Nato is 65 years old this year; but there’s little cause for celebration. The Defence Select Committee’s latest report suggests that the populations of western Europe and North America are lukewarm about Nato’s collective defence guarantee – the principle that an attack on one Nato member is an attack on all. Paragraph 70 quotes research conducted in the aftermath of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Georgia in 2008; it found that less than 50 per cent of the populations of major Nato powers would support the defence of the Baltic States if they were attacked.
The report explains that the substantial Russian minorities in Latvia and Estonia, under the influence of invasive Russian media, are vulnerable to ‘information warfare’ and of ‘inciting disturbances that have caused such chaos in Ukraine.’ The report also notes that Lithuania is strategically attractive to Russia, as it would allow the Russian enclave at Kaliningrad to be linked to mainland Russia through Belarus. The Baltic States fear that their citizens have been the target of Russian information campaigns. There appears to be a receptive audience among the minorities: local polls found that 43 per cent of Russian speakers in Latvia back Putin’s annexation of Crimea.
Nato has concocted a plan to deter Russian mischief. Earlier this month, the then Defence Secretary Philip Hammond told the Defence Select Committee that Britain would contribute to Nato plans for a ‘more enduring pattern of exercises in the Baltic States and Poland, and the Baltic itself’. These exercises have been ongoing since March, when Putin was busying himself with Crimea. The latest operation, Black Eagle, includes a contingent of more than 3,500 British personnel and 350 armoured vehicles and tanks. There is also a considerable air force in the region, to which Britain has contributed a number of Typhoons.