I think NATO needs to hold the line somewhere in Lithuania to defend the Suwalki Gap; secure our flank by taking Kaliningrad; perhaps hold an enclave at Riga or maybe more likely control offshore Baltic state islands to support Baltic insurgents and irregulars bolstered by American and NATO special forces; and mobilize and move heavy ground and air forces (which requires the logistics infrastructure) for a counter-offensive to liberate the Baltic states.
American troops participated in exercises in the Baltics for the holding-the-line part:
The U.S. Army partnered with Lithuanian troops on Tuesday for the Savage Wolf military exercise as a part of Operation Atlantic Resolve. ...
The goal of the exercise is to integrate U.S. forces and equipment into Lithuanian defense plans, as well as integrating platoons into the company level with subsequent evaluation of the platoons capabilities.
The resistance part is shown by the Ridge Runner exercise held in West Virginia that included special forces from Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania:
The West Virginia Army National Guard runs the irregular warfare program for the benefit special operations forces and conventional troops, other government agencies, and sometimes American allies, all of whom who want to make use of the state’s unique Advanced Mobility Training Area. The “facility” is huge, covering approximately 500,000 acres of both public and private land, which state and federal authorities use under land agreements with the owners.
This story is about Lithuania, but Russian intent is no less hostile to Latvia or Estonia:
“Russia is a threat,” the defence minister, Raimundas Karoblis, said. “They are saying our capital Vilnius should not belong to Lithuania because between the first and second world wars it was occupied by Poland. It’s history of course, but Russia is using this pretext.
The pretext would be pointless with a resolute West. But sadly, those inclined to retreat in the face of Russian aggression will readily believe the blatant lies.
We need the time because of this basic fact about NATO's military power compared to Russia's:
For the Poles, the Russians have long been the major issue. They see the potential for a Russian move against the Baltic states and are deeply concerned about NATO’s military weakness. In their view, should the Russians decide to move decisively, only the Americans would be in a position to bring significant force to bear, and that force would take months to arrive. It is not that they are expecting an attack. But if an attack happens, it will most likely take place in the Baltics, and the Poles will bear the major burden of resistance. The Poles have made substantial efforts in building a military, but they will be unable to hold back the Russians alone. Given the Europeans’ weakness and United States’ distance from the region, they feel isolated.
Sadly for the Baltic states, trying to prevent Russia from initially conquering them is suicidal.
Preserving NATO's army has to come first over defending the Baltic states if Russia invades them. Trying to hold the line on the Russian border with Estonia and Latvia will not save the Baltic states and just result in the destruction of a major part of the NATO army needed to liberate the Baltic states.
Poland's worry is why, since the Russian invasion of Georgia, I want American and NATO ground force equipment stored in Poland.
And don't forget that Belarus is perhaps the most important territory in Europe these days when it comes to preventing Russia from defeating NATO in a war over the Baltic states. So this is disturbing:
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarus' authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko met in St. Petersburg, just as the city was hit by a deadly bombing at a metro station, to negotiate a settlement to an oil and gas dispute.
The traditional allies have recently clashed over energy as Belarus flirted with the West and criticized Russia's annexation of Crimea. A rapprochement suggests Russia is trying to move Belarus back into its orbit.
Russia is weaker than America. But Russia is closer to the potential battlefields and will dictate the timing of a war, if the Russians are that bold. So NATO needs to survive the initial Russian attack; mobilize and deploy NATO's superior power; and then defeat the Russians to liberate what Russia took while they held the advantage.