NATO’s military presence in the east of the Alliance
An important component of NATO’s deterrence and defence posture is its military presence in the eastern part of Alliance territory. In recent years, Allies have enhanced NATO’s forward presence by establishing multinational battlegroups in Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Slovakia. They have also sent more ships, planes and troops to NATO’s eastern flank, from the Baltic Sea in the north to the Black Sea in the south. These actions demonstrate Allies’ resolve and readiness to defend Alliance territory and populations.
Polish forces deployed to Romania as part of NATO’s multinational battlegroup participate in a live-fire exercise alongside their French and Romanian counterparts.
- NATO has increased its military presence in the eastern part of the Alliance as a direct result of Russia’s behaviour, which reflects a pattern of aggressive actions against its neighbours and the wider transatlantic community. Russia is the most significant and direct threat to Allies’ security and to peace and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area.
- 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 establish NATO’s forward presence in the northeast and southeast of the Alliance.
- This forward presence was first deployed in 2017, with the creation of four multinational battalion-size battlegroups in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, led by the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany and the United States respectively. In the southeast, a tailored presence on land, at sea and in the air contributed to increased Allied activity in the region, enhancing situational awareness, interoperability and responsiveness.
- Following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Allies reinforced the existing battlegroups and agreed to establish four more multinational battlegroups in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia. This has brought the total number of multinational battlegroups to eight, effectively doubled the number of troops on the ground and extended NATO’s forward presence along the Alliance’s eastern flank – from the Baltic Sea in the north to the Black Sea in the south.
- Allies are committed to deploying robust and combat-ready forces on the Alliance’s eastern flank. The eight battlegroups demonstrate the strength of the transatlantic bond and the Alliance’s solidarity, determination and ability to respond to any aggression.
- At the 2022 NATO Summit in Madrid, Allies agreed to scale up the multinational battlegroups from battalions to brigade size, where and when required. Allies are now exercising the ability to deploy rapidly available reinforcements in order to expand the battlegroups to brigade-size formations.
- Many activities undertaken by Allies nationally also contribute to increased Allied activity in the eastern part of the Alliance. In response to Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Allies have sent additional ships, planes and troops to NATO territory in eastern Europe, further reinforcing the Alliance’s deterrence and defence posture.
NATO’s forward presence
NATO’s military presence in the eastern part of the Alliance is a key part of its strengthened deterrence and defence posture, which has been enhanced in recent years to reflect the new security reality in the Euro-Atlantic area. Russia’s illegal and illegitimate annexation of Crimea in 2014 and full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022 have fundamentally changed the security environment in Europe, and NATO has responded by significantly strengthening its readiness to protect and defend all Allies. The forward presence of Allied forces is defensive, proportionate, transparent and in line with the Alliance’s international commitments and obligations. It represents a significant commitment by Allies and is a tangible reminder that an attack on one NATO Ally is an attack on all.
NATO’s forward presence comprises eight multinational 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. All eight battlegroups are fully combat-capable formations.
The battlegroups are not identical; their sizes and compositions are tailored to specific geographic factors and threats. Overall, military requirements guide each battlegroup’s composition.
Today, troops and personnel from NATO Allies serve, train and exercise together in the east of the Alliance, representing a strong expression of unity and solidarity. Forces from contributing nations rotate in and out of the battlegroups; at any given time, they may be deployed to the battlegroups or stationed in their home countries with the ability to deploy rapidly, if needed.
As of July 2023, the eight battlegroups are composed of the following Allies:
Host nation: Bulgaria
Framework nation: Italy
Contributing nations: Albania, Greece, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Türkiye and the United States
Host nation: Estonia
Framework nation: United Kingdom
Contributing nations: Denmark, France and Iceland
Host nation: Hungary
Framework nation: Hungary
Contributing nations: Croatia, Italy, Türkiye and the United States
Host nation: Latvia
Framework nation: Canada
Contributing nations: Albania, Czechia, Iceland, Italy, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain
Host nation: Lithuania
Framework nation: Germany
Contributing nations: Belgium, Croatia, Czechia, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway and the United States
Host nation: Poland
Framework nation: United States
Contributing nations: Croatia, Romania and the United Kingdom
Host nation: Romania
Framework nation: France
Contributing nations: Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, North Macedonia, Poland, Portugal and the United States
Host nation: Slovakia
Framework nation: Czechia
Contributing nations: Germany, Slovenia and the United States
All eight battlegroups are integrated into NATO’s command structure to ensure the necessary readiness and responsiveness.
The four north-eastern battlegroups (in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland) 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.
Regionally focused headquarters – such as Multinational Division Centre Headquarters in Székesfehérvár, Hungary and Multinational Division Southeast Headquarters in Bucharest, Romania – contribute to the operation of the four south-eastern battlegroups (in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia).
In addition, many activities undertaken by Allies nationally – while not formally part of NATO’s forward presence – also contribute to increased Allied activity in the eastern part of the Alliance.
NATO’s rapid reinforcement strategy 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.
At the 2022 NATO Summit in Madrid, Allies agreed a new NATO Force Model, which represents a broader expansion of high-readiness forces potentially available to NATO where and when required. The details of the NATO Force Model, including its precise scale and composition, continue to be developed. The transition to the new model is planned to be completed later in 2023.
Allies have also agreed to boost NATO’s ability to reinforce its forces in the east by developing:
- more pre-positioned equipment and weapon stockpiles;
- more forward-deployed capabilities, including integrated air and missile defence systems;
- strengthened command and control; and
- upgraded regional defence plans, with specific forces pre-assigned to the defence of specific Allies.
These pre-assigned forces will work with in-place forces – both national home defence forces and Allied forward presence forces – and become familiar with local terrain, facilities and pre-positioned stocks so that they can reinforce their Allies even faster.
NATO has increased its military presence in the eastern part of the Alliance as a direct result of Russia’s behaviour, which reflects a pattern of aggressive actions against its neighbours and the wider transatlantic community. Russia is the most significant and direct threat to Allies’ security and to peace and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area.
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. These decisions included the establishment of an enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) in the northeast of the Alliance, and a tailored Forward Presence (tFP) in the southeast. Together, these decisions represented 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 has enhanced 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. Allies also increased their activity in the southeast through a tailored presence on land, at sea and in the air to enhance situational awareness, interoperability and responsiveness.
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 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.
Following Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Allies have sent 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, increased overall troop readiness and for the first time deployment of the highest-readiness element of the NATO Response Force to Romania.
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. The establishment of four more battlegroups, together with the reinforcement of the existing four battlegroups in the northeast, has extended the Alliance’s forward presence along NATO’s eastern flank – from the Baltic Sea in the north to the Black Sea in the south – and effectively doubled the number of troops on the ground.
At the 2022 NATO Summit in Madrid, Allies agreed to scale up the multinational battlegroups from battalion size to brigade size, where and when required. Allies also agreed a new NATO Force Model that will include more troops at high readiness and further measures to boost NATO’s ability to reinforce Allies in the east.
At the 2023 Vilnius Summit, Allies approved a new generation of regional defence plans, which will significantly improve the coherence of NATO’s collective defence planning with Allies’ national planning of their forces, posture, capabilities, and command and control.
NATO’s forward presence demonstrates the Alliance’s solidarity, determination and ability to act immediately in response to any aggression. Training and exercises in support of NATO’s forward presence give Allied forces experience working together, resulting in enhanced readiness and interoperability.
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 its forward presence since its inception.