Author Biography

Lionel Beehner, PhD, is an assistant professor at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point's Defense & Strategic Studies Department and research director of its Modern War Institute. He holds a doctorate in political science from Yale University and is a 2019-2019 International Affairs Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Col. Liam Collins is director of the Modern War Institute at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York. A career Special Forces officer, he has conducted multiple combat deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq as well as operational deployments to Bosnia, Africa and South America. He holds a doctorate from Princeton University, New Jersey.



Subject Area Keywords

International relations, International security, Russia, Security policy


Deterrence theory typically focuses on states’ armed forces and other tools of coercion. However, what about the resolve, resilience, and willingness of ordinary civilians who voluntarily organize and arm themselves as reservist militias to defend their homeland? Can well-armed volunteers in smaller states deter larger powers? We examine the case of the Baltic States and Russia, one of the central fault lines of global politics. Questioning the commitment of NATO to their collective security, the governments of the Baltic States have begun to actively arm, organize, recruit, and train thousands of volunteer reservists to defend their homelands from an asymmetric attack, conventional or otherwise. Based on fieldwork in the region, we find that informal volunteer forces and formal civilian militias can influence the calculus of more powerful adversaries to produce a deterrent effect.


The views here do not reflect the official views of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, U.S. Army, or Department of Defense.


The authors are thankful to Alexander Lanoszka and Juris Pupcenoks for providing helpful feedback on drafts of this manuscript.