NATO’s military presence in the east of the Alliance

  • Last updated: 01 Jun. 2022 11:31

An important component of NATO’s deterrence and defence posture is 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’ 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 multinational 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. 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 in February 2022, Allies 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.
  • 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. In response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, 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.

 

  • NATO’s forward presence

    NATO’s military presence in the eastern part of the Alliance is a key part of NATO’s 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 annexation of Crimea, continued aggression against its neighbours and full-fledged invasion of Ukraine 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 member country is an attack on all.

    NATO’s forward presence comprises eight 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, troops from over 20 Allies serve, train and exercise together, representing a strong expression of Alliance unity and solidarity.

    The eight battlegroups are composed of the following Allies:

    Host nation: Bulgaria
    Framework nation: Bulgaria
    Contributing nations: United States

    Host nation: Estonia
    Framework nation: United Kingdom
    Contributing nations: Denmark and France

    Host nation: Hungary
    Framework nation: Hungary
    Contributing nations: Croatia and the United States

    Host nation: Latvia
    Framework nation: Canada
    Contributing nations: Albania, the Czech Republic, Italy, Montenegro, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain

    Host nation: Lithuania
    Framework nation: Germany
    Contributing nations: Belgium, the Czech Republic, Iceland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Norway

    Host nation: Poland
    Framework nation: United States
    Contributing nations: Croatia, Romania and the United Kingdom

    Host nation: Romania
    Framework nation: France
    Contributing nations: Belgium, Poland, Portugal and the United States

    Host nation: Slovakia
    Framework nation: the Czech Republic
    Contributing nations: Germany and the Netherlands

    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.

    The four new battlegroups (in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia) are currently being set up and integrated into NATO’s command structure. They will ultimately exist under the responsibility of Allied Joint Force Command Brunssum (for the battlegroups in Hungary and Slovakia) and Allied Joint Force Command Naples (for the battlegroups in Bulgaria and Romania).

    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 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. These decisions included the establishment of an enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) in the northeast of the Alliance, and a tailored forward presence 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 fully deployed in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. 

    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, and increased troop readiness for the NATO Response Force. 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.

    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 its forward presence since its inception.