Collection: Anti-Access/Area Denial in the Baltic Sea Region

Research Articles

Nuclear Blackmail and Nuclear Balance in the Baltic Region



Questions about the nuclear balance have resurfaced in Europe after a long hiatus. NATO members in the Baltic region especially worry that Russia might use nuclear weapons to gain a strategic advantage at their expense. I draw on the political science literature on nuclear coercion to investigate whether Russia can successfully use nuclear coercion. I argue that NATO defense planners have more cause for optimism than they might realize. First, Russia will continue to suffer an unfavorable nuclear balance at the strategic level and so will never fully be confident that it can escape unacceptable costs meted out by the United States. Second, although their record of behavior suggests that Russian leaders might believe that nuclear weapons are useful for compellence, an alternative explanation is possible. That is, they may simply be compensating for their own relative inferiority with bluster. Third, nuclear coercion is only effective under very stringent circumstances: when the user is facing a large-scale conventional military attack that it cannot handle. Far from being cowed, NATO members located in the Baltic region are responding to Russia’s nuclear saber rattling with efforts to bolster their defense and deterrence measures.


A2/ADnuclear coercionNATOBaltic security
  • Year: 2019
  • Volume: 2 Issue: 1
  • Page/Article: 84–94
  • DOI: 10.31374/sjms.22
  • Submitted on 1 Oct 2018
  • Accepted on 1 Feb 2019
  • Published on 21 Aug 2019
  • Peer Reviewed