COLOGNE, Germany — NATO’s top general in Europe on Thursday poured a bit of cold water on the notion that the Baltics are sitting defenseless against Russian military whims.

Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of U.S. European Command and NATO supreme allied commander Europe, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Russia’s conventional overmatch on the continent should not be seen as assured victory if fighting was to break out.

Citing a recent study by the think tank Rand, committee Chairman Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., wanted to know if the general subscribed to the conclusion that NATO would be “overwhelmed by superior firepower” from Moscow’s forces.

“I don’t agree with that,” Scaparrotti responded. “When you look at NATO writ large, it has the strength of 29 nations. The effort that’s being made in NATO and that’s being made here in the United States is to increase our capability to deter and, if necessary, defend.”

Scaparrotti was referring to a collective effort by alliance members in recent years to shore up support to countries that feel most threatened by the prospect of a Russian invasion. Those fears have run high since Moscow annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 in an unprecedented paramilitary-style operation whose overall objectives became clear only as Russian forces had gained a seemingly irreversible momentum.

Rand’s work over the past several years has been fueled by similar concerns, namely that Russia could use its conventional weaponry to rapidly invade key territory in the Baltics and then dictate from there how the situation would develop.

U.S. Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, who became President Donald Trump’s national security adviser last year, famously told a group of senators in 2016 that U.S. forces were “outranged and outgunned” against Russia.

That assessment still holds true today, Scaparrotti said at the hearing, arguing that still more U.S. troops are needed to bolster allies. But he also offered a caveat, saying the judgment applies only to the balance of ground forces and only in the context of Eastern Europe.

“We fight multidomain, however,” he said, referring to the military term for integrating two or more of the domains of warfare: land, sea, air, space and cyberspace.

And while Russian forces might have the immediate upper hand should fighting break out, “in the longer run NATO has great advantages that they actually recognize and fear,” he said.

Sebastian Sprenger is associate editor for Europe at Defense News, reporting on the state of the defense market in the region, and on U.S.-Europe cooperation and multi-national investments in defense and global security. Previously he served as managing editor for Defense News. He is based in Cologne, Germany.

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