Bnato has had a new saying for some time: we will defend every inch of allied territory. Jens Stoltenberg, the general secretary, says that at every opportunity. Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz also spoke in this way when he recently visited Lithuania. Joe Biden can claim authorship. The American President coined the phrase shortly before the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It is intended to express the Alliance’s determination to ward off such an attack on its territory by any means necessary. This is based on a new “Concept for Defense and Deterrence in the Euro-Atlantic Area”, which the Alliance has been working on for two years. At the summit meeting in two weeks in Madrid, she wants to determine the next steps. The defense ministers prepared this when they met in Brussels on Thursday.
The new concept envisages NATO again developing a defense plan for the entire alliance area, planning it through to the deployment of large units and assigning fixed forces for this. That was common during the Cold War, after that it didn’t seem necessary anymore. Only after the annexation of Crimea in 2014 were plans drawn up again for the countries on the eastern flank of the alliance, from the Norwegian Sea to the Black Sea. However, these “graded response plans” were only planned for use by the NATO Response Force (NRF) with up to 40,000 soldiers. They were activated for the first time on the day of the Russian attack on Ukraine. Since then, the NATO Commander-in-Chief, or SACEUR for short, has had these forces at their disposal. He immediately moved the spearhead of the NRF to the east flank, which will be led by France this year.
Now it’s about showing the SACEUR significantly more forces and making them potentially available. At NATO headquarters, there is talk of almost six times as many soldiers, that would be around 240,000, and that’s just for the land forces. That figure comes from informal pledges from European member states and Canada at a conference two weeks ago, insiders say. Pending pledge by the United States, it will significantly increase the total. More than 100,000 American soldiers are currently stationed in Europe.
The forces will be linked to the new overall defense plan and its regional components, which should be available by the middle of next year. Then the member states have to make reliable commitments; their units are assigned fixed defense areas and tasks. The standby time should be staggered threefold. The fastest units must be deployed within ten days, the reinforcements within thirty days, the followers within fifty days. These are far shorter standby times than have been the norm since the 1990s, when 180 days were planned. This entails all sorts of restrictions for the participating associations, for example when planning vacations.
The Balts insist on presence
The test for the “New NATO Force Model” are the plans for strengthening the eastern flank, which the alliance wants to decide on in Madrid. In reaction to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the allies in eight states set up so-called battlegroups. Before the war there were only four, and they were half the size. The Battlegroup in Lithuania is already 1600 strong; the equivalent of two battalions. The task now is to further develop this presence in all eight countries in the direction of a brigade with three to six battalions and its own command staff, i.e. 3,000 to 5,000 soldiers.
Germany was the first NATO country to commit to a model that most of its allies want to follow. It envisages that initially only one “leadership” will be stationed in the host country Lithuania, that is only 50 to 60 soldiers. All other forces remain in Germany, but they are supposed to rotate to Lithuania for exercises and thus ensure a visible presence – in addition to the approximately 1,000 German soldiers who belong to the battle group, which is to continue to exist alongside the brigade. This in turn is a special feature of the German model. Other countries such as France (in Romania) and the United Kingdom (in Estonia) are also planning a “scalable brigade”, but see the battlegroups as a basis. So you don’t start at fifty, but at a thousand or more forces. However, they also have a further route to the operational area than the Bundeswehr.
The NATO Secretary General praised the German approach as “exemplary”. “For the first time since the end of the Cold War, we will have forces preassigned to specific states in the East in conjunction with our defense plans,” Stoltenberg said at the defense ministers’ meeting. Several states have internally announced their willingness to participate – firm commitments are expected by Madrid. The Balts in particular are pushing for this after they could not get their way with their demand for permanent brigades stationed with them. “We need the front stationing of larger armed units in the Baltic States,” demanded the Latvian Defense Minister Artis Pabriks in Brussels, this also applies to weapons and ammunition.
The German side asserts that this is exactly what is planned and that they even want to go beyond the requirements of SACEUR. This applies in particular to ammunition, which is expensive to transport. Heavy equipment should also be included so that it does not have to be relocated for each exercise. However, the capabilities of the Bundeswehr are limited; only three brigades can be used in Lithuania anyway. Previously, units had to temporarily lend their equipment to those reported for the NRF. In the future it would then be permanently located elsewhere.