Countering provocations or pressure by adversary states like Russia should be formulated on Western strengths, and not dictated by the adversary.
In September, Russia and Belarus launched the Zapad 2017 military exercises, which saw a snap mobilization of thousands of troops on Europe’s doorstep, stoking fresh fears of renewed Russian aggression. Understandably, the exercises have added fresh urgency to discussions among NATO members about how to best answer provocations like Zapad; or indications that Russia may be deploying more missiles to Kaliningrad, its heavily fortified exclave. Russian brinkmanship should not go unanswered, but an effective response does not necessarily need to be symmetrical—force buildups with force buildups, and moves with countermoves. There are other arrows in the proverbial quiver.
This year’s edition of Russia’s quadrennial war game saw the two allies muster their forces to fight fictional Eastern European states with analogous geography to the Baltic States—all EU and NATO members. The scale and complexity of the drills were not lost upon Western analysts and military leadership, fueling worries that Zapad could be yet another precursor to a Russian intervention, as it was ahead of its wars in Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014. Amid the customary information haze, Moscow’s ultimate message was clear: it’s military is back, and Western attempts to contain or deter it would be fruitless—even as NATO forces took part in neutral Sweden’s own exercises, and four NATO “reassurance” battalions set camp in the Baltics.