News | March 10, 2023

If You Want Peace...

By Robert Egnell and Michael T. Plehn PRISM Vol. 10, No. 2

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Dr. Robert Egnell is Vice-Chancellor of the Swedish Defence University and a Professor of leadership and command and control. Lieutenant General Michael T. Plehn is President of National Defense University.
Kungsholms Fort on the island in the Baltic Sea near Karlskrona, Sweden. Photo by rbrechko

The optimism widely felt throughout the West at the end of the Cold War was justified. Much that seemed impossible during the preceding 45 years suddenly appeared achievable. Europeans could envision a Europe whole and free. The tectonic shift in the dynamics of world power was breathtaking as Eastern Europe was freed from the yoke of communism, while the Soviet Union dissolved into 15 separate states, several of which—most notably the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania—joined the liberal, rules-based world order choosing democracy, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and the European Union.

There seemed so much potential—the possibility of making the liberal, rules-based global order universal. The costly architecture of Cold War defense that had deterred Soviet aggression could finally be dismantled along with the notorious Berlin Wall. Many Western countries jumped at the opportunity to seize a peace dividend and expand their commerce into the new markets of the post-communist world. But in their exuberance, did they forget why the Cold War never escalated into a hot war?

Defense spending in many countries decreased drastically; conscription was largely abandoned; armies, navies, and air forces dwindled; and defense industrial infrastructure atrophied. When the al Qaeda attacks of September 11, 2001, occurred the global terrorist threat became the single focus of Western security attention. Counterterrorism and counterinsurgency replaced large-scale armed combat as the driver of military planning, strategy, and procurement. Russia’s 2007 cyber-attack against Estonia was barely noticed. Neither the 2008 Russia-Georgia war nor Russia’s occupation of Crimea and insurgency in eastern Ukraine in 2014 could divert Western attention from the challenges in the Near East and Central Asia.

Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022 woke the world. After 75 years major war had returned to Europe, and European powers were shocked and unprepared. Only the three Baltic states, and to a lesser degree Finland and Poland, had warned of the persistent Russian threat in Europe. The overall transatlantic reaction was rapid and to the surprise of skeptics has remained aligned with a resolute refusal to allow Russia to prevail in its efforts to erase the Ukrainian state and Ukrainian nationality.

Putin attacks, there is war in Ukraine, Explosions in Kiev, missiles on other cities. Photo by Giovanni Cancemi, February 24 2022

In no region of the world has the response been more notable than in the Baltic Sea region. This region—consisting of nine states, divisible into an eastern flank (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania), a northern flank (Finland, Sweden, and Norway), and a southern flank (Poland, Germany, and Denmark)—has undergone a radical transformation, not just in arms materiel and strategy but in psychology, and in some cases even in identity, as well. For Sweden and Finland, the events of 2022 resulted in their applications for NATO membership, reversing historic non-alignment.

This issue of PRISM—titled “Forward Defense”—examines the security transformations taking place in these diverse but aligned countries. As distinct as these nine countries are they are each reinforcing, or in some cases rebuilding, their armed forces and reviving the Total Defense or Comprehensive Defense concepts they embraced during the Cold War. Total or Comprehensive Defense is a strategic approach that recognizes the multidimensional threat posed by autocratic countries and the existential threat to the liberal, rules-based world order. It understands that effective deterrence depends on both resistance and resilience and codes those into the respective security and defense strategies.

This issue of PRISM is the product of a multi-year collaboration between the U.S. National Defense University and Swedish Defense University, a collaboration that has helped forge closer relations between our two countries and that demonstrates the benefits of partnership. It is a step toward conceptual interoperability that might be emulated by others. Previous efforts have resulted in a series of exercises and the publication of “Baltics Left of Bang,” a collection of policy briefs developed by the two universities upon which this current effort builds.

The articles in this issue of PRISM are not official statements but reflect the official and unofficial statements and efforts by governments and peoples in the Baltic Sea region to preserve peace by preparing for war. PRISM