Boutique Baltic Armies

Saturday, April 30th, 2011

When the Baltic States — Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania — joined NATO, the organization pressured them to turn their militaries into boutique armies:

The NATO plan for the Baltics was for Latvia to specialize in NBC (Nuclear/Biological/Chemical) decontamination, Lithuania to focus on military medical care, and Estonia to do minesweeping and bomb detection. The official argument pushing all this specialization was that the last thing NATO needs is a “toy army” with its own separate air force of a half-dozen planes, navy with two or three ships, and army with one tank unit. The idea is that in an alliance composed of a few huge countries, several middle-sized powers and a dozen-odd tiny ethnic enclaves, the best thing the little ethnic enclaves could do for the group is take on some of the more technical jobs and leave combat to the big boys.

If you’re sitting at a NATO desk in Brussels or trying to line up your forces in the Pentagon, that makes perfect sense. If you’re hunched nervously at the edge of the Baltic Sea, with Mother Russia holding huge military exercises a few miles inland, it’s not such a cheering concept. If the three Baltic countries let their armies get turned into auxiliary units for NATO, basically give up any notion of defending their home countries, they’re putting absolute trust in a squabbling, slow, bureaucratic mess.

Latvia and Estonia went along with the plan. Lithuania did not.

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