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Where NATO Has An Enhanced Forward Presence


This article is published in collaboration with Statista 

by Florian Zandt


On Monday, Germany sent an advance team of 20 soldiers to Lithuania, laying the groundwork for the recently discussed establishment of a permanent brigade in the NATO country. According to Deutsche Welle reporting, the 5,000-strong strikeforce called Panzerbrigade 45 is said to become fully operational by 2027. The brigade will support the already existing so-called NATO Enhanced Forward Presence in the Baltic country, which, in contrast to Panzerbrigade 45, rotates its personnel regularly and was made up of soldiers from Germany, Belgium, Czechia, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway and the United States as of December 2023. As our chart shows, Lithuania is one of eight nations with such a force that's, according to NATO itself, "defensive, proportionate, transparent and in line with the Alliance’s international commitments and obligations".


The countries in question constitute a majority of the eastern flank of the coalition, notably excluding Turkey, which has been a member of NATO since 1952 and only contributes a troop contingent to the Bulgarian battlegroup. Before 2014, only four such battlegroups existed in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia. With Russia's annexation of Crimea, the Enhanced Forward Presence program was expanded to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, with upwards of 1,000 soldiers stationed in the respective country at any time.


Each of the eight battlegroups has a so-called framework nation coordinating the activities in said group. The United States, for example, command Poland's Enhanced Forward Presence, while the United Kingdom and Germany fulfill this role for the Estonian and Lithuanian battlegroups, respectively. It's important to note that while these troops have a local command structure, they are still led by centralized NATO command centers. For example, the four Baltic battlegroups are organized via headquarters in Latvia and Poland.


While NATO assures the motives for the deployment of troops close or directly next to Russia are ones of deterrence and defense, the expansion of these battlegroups could also be construed as another building block in the active eastwards expansion of the international defense alliance by skeptics of the passive nature of NATO.


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