Boosting NATO’s presence in the east and southeast
An important component of NATO’s strengthened deterrence and defence posture is military presence in the eastern and south-eastern parts of Alliance territory. Allies implemented the 2016 Warsaw Summit decisions to establish NATO’s forward presence in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland and to develop a tailored forward presence in the Black Sea region. These decisions demonstrate Allies’ solidarity, determination, and ability to defend Alliance territory.
- NATO has enhanced its forward presence in the eastern part of the Alliance, with four multinational battalion-size battlegroups in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, on a rotational basis.
- These battlegroups, led by the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany and the United States respectively, are robust and combat-ready forces. They demonstrate the strength of the transatlantic bond and make clear that an attack on one Ally would be considered an attack on the whole Alliance.
- NATO has also a forward presence tailored to the southeast of Alliance territory. Allies are contributing forces and capabilities on land, at sea and in the air.
- The land element in the southeast of the Alliance is built around a multinational brigade, under Multinational Division Southeast in Romania. At sea, NATO has deployed more ships and has conducted more naval exercises. In the air, Allies have intensified their training, which contributed to improved situational awareness and enhanced readiness.
- NATO’s forward presence is part of the biggest reinforcement of Alliance collective defence in a generation.
- Forward presence can be rapidly reinforced by additional forces and capabilities.
More background information
As part of NATO’s strengthened deterrence and defence posture, Allies agreed at the 2016 Summit in Warsaw to establish an enhanced forward presence in the eastern part of the Alliance.
This military presence is defensive, proportionate and in line with international commitments. It represents a significant commitment by Allies and is a tangible reminder that an attack on one is an attack on all.
Fully deployed by July 2017, NATO’s enhanced forward presence comprises four multinational battalion-size battlegroups, provided by framework nations and other contributing Allies on a voluntary, fully sustainable and rotational basis.
The battlegroups operate in concert with national home defence forces and are present at all times in the host countries.
The battlegroups are not identical; their make-up is tailored to geographic and host nation requirements. Overall, military effectiveness guides each battlegroup’s composition.
Today, men and women in uniform from over 20 Allies serve, train and exercise together, representing a strong expression of Alliance unity and solidarity.
Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States are the framework nations for the robust NATO presence in Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Poland respectively.
Albania, the Czech Republic, Iceland, Italy, Montenegro, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain contribute to the Canadian-led battlegroup in Latvia; Belgium, the Czech Republic, Iceland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Norway provide contributions to the German-led battlegroup in Lithuania; France and Iceland contribute to the UK-led battlegroup in Estonia; and Croatia, Romania and the United Kingdom are part of the US-led battlegroup in Poland.
The four battlegroups are under NATO command, through the Multinational Corps Northeast Headquarters in Szczecin, Poland, and two division-level headquarters coordinate training and preparation activities of their respective battlegroups. Multinational Division Northeast Headquarters located in Elblag, Poland has been fully operational since December 2018. This headquarters works closely with the battlegroups in Poland and Lithuania. A complementary Multinational Division North Headquarters was activated by NATO in October 2020 and is moving towards full operational capability. Its forward elements are located in Adazi, Latvia, while the rest of the headquarters is located in Karup, Denmark. This headquarters cooperates closely with the battlegroups in Estonia and Latvia.
At the 2016 Summit in Warsaw, Allies also agreed to develop a tailored forward presence in the south-eastern part of Alliance territory on land, at sea and in the air. The land element of this presence is built around a multinational brigade headquarters in Craiova, Romania. It provides training opportunities for national contingents from across the Alliance. At sea, NATO has deployed more ships and has conducted more naval exercises. In the air, Allies have intensified their training, which contributed to improved situational awareness and enhanced readiness.
This means more NATO forces and more exercises and training under Headquarters Multinational Division Southeast (in Romania), which became fully operational in June 2017.
In addition, many activities undertaken by Allies nationally – while not formally part of tailored forward presence – also contribute to increased Allied activity in the region.
Tailored forward presence contributes to the Alliance's strengthened deterrence and defence posture, to Allies’ situational awareness, interoperability and responsiveness. All of these measures contribute to a peacetime demonstration of NATO's intent to operate and train together in the Black Sea region without constraint.
At all times, NATO deployments are transparent and in line with its international commitments and obligations.
In response to Russia’s actions in the Black Sea region in November 2018, NATO decided to increase its presence in the region to further improve situational awareness. Allies have also stepped up their support for Georgia and Ukraine with more training and exercises for maritime forces and coast guards, as well as port visits.
NATO’s rapid reinforcement strategy also ensures that forward presence forces will be reinforced by NATO’s Very High Readiness Joint Task Force, the broader NATO Response Force, Allies’ additional high readiness forces and NATO’s heavier follow-on forces, if necessary.
Allies agreed at the Wales Summit in 2014 to implement the Readiness Action Plan (RAP) in order to respond swiftly to the fundamental changes in the security environment on NATO's borders and further afield.
Building on the RAP, Allies took further decisions at the Warsaw Summit in 2016 to strengthen NATO’s deterrence and defence posture and to contribute to projecting stability and strengthening security outside of Alliance territory.
Together, these decisions are the biggest reinforcement of Alliance collective defence in a generation. Combined with the forces and capabilities required for rapid reinforcement by follow-on forces, forward presence enhances the security of all Allies.
Today, NATO’s forward presence demonstrates the Alliance’s solidarity, determination, and ability to act immediately in response to any aggression. Forward presence exercise programmes allow Allies to train their forces together. It results in enhanced readiness and interoperability. It has also strengthened the Alliance politically by fostering bilateral ties between Allies and better understanding of hybrid actions used against NATO troops since their first deployments.
In going forward, the Alliance will continue to ensure that its posture remains credible, coherent and resilient. The security environment in the Euro-Atlantic area continues to evolve and new threats and challenges are constantly emerging. The Alliance adapts and plans accordingly, and its forward presence will remain as long as the security situation requires it. All NATO measures are and will remain defensive, proportionate and consistent with international commitments. The Alliance will maintain the transparency that has characterised forward presence since its inception.