor, these missiles could
help the United States address key deterrence chal-
lenges that persist in the European context.72 The
second is that these deployments can pressure Rus-
The Scholar
26
sia to invest in costly missile-defense and targeting
systems, rather than power projection capabilities.73
Such deployments could help improve the current
strategic balance by forcing Russia to move from a
largely offensive strategy toward a more defensive
one and increasing U.S.-NATO bargaining leverage
in future arms control talks. At present, Russia has
no incentives to engage in such negotiations, where-
as NATO itself has few concessions it can make
since its eastern members will never agree to a deal
that could directly jeopardize their security. A new
dual-track process may thus be helpful.74
The operational value of ground-based missiles is
twofold in the Baltic region. The first is that, in the
opening phases of a military confrontation, theat-
er-range missiles can knock out air defense systems
located in Kaliningrad and other missile hubs in Rus-
sia’s Western Military District so as to allow NATO
reinforcements to have more freedom to maneuver.
The second is that local allies — especially the Baltic
73 Brands and Montgomery, “One War Is Not Enough.” Of course, depending on where in Europe NATO would station these new missiles, they
could also be targeted by Russian precision-strikes. In fact, Russia might prefer attacking them to intercepting them in flight with air defenses.
Allies should also consider the possibility of deploying ground-based, theater-range missiles in Western Europe.
74 On the difficulties of arms control in the present environment, see, Artur Kacprzyk and Łukasz Kulesa, “Dilemmas of Arms Control: Meeting
the Interests of NATO’s North-Eastern Flank,” International Centre for Defence and Security (April 2020), https://icds.ee/dilemmas-of-arms-con-
trol-meeting-the-interests-of-natos-north-eastern-flank/. These authors similarly argue that NATO should consider new ground-based, the-
ater-range missile deployments.
75 Comprehensive coverage against the cruise missile threat would also be prohibitively costly.
states — will not be forced to exhaust their combat
power quickly by trying to burst the A2/AD bubble
from within. It is in this regard that surface-to-ship
missiles can, for example, also punch through any
blockade that Russia might try to impose on a Baltic
city from the sea. None of this is to imply that NATO
must match Russia capability for capability with re-
gard to the missile balance.75 However, NATO can
mitigate the risk of decoupling and thus strength-
en deterrence in the Baltic region. It should prior-
itize the missile balance in-theater and complement
its missile defense efforts with the deployment of
theater-range, ground-based, land-attack, road-mo-
bile conventional missiles in northeastern Europe,
as well as anti-ship missiles that can hold off the
Russian navy in the Baltic Sea. Doing so would help
create a layered series of defensive fires that would
make the Baltic region a difficult target for conven-
tional aggression or military coercion.
NATO ought to deploy just enough missiles to
The Post-INF European Missile Balance: Thinking About NATO’s Deterrence Strategy
27
threaten those critical elements of Russia’s missile
and A2/AD architecture, including missile nodes as
well as relevant command-and-control, intelligence,
surveillance, and reconnaissance assets. Indeed, the
quantitative requirements may not be very high if
the missiles can disrupt Russia’s war plans.76 Crit-
ically, if the positioning of NATO theater-range,
ground-based, land-attack conventional missile
batteries overlapped with U.S. and Polish Patriot
surface-to-air missile deployments in Poland, then
those batteries would be less vulnerable to a Russian
first strike. A broader question relates to whether
NATO theater-range missiles could be linked to an
upgrading of the Multiple Launch Rocket System
and High Mobility Artillery Rocket System with
longer-range missiles, such as the U.S. Army’s Tacti-
calMissileSystem.77 Currently, the Block 1A missile
that this last system uses has a 300 km range, but
the U.S. Army is funding development of a version
that could exceed 500 km.78 Linking such systems
together would make clear that the upgrade is tac-
tical and non-nuclear in nature, thereby increasing
the chances of the deployments being politically ac-
ceptable to NATO members. To be sure, any such
upgrades would require examining the associated
surveillance, targeting, cueing, command-and-con-
trol, and communications capabilities. It would also
require determining which level of NATO command
would have authority to engage such missiles fol-
lowing decisions by the North Atlantic Council, be
it the Supreme Allied Commander Europe, the Joint
Force Commander, or NATO Air Command, as part
of an integrated air campaign.
European allies are far behind in the development
of ground-based, theater-range missiles, with rele-
vant programs in France and the United Kingdom
having been suspended decades ago. Accordingly,
a U.S.-led solution appears to be the only realistic
way for NATO to close the local missile gap with
Russia in the short term. Several NATO allies (in-
cluding France, Germany, Italy, and the United King-
dom) have the Multiple Launch Rocket System, but
only Greece, Turkey, and the United States have the
Army TacticalMissileSystem. For their part, Poland
and Romania plan to introduce both the Multiple
Launch Rocket System and the High Mobility Ar-
tillery Rocket System launchers with Army Tacti-
76 We thank Toshi Yoshihara for this observation.
77 We thank Diego Ruiz Palmer for raising this important point.
78 Author’s communication with NATO official, March 27, 2020.
79 The Military Balance 2020 (London: International Institute for Strategic Studies, 2020), 73.
80 David S. Yost, “Assurance and US Extended Deterrence in NATO,” International Affairs 85, no. 4 (July 2000): 759–61, https://www.jstor.org/
stable/27695089.
81 See, e.g., Tom Countryman and Kingston Reif, “Intermediate-Range Missiles Are the Wrong Weapon for Today’s Security Challenges,” War on
the Rocks, Aug. 13, 2019, https://warontherocks.com/2019/08/intermediate-range-missiles-are-the-wrong-weapon-for-todays-security-challenges/.
calMissile System missiles.79 Whether France, the
United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, or Spain would
consider procuring the current or extended range
version of the Army Tactical Missile System re-
mains unclear. Nevertheless, European allies that
are procuring the Multiple Launch Rocket System
and the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System with
Army TacticalMissileSystem missiles, like Poland
or Romania, would benefit from any potential up-
grades. Additionally, those European allies located
within range of Russian missiles can also play an im-
portant role by hosting missiles on their territories
so as to enhance their own security. Such hosting
arrangements could be analogous to existing nucle-
ar-sharing arrangements in Western Europe — ar-
rangements that serve to reassure those partners
while enhancing NATO’s deterrence and war-fight-
ing capabilities.80 Allies like Germany and Poland
can also participate in the (co)development of
theater-range missile systems. Moreover, given how
the post-INF and maturing precision-strike context
highlights the centrality of the missile balance for
European security, European allies with greater
technological expertise and aspirations of strategic
autonomy should think harder about the potential
of theater-range missiles. Thus, for instance, France,
the United Kingdom, or even Germany may need to
think about developing European theater-range mis-
siles in order to lessen their technological depend-
ency on the United States.
Rebutting Potential
Counter-Arguments
Critics might advance at least two sets of objec-
tions to our argument. The first is that missiles
would undermine strategic stability and so further
worsen relations with Russia, and that new mis-
sile deployments would unleash an arms race that
would destabilize European security. The second is
that new missile deployments would severely dam-
age NATO cohesion at a time when discord already
characterizes the alliance.
First, consider the argument that missiles would
undermine strategic stability.81 According to Thom-
as Schelling and Morton Halperin’s formulation,
The Scholar
28
strategic stability is a situation in which neither
side in a conflict has the ability to launch a dis-
arming first strike against the other.82 This fear of
attack can be especially dangerous if war seems
likely. However, many analysts worry about Rus-
sian intentions precisely because Russia might
have the ability to launch such an attack on those
NATO members located on the alliance’s north-
eastern flank. Even if Russia may not go so far as
launching such an attack, its suite of missile capa-
bilities could give it the confidence to behave ag-
gressively at levels that would not trigger Article
5.83 Far from granting NATO the ability to launch
a bolt-out-of-the-blue strike, new missile deploy-
ments in Europe would complicate Russia’s abil-
ity to undertake faits accomplis by creating new
sources of risks and expanding the set of liabilities
that Russia would incur. Indeed, the deployment
of conventional missiles will not dramatically af-
fect the nuclear balance, if at all. One 2019 estimate
holds that “Russia has a stockpile of roughly 4,490
nuclear warheads assigned for use by long-range
strategic launchers and shorter-range tactical nu-
clear forces” in addition to having over 1,800 war-
heads assigned to nonstrategic and defensive forc-
es.84 Conventional military deployments of the sort
we propose would thus not undermine Russia’s
ability to deter NATO at higher levels of violence.
Theater-range missiles could even enhance stra-
tegic stability because they would ensure mutual
vulnerability — something that arms control ad-
vocates themselves endorse. Russian missiles are
already enveloping large swaths of NATO territory
within their ranges — theater-range missiles would
simply level the playing field.
Some critics may similarly worry that an arms race
would be destabilizing. Yet, Russia is already building
up its arsenal. It may be doing so for defensive pur-
poses, but NATO defense planners cannot be certain
of this in light of Russia’s behavior in recent years.85
Still, arms races are an inherent feature of strategic
competition: If one party refuses to counter a move,
it gives the other party an edge, thereby endanger-
ing strategic stability.86 Accordingly, NATO’s failure to
respond to Russia’s INF Treaty violation could lead
82 Thomas C. Schelling and Morton H. Halperin, Strategy and Arms Control (New York: The Twentieth Century Fund, 1961), 9.
83 See, Alexander Lanoszka, “Russian Hybrid Warfare and Extended Deterrence in Eastern Europe,” International Affairs 92, no. 1 (January 2016):
175–95, https://doi.org/10.1111/1468-2346.12509.
84 Hans M. Kristensen and Matt Korda, “Russian Nuclear Forces, 2019,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 75, no. 2 (2019): 73–74, https://doi.org/
10.1080/00963402.2019.1580891.
85 For a relatively benign view of Russia’s military program, see, Bettina Renz, Russia’s Military Revival (Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2018). Debates
regarding high-precision weapons in Russia have tended to examine defensive scenarios, but the line between offensive and defensive operations
may become increasingly blurred and may be in the eyes of the beholder. See, Roger N. McDermott and Tor Bukkvoll, “Tools of Future Wars—Russia Is
Entering the Precision-Strike Regime,” Journal of Slavic Military Studies 31, no. 2 (2018): 191–213, https://doi.org/10.1080/13518046.2018.1451097.
86 See, e.g., Bradford Lee, “Strategic Interaction: Theory and History for Practitioners,” in Competitive Strategies for the 21st Century: Theory,
History and Practice, ed. Thomas G. Mahnken (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2012): 28–46.
to instability in the European system and endanger
the security of Eastern European states. A decisive
— while still proportional — response on the part
of NATO could, in fact, help lead to an arms control
agreement because of the added pressure it would
put on Russia. As noted above, one reason why the
Soviet Union agreed to the INF Treaty was because
the United States and its NATO allies had leverage
over it. Accepting an unfavorable missile balance de-
prives NATO of the ability to even attempt to recover
that lost leverage while making arms control agree-
ments tantamount to unilateral disarmament.
Still, some critics may argue that new missile de-
ployments would further undermine, if not antago-
nize, relations with Russia. They could cause Mos-
cow to fear escalation even more, in a manner that
destabilizes European security. Moscow would
likely argue that any stated restrictions placed on
the new missile deployments — whether in terms
of their range, payload, or some other character-
istic — lack believability. To prevent such deploy-
ments from happening, Moscow could engage in
a campaign of political warfare against members
of NATO. However, worries about how Russia
might respond should not be overblown. The fear
of nuclear escalation remains an effective deter-
rent mechanism such that the existence of viable
intermediate options in the form of conventional
theater-range missiles lends greater credibility to
the threat of nuclear war. In current NATO strat-
egy, however, a yawning gap exists between the
tripwire-like forces represented by the enhanced
Forward Presence battlegroups at the tactical level
and the possibility of full conventional or nuclear
retaliation at the strategic level. This gap exists pre-
cisely because Russia has already been developing
an arsenal of theater-range missiles, some of which
were prohibited by the now-defunct INF Treaty. Fi-
nally, NATO countries should assume that Russia
would wage political warfare to forestall any new
measures implemented by the alliance. Russia be-
gan broadcasting disinformation with the goal of
damaging public support for the enhanced For-
ward Presence battlegroups when they were first
set up in the Baltic region, albeit with little effect
The Post-INF European Missile Balance: Thinking About NATO’s Deterrence Strategy
29
thus far.87 To counter such narratives in the future,
NATO should remind its public that Russia was re-
sponsible for violating the INF Treaty, and that any
new deployments are intended to rectify the imbal-
ance that currently favors Russia. Still, to echo the
Dual-Track Decision of 1979, NATO should pledge
that it is open to reversing the deployments pro-
vided that Russia returns to arms control negotia-
tions in good faith.
A second objection that critics might raise is that
new missile deployments would damage NATO
cohesion at a time when it is already under major
duress from within. With President Donald Trump
exhibiting an aversion to NATO amid an intense
dispute over collective burden-sharing, NATO can
ill afford another controversy.88 The reasoning here
is that new missile deployments will be contro-
versial because even frontline allies will not want
them deployed in their country and might, in fact,
resist them, while those less concerned by Russia
would fear being dragged into a war that they do
not want to fight. Even though some frontline al-
lies like Poland might be reluctant to accept missile
deployments initially, they might feel compelled to
in order to enhance deterrence of Russia. After all,
an ally cannot complain of being vulnerable to a
Russian attack while rejecting measures that would
help reduce that very vulnerability. To do so could
lead the United States to doubt the sincerity of its
ally’s threat assessments. Still, threat perceptions
within NATO do vary. Not every member considers
Russia to be the alliance’s main threat. Some might
even value Russian cooperation and so would re-
ject measures that could be seen as provocative.
But blaming missiles for any intra-alliance discord
would put the horse before the cart since diver-
gent threat perceptions already exist. Alliance co-
hesion might still unravel if certain members feel
that they cannot get the strong security guarantees
they need and must remain vulnerable because the
sensibilities of other allies would be otherwise of-
fended. Simply put, Russian missiles are what drive
disagreements within NATO — not U.S. missiles.
That said, new missile deployments on NATO
soil would ideally have alliance consensus. Absent
such a consensus, however, states interested in
theater-range missile deployments could seek out
extra-alliance solutions that limit the damage to
87 Alexander Lanoszka, “Disinformation in International Politics,” European Journal of International Security 4, no. 2 (June 2019): 227–48,
https://doi.org/10.1017/eis.2019.6.
88 On how Trump’s criticisms of NATO may have paradoxically reinvigorated the alliance, see, James Sperling and Mark Webber, “Trump’s For-
eign Policy and NATO: Exit and Voice,” Review of International Studies 45, no. 3 (July 2019): 511–26, https://doi.org/10.1017/S0260210519000123.
89 Luis Simón, Alexander Lanoszka, and Hugo Meijer, “Nodal Defence: The Changing Structure of US Alliance Systems in Europe and East Asia,”
Journal of Strategic Studies (2019): 1–29, https://doi.org/10.1080/01402390.2019.1636372.
90 We thank Diego Ruiz Palmer for raising this important point.
NATO’s cohesion. After all, many of the deterrence
and defense measures currently being implement-
ed on the northeastern flank do not have a NATO
stamp. These measures include U.S. rotational
deployments to Poland, growing security linkages
between Poland and the Baltic states, increased se-
curity cooperation between Sweden and Finland,
and an expansion of Nordic-Baltic ties.89 Ground-
based, theater-range missile deployments could
reinforce NATO’s agenda even if done outside of
the alliance’s remit, while giving political cover to
those allies that would have rejected such meas-
ures. Any NATO allies that decline to support the
deployment of ground-based conventional missiles
may have to consider expanding their own arsenal
of air-to-surface missiles that would be compati-
ble with the F-35 and other similar platforms. Still,
even these capabilities cannot be acquired in isola-
tion from others. Countries going down this path
would still have to contemplate the implications
this sort of strategy would have for intelligence,
surveillance, and reconnaissance; suppressing en-
emy air defenses; and air-to-air refueling. Moreo-
ver, they would still have to wrestle with the arms
control implications of the dual-capable nature
of some of these systems, to say nothing of their
questionable appropriateness for dealing with Rus-
sian ground missiles.90
Conclusion
The missile balance has become central to deter-
rence and security in contemporary Europe. The
demise of the INF Treaty and Russia’s embrace of
the precision-strike paradigm have allowed Mos-
cow to consolidate a position of local escalation
dominance in the Baltic region. In order to rem-
edy that situation, we make the case that NATO
ought to deploy ground-based, land-attack, theat-
er-range, road-mobile conventional missiles in
Europe. Such a move would enhance deterrence
and help restore strategic stability between NATO
and Russia in a post-INF Treaty context, with the
chance to give NATO the necessary leverage to
force Russia back into arms control negotiations.
The deployment of ground-based, theater-range
missiles in Europe should be limited and propor-
The Scholar
30
tional. It ought to be confined to the conventional
domain so as to eliminate any misunderstand-
ings that the missiles could be nuclear-tipped.91
In terms of targeting, these missiles should be re-
stricted to those critical elements of Russia’s mis-
sile and A2/AD architecture, including both missile
nodes as well as relevant command-and-control,
intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance
assets. Further research should examine what
kind of posture would provide the right balance
between restoring stability and avoiding an es-
calation spiral. Greater attention should also be
paid to questions related to the appropriate mix
of defensive and offensive missile capabilities in
NATO’s strategy, corresponding changes to the al-
liance’s command-and-control architecture, how
these debates relate to Europe’s contribution to
its own security, and questions of transatlantic
burden-sharing.
Indeed, U.S. defense planners and analysts have
already been thinking about the potential strate-
gic role of ground-based, theater-range missiles
in East Asia. How these policy discussions unfold
will have implications for U.S. defense strategy in
Europe. For these and other reasons, an upgrade
of existing U.S. Army programs would arguably
constitute the fastest and most reliable way for
NATO to develop a theater-range missile capabili-
ty. However, greater involvement from other Euro-
pean allies would make NATO’s response to Rus-
sia’s missile advantage collective and more widely
distributed across the alliance, thereby increasing
the shared risk and by extension enhancing de-
terrence. European allies located within range of
Russian missiles can also play an important role
by hosting missiles on their territories so as to im-
prove their own security. Moreover, their partici-
pation in current U.S. missile programs means that
allies like Poland or, potentially, Germany, could
collaborate with the United States on the (co)de-
velopment of theater-range missile systems. More
broadly, for initiatives regarding European strate-
gic autonomy to have any impact, both Western
and Central European states should invest in the
development of advanced theater-range missile
capabilities, perhaps even drawing on the Euro-
pean Defence Fund to finance their development
and to demonstrate that E.U. defense initiatives
are in line with NATO’s deterrence needs.92
91 Barry R. Posen, Inadvertent Escalation: Conventional War and Nuclear Risks (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991).
92 On the need for greater complementarity between the technological-industrial and strategic pillars of European defense, and how that
relates to E.U.-NATO relations, see, Luis Simón, “EU-NATO Cooperation in an Era of Great-Power Competition,” George Marshall Fund, Policy Brief
no. 28, November 2019, https://www.gmfus.org/publications/eu-nato-cooperation-era-great-power-competition.
Luis Simón is professor of international security
at the Vrije Universiteit Brussels and director of the
Brussels office of the Elcano Royal Institute. He is
also an associate fellow at the Baltic Defense Col-
lege,and a member of the editorial board of Param-
eters: The US Army War College Quarterly. Luis re-
ceived his Ph.D. from the University of London and
held a postdoctoral fellowship at the Saltzman Insti-
tute for War and Peace Studies at Columbia Univer-
sity. His research has appeared in journals such as
Security Studies,International Affairs, the Journal
of Strategic Studies,Geopolitics, and Survival.
Alexander Lanoszka is assistant professor of
international relations at the Department of Polit-
ical Science and the Balsillie School of Internation-
al Affairs at the University of Waterloo. He is the
author of Atomic Assurance: The Alliance Politics
of Nuclear Proliferation (2018), policy monographs
on Taiwan and the Baltic region, as well as articles
in journals such as International Security, Inter-
national Affairs, Security Studies, and the Journal
of Strategic Studies. He received his Ph.D. from
Princeton University.
Acknowledgements: A previous version of this
article was presented at an expert workshop con-
vened by the Swedish Defense Research Agency in
Stockholm on Dec. 6, 2019. The authors would like to
thank Raul Nuevo for his research assistance and
Rimas Alisauskas, Jordan Becker, Robert Dalsjö,
Darrell Driver, Jacek Durkalec, Michael Jonsson,
Karl Mueller, Diego Ruiz Palmer, Elie Perot, Toshi
Yoshihara, two anonymous reviewers, and the Tex-
as National Security Review editors for their sug-
gestions and feedback.
Photo: Latonja Martin, U.S. Navy
... Almost everywhere this mention goes at the level of separate theses within the framework of articles devoted to more general issues. For example, within the framework of relations between the US and allies in Europe (Früling, 2016;Kühn, 2018), prospects for deploying intermediaterange missiles (Kühn, 2019;Simon, Lanoszka, 2020), Russian long-range high-precision weapons (Johnson, 2017), and the escalate-to-de-escalate doctrine (Kort et al., 2019;Anderson, McCue, 2021;Kroenig, 2018;Kofman, Fink, Edmonds, 2020). There are practically no studies specifically devoted to analysis of the factor of regional missile defense in the context of the actions of the United States and NATO aimed at regional deterrence of Russia in Europe. ...
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... Neither concept meaningfully addresses this missile imbalance in the northeastern flank However, the demise of the INF Treaty opens an opportunity for the United States and its allies to develop and deploy theater-range conventional missiles that hold at risk Russian military assets and complicate Russian targeting. 56 The US Army's initiatives to upgrade the Multiple Launch Rocket System and High Mobility Artillery Rocket System with longer-range missiles, and Polish (and Romanian) interest in that program, are relevant. The Biden administration has signaled support for arms control, but its appetite for doing anything beyond extending the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) is questionable given Biden's disinclination to do a reset with Moscow. ...
... Deterrence ultimately hinges on an adversary believing that the costs of revising the status quo are unacceptably high relative to the benefits. Given the far-flung nature of the Baltic states, decoupling could create new stresses on North American efforts to help secure them from subversion or attack (Simón and Lanoszka 2020). Compounding matters is that NATO itself is internally divided as to whether to focus on Russia or on transnational threats relating to terrorism and instability in Europe's neighbourhood. ...
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The Nuclear Notebook is researched and written by Hans M. Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project with the Federation of American Scientists, and Matt Korda, a research associate with the project. The Nuclear Notebook column has been published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists since 1987. This issue’s column examines Russia’s nuclear arsenal, which includes 4,490 warheads that can be delivered via long-range strategic launchers and shorter-range tactical nuclear forces.
Permanently Stationing U.S. Forces in Poland Is a Bad Idea, but One Worth Debating
  • Michael Kofman
Michael Kofman, "Permanently Stationing U.S. Forces in Poland Is a Bad Idea, but One Worth Debating," War on the Rocks, Oct. 12, 2018, https://warontherocks.com/2018/10/permanently-stationing-u-s-forces-in-poland-is-a-bad-idea-but-one-worth-debating/.
Debates regarding high-precision weapons in Russia have tended to examine defensive scenarios, but the line between offensive and defensive operations may become increasingly blurred and may be in the eyes of the beholder
  • Roger N See
  • Tor Mcdermott
  • Bukkvoll
For a relatively benign view of Russia's military program, see, Bettina Renz, Russia's Military Revival (Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2018). Debates regarding high-precision weapons in Russia have tended to examine defensive scenarios, but the line between offensive and defensive operations may become increasingly blurred and may be in the eyes of the beholder. See, Roger N. McDermott and Tor Bukkvoll, "Tools of Future Wars-Russia Is Entering the Precision-Strike Regime," Journal of Slavic Military Studies 31, no. 2 (2018): 191-213, https://doi.org/10.1080/13518046.2018.1451097.