NATO decided, in July 2016, to establish an enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) in Estonia, Latvia,
Lithuania and Poland.
A battalion-size battlegroup (BG) was deployed in early 2017 to each of these nations. This report looks at various aspects of the eFP some eighteen months after the start of its deployment and offers recommendations to NATO Allies, particularly host and contributing nations, for strengthening the eFP.
The four BGs are manned by framework nations (United Kingdom, Canada, Germany and the United States), who provide the bulk of the troops and support elements, alongside contributions from most other Allies. The multinational contingents of the BGs rotate regularly and are 24/7 combat ready. Their main task is deterrence, as part of NATO’s wider strategy of deterrence by denial and punishment. This strategy includes also other forms of Allied presence in the region (US European Deterrence Initiative, Baltic Air Policing, NATO’s standing maritime groups etc.), as well as forces that would reinforce the region in times of crisis (NRF/VJTF, follow-on forces).
The BGs are fully integrated into the land forces brigades of their host nations. They are subordinated through regional divisional headquarters and the Multinational Corps North-East headquarters to NATO’s Joint Forces Command in Brunssum. The chain of command is clear, and supports training activities, as well as regional defence planning and integration.
As well as providing a deterrence presence, the eFP BGs contribute to the self-defence capabilities of their host nations, particularly in the Baltic states. Host and contributing nations gain from eFP by improving interoperability and maintaining combat readiness. The eFP also contributes to deepening political and economic relations between host and contributing (particularly framework) nations.
The eFP is a small presence, but has a very significant and visible role, including in strategic communication. It is generally deemed suitable in terms of its size for its roles, but proactive thinking and planning is needed for the possible requirement to strengthen the eFP (e.g. to brigade level units) in times of crisis. In addition, the eFP has to be fully backed by follow-on forces, whose reinforcement operations also need to be planned and regularly exercised. Better coherence between the eFP and other forms of Allied presence in the region is also needed.
Russia simultaneously both resents and plays down the importance of the eFP. Russia’s official propaganda routinely attacks NATO, and disinformation and the exploitation of any incidents involving eFP personnel represents the main risk to the eFP. Finland and Sweden work increasingly closely with the Alliance, including participation in major exercises (e.g. Trident Juncture 2018). There may be ways to engage them also with the eFP, initially by participation in exercises of eFP host and contributing nations.