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July 20, 2023

NATO’s Defense Demands Eastern Front Improvements

By John R. Deni US Army War College

John R. Deni 

The recent summit largely avoided urgent questions about the mismatch between available forces and the Russian threat. 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s rather impolitic reaction to the news that his country would not receive a firm timetable for membership in NATO stole the show at the alliance’s summit in Vilnius last week. Receiving far less attention, but of arguably more immediate importance is the mismatch between the alliance’s forces in Eastern Europe and its strategy for meeting the Russian threat. 

NATO has been rather slowly adapting its force structure in Eastern Europe since Russia’s first invasion of Ukraine in 2014. In 2016, the alliance launched enhanced Forward Presence, a plan to deploy rotational battlegroups to eastern members. Within a year, four multinational units of roughly 1,200 troops apiece had arrived in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland. The alliance expanded eFP after Russia’s second invasion of Ukraine last year, expanding the existing units to as many as 1,900 troops and dispatching new units to Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Romania. 

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Photo from NATO and DVIDS – Images – Bull Battery M109A7 Paladin Howitzers take to the field