Nuclear weapons in Lithuania?
The complex geopolitical situation in the region has forced the Baltic States and their NATO allies to take unprecedented efforts to increase the defense capabilities to counter potential aggressors. The new Lithuanian military strategy approved in March describes Russian actions along with terrorism as the main threats to the security of Lithuania, as was reported by Delfi.
Unfortunately for pacifists, the Alliance and Russia today are arming themselves and demonstrating their military power. They constantly compare the strength and capabilities of their armed forces, conduct large-scale military exercises, and respond to each other by deploying new contingents and military equipment closer and closer to the NATO-Russian zone of confrontation.
The Baltic States have become such a zone.
Moscow has placed Iskander-M launchers in Kaliningrad, which is capable of carrying a nuclear warhead and has never been made available to any foreign army for operational use. The weapon affords Russia the ability to use its Baltic exclave to threaten US missile defense installations in Poland, and more generally to intimidate its neighbors - the Baltic States.
During combat operations, it would be used to destroy both stationary and moving targets. Targets would range from surface-to-air missile batteries, enemy short-range missiles, airfields, ports, command and communication centers, factories, and other hardened targets.
The commander of the US military aviation in Europe and Africa - General Frank Gorenc - said the increasingly powerful Russian air defenses raises serious concerns about the US military's aviation.
He said that the Pentagon is particularly concerned about Russian air defense systems in the Kaliningrad region, a Russian enclave which borders Lithuania and Poland: "Russia is implementing a strategy of limiting / blocking access. I do not remember anything else that has bothered me as much as this current strategy has, and it worries me." Russian air defense in the Kaliningrad area increasingly threaten NATO's military access to the air space in parts of Europe.
The most logical response to Moscow's activity would be to deploy nuclear warheads close to Russia's borders. It has been well known for decades that the United States still stores nuclear weapons in Europe. The existence of the bombs is officially neither confirmed nor denied. According to the Trumpet, more than 180 American-owned nuclear bombs are stored in the Netherlands, Italy, Germany, Turkey, and Belgium.
Hypothetically, if a country has nuclear weapons, it can deter Russia. The Baltic States do not possess such weapons, but there are some indicators that they are ready to deploy or become host nations for aircraft capable of carrying nuclear weapons. By the way, this kind of aircraft was engaged in the Baltic air-policing mission.
NATO pays close attention to modernizing the airbases in the Baltic States. These sites have already expanded and modernized according to NATO standards. Moreover, the United States plans to spend $3 million (€2.65 million) in 2017 on building a munitions storage area at the Air Base in Siauliai, northern Lithuania, according to LETA/BNS on March 4th. Does this mean that this particular airbase will be used as a storage facility for nuclear warheads? Probably not, but in this case the Baltic States will feel much safer than they currently do.
But there is the other side of the coin. In the event of deploying nuclear warheads on the territory of the Baltic States, they automatically turn into attractive targets for terrorism.
Inside the halls of NATO, the future of nuclear weapons is a simmering political issue; some of the nuclear faithful and their new Eastern European allies argue that readiness should be beefed up, and that nuclear weapons should be used more for "signaling" against a militaristic Russia. At the upcoming NATO Summit in Warsaw in July, the possibility of a new "strategic concept" involving nuclear weapons is rumored to be on the agenda. But the Baltic States themselves should decide if they want to counter Russia successfully with nuclear weapons but simultaneously become a target for terrorists.