The Baltic countries are prosperous now and, ostensibly, safe as members of both the EU and NATO. Yet, they live with sordid memories of Soviet occupation, which lasted over 50 years. And the specter of a new Russian invasion never quite fades away.
"What if"is a real consideration for the Balts and others in the Intermarium. It used to be for us, too, during the Cold War.
Some 36 years ago Robert Conquest, my mentor and favorite fixture at the Hoover Institution, published What to Do When the Russians Come: A Survivor’s Guide (New York: Stein and Day, 1984). His was a tongue-in-cheek running commentary on a possible -aftermath of a "Red Dawn" like Red Army invasion of the United States.
Conquest, who also advised British prime minister Margaret Thatcher on the USSR, gave us an almanac with alphabetical entries of various categories of potential "enemies of the people" in the occupied U.S. I quote from memory: Trotskite? Emigrate or die. FBI officer: Same. The rest of us? Ah, the joys of the American Gulag.
In Resistance Operating Concept (MacDill Air Force Base, Fla, and Stockholm: Joint Special Operations University Press and Swedish Defense University, 2020, also online) Colonel Otto C. Fiala, Ph.D., has turned the tables on this paradigm. Instead of focusing on possible Russian occupation policies and politics in the Baltics, he conceptualizes the nature of native resistance.
Dr. Fiala developed his ideas under the aegis of the United States Special Operations Command Europe. A disclaimer: I know and respect the Colonel. In fact, I assisted in the ROC project some. So what do we do when the Russians come?
First and foremost, we learn from history. There are some universal attitudes we should be aware of. Common folks, no matter how they hate the invader tend to accommodate, rather than collaborate or resist. The people want to survive. At the same time, under duress, they barely fulfill the duties that are required of them by the occupier, and not very diligently. The elites largely strive to accommodate as well, if possible. Only the most craven collaborate to the detriment of their fellow citizens.
Some want to resist, however. This demographic disproportionately tends to be very young, and, therefore, idealistic. Perceiving the world as black and white, the youth are extremely combustible. They may seek armed resistance, even terrorism. They can even precipitate a premature uprising.
That is why they need close supervision and a mission charted by professionals: Stay behind special forces. That is what Col. Fiala has in mind for the Baltics. The stay behind troops are going to blend into the population and play it safe. Until a liberation offensive from the outside, they will lay low; organize sleeper cells; maintain secret weapons caches; keep in touch with their governments in exile; and handle the eager-beaver whippersnappers so there would be no uncoordinated violent explosion against the occupying force. The energy of the youth should be channeled into underground printing and paramilitary preparation.
Is this a fantasy? No, it is a hard reality. For example, Estonia fields about 8,000 regular troops. It can count perhaps on a couple of American and British rotating airborne companies. Meanwhile, the Russians face them with at least 80,000 border troops and more than 100,000 in the nearest "Leningrad" military district. And that is just within a hundred miles or so.
The United States command assumes that it will take Vladimir Putin from a few hours to a few days to overwhelm the Baltics. We have no forces in the area to counter successfully the Russian juggernaut. Heck, when the Russians troops pour into the Suwałki gap, we expect the Poles to fend for themselves for a couple of months. That is how long it will take for U.S. ground troops to reach Poland in force sufficient enough to shore up the Polish defenses.
Oh, yes. I understand your objections: NATO and its Article 5. Well, we can certainly fly sorties and shoot missiles at the enemy from day one, but I do not think the Balts would appreciate being bombed into the smithereens by us or anyone to save them from the Russians. Once occupied, they will have to accommodate and resist.
Meanwhile, we shall help set up their governments in exile and support the stay behind forces, while making sure there is no unnecessary bloodshed in the occupied lands.
During the Cold War, we certainly had similar contingency plans. For example, in case of a Soviet invasion, the Swiss government planned to evacuate to Ireland. We help the Italians to establish their remain behind forces, the infamous "Gladio." Other NATO and non-NATO Western countries had their equivalents. There were secret caches of weapons spread all over the place.
We anticipated that – in the worst case scenario – Western Europe would succumb to the Soviets. Yet we refused to acknowledge that even such a nightmare would be permanent. We committed ourselves to constitutional continuity of Western European democratic governments, even if they should have gone into exile. We also pledged to support the resistance, in particular through the professionally trained stay behind forces.
This is the least we can do for the Balts. Our firm commitment to their freedom and independence also serves as a deterrent. If the horror scenario of the Russian occupation fulfills itself, we will not abandon our allies. We shall persevere until their nations are free again, their government-in-exile are back home, and the Russians are gone again.
And we want Moscow to know that we are serious. Putin, or his successors, may succeed in occupying the Baltics initially, as they drive stubbornly for the imperial re-integration, but we shall never surrender and forget the Balts.
This is the essence of our resistance.
Marek Jan Chodakiewicz is Professor of History at the Institute of World Politics, a graduate school of statecraft in Washington D.C.; expert on East-Central Europe's Three Seas region; author, among others, of "Intermarium: The Land Between The Baltic and Black Seas." Read Marek Jan Chodakiewicz's Reports — More Here.
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