NATO’s military presence in the east of the Alliance

  • Last updated: 28 Mar. 2022 14:24

An important component of NATO’s deterrence and defence posture is military presence in the eastern parts of Alliance territory. In recent years, Allies have enhanced NATO’s forward presence in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland and have developed a tailored forward presence in the Black Sea region. Additional multinational battlegroups have been stood up in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia. These actions demonstrate Allies’ solidarity, determination and ability to defend Alliance territory and populations.

Corporal Lalabalavu from the Royal Welsh Regiment stands in front of his squad after exiting from a Warrior armoured fighting vehicle during an exercise near Tapa in Estonia. These troops form part of NATO's Enhanced Forward Presence battlegroup.

British Army troops stationed in Estonia as part of NATO’s enhanced Forward Presence battlegroup stand in front of a Warrior armoured fighting vehicle during an exercise.

 

  • Before Russia’s illegal and illegitimate annexation of Crimea in 2014, NATO had no plans to deploy combat troops in the eastern part of the Alliance. 
  • At the 2016 NATO Summit in Warsaw, in response to the increased instability and insecurity along NATO’s periphery, Allied Heads of State and Government agreed to enhance NATO’s forward presence in the east and southeast of the Alliance.
  • This enhanced forward presence was first established in 2017, with the creation of 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.
  • Following Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, Allies have agreed to establish four more multinational battlegroups in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia. This brings the total number of multinational battlegroups to eight, extending all along NATO’s eastern flank – from the Baltic Sea in the north to the Black Sea in the south.
  • Allies continue to contribute forces and capabilities on land, at sea and in the air in the Black Sea region.
  • 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.
  • In response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Allies have sent ships, planes and troops to NATO territory in eastern and south-eastern Europe, further reinforcing the Alliance’s deterrence and defence posture.

 

  • NATO’s forward presence

    As part of NATO’s strengthened deterrence and defence posture, Allies agreed at the 2016 NATO 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; Denmark, 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. 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 NATO 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 Black Sea. In the air, Allies have intensified their training, which contributes 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, and 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.

    In response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, at the extraordinary NATO Summit in Brussels on 24 March 2022, Allied Heads of State and Government agreed to establish four more multinational battlegroups in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia. 

    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 (VJTF), the broader NATO Response Force, Allies’ additional high readiness forces and NATO’s heavier follow-on forces, if necessary.

  • Evolution

    Before Russia’s illegal and illegitimate annexation of Crimea in February and March 2014, NATO had no plans to deploy combat troops in the eastern part of the Alliance.

    Allies agreed at the NATO Summit in Wales in September 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 2016 NATO Summit in Warsaw 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.

    In line with the 2016 Warsaw Summit decisions, by July 2017, four multinational battlegroups were deployed in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. 

    In response to Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Allies are sending additional ships, planes and troops to NATO territory in eastern and south-eastern Europe, further reinforcing the Alliance’s deterrence and defence posture. This includes thousands of additional soldiers to NATO’s battlegroups, fighter jets to support NATO air policing missions, bolstered naval forces in the Baltic and Mediterranean Seas, and increased troop readiness for the NATO Response Force.

    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, resulting 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.

    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. The Alliance will continue to ensure that its posture remains credible, coherent and resilient. 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.