At the Center of the Risk of Escalation
At its summit, NATO positions itself against Russia. Lithuania, the Bundeswehr’s priority partner nation, is geostrategically exposed and faces a particular risk of escalation.
BRUSSELS/VILNIUS/BERLIN (Own report) – NATO declares Russia to be “the most significant and direct threat” and orients its new force model on ramping up military forces at its eastern flank, according to the new Strategic Concept and force model adopted by the heads of states and governments of the western military pact at yesterday’s summit in Madrid. In addition, the number of high readiness forces will be increased from 40,000 to well over 300,000. The individual armed forces will also be assigned to fixed areas of operations in the event of war. According to the current state of discussion, the Bundeswehr would be primarily responsible for Lithuania. That country is geostrategically exposed, because its southern region lies between Belarus and the Russian exclave Kaliningrad. Moreover, its government is extremely provocative, as its behavior in conflicts with China and Russia demonstrates. This increases risks of escalation – not least of all for the Bundeswehr.
The New Force Model
Yesterday, NATO adopted its new Strategic Concept and agreed, in principle, on a new force model. Russia is designated “the most significant and direct threat” and NATO’s new force model is mainly focused on ramping up its military forces on its eastern flank. According to this new model – referred to as either the New Force Model or the Allied Reaction Force (ARF) – the number of its current 40,000 high readiness forces, dubbed the NATO Response Force (NRF), will be increased to over 300,000. The individual armed forces will be assigned particular areas of operations, for which they would be responsible in the event of war. Only a portion of them would be stationed there permanently. Even though they will regularly carry out maneuvers in the operational areas, the majority of the troops will be based in their homeland. To be able to intervene within a minimum amount of time, in the event of war, arms depots will be established in the areas of operations. These pre-positioned stocks will ensure their immediate availability at the front.
Area of Operations – Lithuania
As Germany’s Minister of Defense Christine Lambrecht announced, the Bundeswehr will have around 15,000 soldiers ready for the New Force Model. Obviously, the NATO battlegroup in Lithuania’s Rukla, which recently had been increased to 1,600, with more than 1, 000 coming from Germany will be part of it. The battlegroup is to be expanded from battalion strength to the size of a combat brigade, 3,000 – 5,000 soldiers. It is true that the largest segment of these troops will probably not be stationed in Lithuania, but rather be flown in for maneuvers. Nevertheless, in the event of war, Lithuania would be a potential area of operations for the Bundeswehr.
The Suwalki Corridor
In Lithuania, the Bundeswehr is concentrating on a country that poses a special risk of escalation, due both to its geostrategic situation, as well as to the special propensity of its current government for provocations. Lithuania’s geostrategic situation is characterized by the fact that the southern part of the country, along with the extreme northeastern territory of Poland separates the Russian exclave Kaliningrad from Belarus. The Lithuanian-Polish strip of land, called the Suwalki Corridor – in reference to a Polish town located within it – is only 100 km wide at its narrowest point. For years, NATO strategists have been working with a scenario, according to which, Russia could initiate an attack on the Baltic countries by marching Russian troops from Belarus and Kaliningrad into the Suwalki Corridor, and thereby severing Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia from the rest of the NATO countries. These countries would, de facto, no longer be defendable. The Suwalki Corridor (sometimes referred to as the “Suwalki Gap”) occupies a comparable position to the cold war era’s Fulda Gap in NATO planning.
Dispute over Taiwan
That the current Lithuanian government has a special propensity for provocations was demonstrated last year in a conflict involving the opening of a Taiwanese representative office in its capital Vilnius. The incident was peculiar, due particularly to the fact that Lithuania, itself – a small Baltic country without any significant expanding economic ties to Asia – does not have any prominent interests of its own in Eastern Asia. Last fall, the United States launched a campaign aimed at boosting Taiwan’s standing in international bodies and in international politics in general. This is an element in US efforts to weaken China and to reinforce the West’s position in the Asia-Pacific region. In late summer and fall of last year, the Lithuanian government – in close coordination with the USA – laid the groundwork for Taiwan to open a representation office, like those already existing in many other countries, for example Germany. Everywhere, this office goes under the name of the capital of the island, the “Taipei Representative Office,” in deference to the One China policy, officially recognized in the West as well. The fact that Lithuania chose the name “Taiwanese” for the representative office can be explained by Lithuania having accepted to function as the buffer in Washington’s Taiwan campaign. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.) The result is an ongoing serious conflict between Lithuania and China.
The Kaliningrad Blockade
Similarly, Lithuania has launched itself headlong into the conflict with Russia. On June 17, the Lithuanian railroad began blocking transport of all goods from Belarus to the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad that are on the EU’s sanctions lists. Lithuania, like nearly all other European countries, had closed their airspace to Russian flights earlier. They were thus forced to fly a detour via Sankt Petersburg and the Baltic Sea. Now Russia is obliged to bring nearly half of its goods, previously shipped by rail, including construction material, metals, cement, by sea to Kaliningrad. In the course of the year, coal and oil will be added to the list of blockaded overland transited goods. Moscow points to the fact that the blockade violates the 1994 and the 2002 agreements between the EU and Russia allowing the free transit of goods between Kaliningrad and Russia’s sovereign mainland territory, and reserves the right to retaliate, without being more precise. Yesterday, it was reported that the EU is in talks about exempting Kaliningrad from sanctions. Of course, the condition is that Lithuania drops its reservations, which currently is not the case.
Should the conflict over Kaliningrad escalates out of control, the Bundeswehr would be directly involved. On the one hand, because of its troops stationed in Lithuania, and on the other, due to its navy, which is increasingly concentrating on the North Atlantic, and particularly on the Baltic Sea, where since some time, it has been building a new multinational operational naval headquarters in Rostock. At the beginning of the week, Navy Inspector, Jan Christian Kaack confirmed that the German Navy is prepared to take on a leadership role in the Baltic Sea, within the NATO framework. Once Finland and Sweden join the alliance, the only non-NATO country would be Russia, whose Baltic fleet has its headquarters in Kaliningrad.
 Press Conference by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg following the meeting of the North Atlantic Council at the level of Heads of State and Government (2022 NATO Summit). nato.int 29.06.2022
 See also An der russischen Grenze.
 „Natürlich ist das Teil einer Blockade“. tagesschau.de 21.06.2022.
 Oliver Klein: Darf Litauen Gütertransporte aufhalten? zdf.de 23.06.2022.
 Andrius Sytas, John O‘Donnell: Kaliningrad row: EU nears compromise deal to defuse standoff with Russia. swissinfo.ch 29.06.2022.
 Bereit für Führungsrolle in der Ostsee. tagesschau.de 28.06.2022.