All Unquiet on NATO’s Eastern Flank (2023)

NATO is steadily bulking up its military footprint along its eastern flank in a show of force to Russia, but behind the scenes Eastern European allies fear that most of their Western European counterparts are still too slow to respond to the threat from Russia.

NATO is steadily bulking up its military footprint along its eastern flank in a show of force to Russia, but behind the scenes Eastern European allies fear that most of their Western European counterparts are still too slow to respond to the threat from Russia.

Eastern European countries are pushing to expand the size and scope of eight units of NATO military forces stationed along the alliance’s eastern flank and advocating for larger NATO allies to preposition more military equipment farther east to ensure all the forces stationed there are well supplied and ready to fight at short notice. Some allies, such as Poland, are also pushing the United States to expand its intelligence and command-and-control capabilities along NATO’s eastern flank. More policy proposals are expected to come up during NATO’s next major summit, scheduled for July in Vilnius, Lithuania.

“We’re as a region investing in our own defense as we deliver all we can to Ukraine and setting up ways to host more allied troops here as soon as they are ready,” said one Eastern European official, speaking on condition of anonymity. “We’re waiting with arms wide open and just hoping we don’t have to wait too long.”

Most allied defense officials agree that Russia, bogged down in Ukraine and hemorrhaging manpower and equipment at alarming rates, doesn’t pose an imminent threat of invasion to NATO territory. But some Eastern European allies fear that NATO forces deployed near Russia’s borders aren’t being expanded quickly enough or backed by adequate defense spending commitments from their allies farther west.

The internal debates within NATO reflect a growing belief that Russia will find a way to reconstitute its military power over the medium term, despite its stinging battlefield setbacks and high casualty rates in Ukraine. The debates also coincide with the leaking online of a massive tranche of classified U.S. documents that paint a dour picture of Ukraine’s prospects in the war against Russia, including ammunition shortfalls and predictions of bloody stalemate in the coming spring campaign. As many as 354,000 Ukrainian and Russian soldiers have been killed or wounded in the war, according to the trove of purportedly classified documents.

The debate also comes against the backdrop of growing friction between Eastern and Western NATO allies over their views of the threat from Russia and ties with the United States, showcased by French President Emmanuel Macron’s controversial visit to China last week. “We believe that more America is needed in Europe,” Marcin Przydacz, a top foreign-policy advisor to Polish President Andrzej Duda, told Polish radio broadcaster Radio Zet in an interview this week. “Today, the United States is more of a guarantee of safety in Europe than France.”

NATO in 2017 created four multinational military units, dubbed “battle groups,” for Poland and the three Baltic states—Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia—along the alliance’s exposed northeastern flank. In 2022, in response to Russia’s renewed invasion of Ukraine, it established four more: one each in Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania, all allies that share a land border with Ukraine, and one in Bulgaria, along the Black Sea coast. Each one has a conductor: The United Kingdom oversees the battle group in Estonia, the United States manages the battle group in Poland, and France leads the battle group in Romania.

All told, there are roughly 10,300 troops dedicated to these units, each of which vary in size and composition. Since a meeting of NATO leaders in Madrid last year, Eastern European allies have sought commitments from other NATO members to expand the size of these military forces from a battalion, typically around 1,000 troops, to a brigade, typically ranging from 3,000 to 5,000 troops.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said expanding the groups to brigade size is critical for deterrence against Russia. The Baltic region is virtually surrounded, with Russia to its east, Belarus to its southeast, and the small but heavily militarized Russian exclave of Kaliningrad to its west. Only a narrow strip of land around 60 miles across, known as the Suwalki Gap, connects the Baltic states geographically with the rest of NATO territory.

Moscow also announced late last month that it would deploy tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus—the first deployment of Russia’s nuclear arsenal outside its own territory since the fall of the Soviet Union.

“We are at the front lines of the alliance. We don’t have the strategic depth and cannot cede territory for the time necessary for reinforcements to arrive,” Landsbergis said. With no strategic depth, what the Baltics need is strategic strength, like NATO brigades rather than battalions. Landsbergis pointed to Russia’s increased defense spending, mass conscription, and deployment of more troops on its western frontier.

Farther south, Romania is waging its own diplomatic charm campaign to convince the French to expand the scope of their forces there. Romanian Foreign Minister Bogdan Aurescu, meeting with his French counterpart, Catherine Colonna, last Saturday, stressed the urgency of bringing the French-led NATO formation up to brigade level.

But actually fielding combat-ready brigades is proving to be easier said than done for every country except the United States, said several NATO defense officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive issues candidly. The United Kingdom, for example, has committed about 3,000 troops to its battle group in Estonia—but is keeping some of those forces in the U.K. and their equipment in Germany, to the quiet frustration of some Estonian officials. Canada, which leads the NATO battle group in Latvia, is struggling with severe military manpower shortages that have opened up questions about its ability to staff up a full brigade to deploy to Latvia with other allied troops.

Germany has also established a battle group headquarters for Lithuania, but its troops will remain at home, a fact that is a source of frustration in Eastern Europe.

“It should not be like this. They should not be in Germany—they should be in Lithuania, at least 70 to 80 percent of brigade strength,” said Artis Pabriks, a former Latvian defense minister. “It’s not a secret that NATO countries are struggling with numbers and struggling with capabilities. This is the reason why they should beef it up, also for themselves.”

“We cannot afford to lose any inch, any centimeter, any meter of our territory,” Pabriks added. “Because then, we can simply expect more Buchas and Iziums,” he said, referring to cities in Ukraine where Russian forces committed war crimes and massacred Ukrainian civilians.

The United States by contrast, the unrivaled military juggernaut in NATO, is leading the NATO battle group in Poland while simultaneously keeping around 4,000 troops stationed in Romania. The U.S. force in Romania is expected to stay in place through late 2023 at least. Experts say that across the board, NATO is playing a frantic game of catch-up, on both the military front and the balance books, to the new geopolitical reality of Russia’s offensive wartime footing.

“NATO was very late to the game in coming up with actual plans for defending these countries,” said Kristine Berzina, an expert on NATO defense issues with the German Marshall Fund of the United States, a Washington-based think tank. “On top of that, now all of these countries leading the battle groups have their own budget issues, have their own manpower issues, have their own equipment issues.”

The slow and uneven pace of upgrading these battle groups to brigade-sized forces underscores the perennial problem of laggard defense spending in the alliance, often a sore spot for successive U.S. administrations and one made all the more urgent by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

In a leaked memo obtained by the German newspaper Bildthis week, for example, German officials admitted that a division it had promised to allocate to NATO’s war plans wasn’t battle ready.

NATO set a benchmark for all of its members to spend at least 2 percent of GDP on defense. Currently, only 11 of NATO’s 31 members—including Finland, which formally joined NATO this month—meet that benchmark. Most are in Eastern Europe.

“The problem is not so much a lack of philosophical commitment. I think we’re there,” Berzina said. “The problem is that there’s consistent underinvestment in defense in many of these countries.”


How many NATO troops are on the Eastern flank? ›

There are more than 10,000 American troops stationed in the former communist bloc country. They belonged to Area Support Group Poland, which has now been upgraded to form the first U.S. Army garrison on NATO's eastern flank — a decision announced by President Joe Biden at the summit of NATO's 30 members last year.

What countries are on NATO Eastern flank? ›

NATO in 2017 created four multinational military units, dubbed “battle groups,” for Poland and the three Baltic states—Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia—along the alliance's exposed northeastern flank.

Who has the largest military in NATO? ›

In 2022, the United States had the largest number of military personnel out of all North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries, with 1.35 million troops.

What is a Eastern flank? ›

The Warsaw summit has shown that the term 'NATO's eastern flank' refers mainly to Poland, the Baltic states and Romania. These states have a similar perception of Russia and have demanded an increased NATO presence in their territories.

Is Estonia a part of NATO? ›

Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia were invited to begin accession talks at the Alliance's Prague Summit in 2002. On 29 March 2004, they officially became members of the Alliance, making this the largest wave of enlargement in NATO history.

How many NATO troops are there all together? ›

Since 1949, NATO has increased its collective military power. Today it has the capability to count on nearly 3.5-million personnel, troops and civilian combined.

Who has the second biggest army in NATO? ›

The Turkish Armed Forces is the second largest standing military force in NATO, after the United States Armed Forces, and the thirteenth in the world, with an estimated strength of 775,000 military and paramilitary personnel in 2022.

Is Mexico a part of NATO? ›

Why is Mexico not a member of NATO when it is often nconsidered a North American country along with the U.S. and Canada and has affinities with the U.S.? Mexico was originally a member of the Inter-American Mutual Assistance Treaty, a military alliance of Latin American countries signed in 1947.

When did Russia leave NATO? ›

In March 2015, Russia, citing NATO's de facto breach of the 1990 Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, said that the suspension of its participation in it, announced in 2007, was now "complete" through halting its participation in the consulting group on the Treaty.

Why can't Ukraine join NATO? ›

Plans for NATO membership were shelved by Ukraine following the 2010 presidential election in which Viktor Yanukovych, who preferred to keep the country non-aligned, was elected President. Yanukovych fled Ukraine in February 2014 during the Revolution of Dignity.

What is the strongest army in the world? ›

1. United States Of America. US Military has the biggest defence budget in the world. They are known for their most powerful Air Force on the planet, named as United States Air Force (USAF).

Who has the best army in the world? ›

United States. The United States of America is a North American nation that is the world's most dominant economic and military power.

Is Russia more powerful than NATO? ›

The combined total of Nato military personnel currently exceeds 5.4 million – around four times as many as Russia, according to Statista. It has about five times as many aircraft, four times as many armoured vehicles and three times as many military ships.

Why isn't Austria in NATO? ›

Austria is bound to neutrality by the 1955 Austrian State Treaty and its constitution, which prohibits entry into military alliances and the establishment of foreign military bases on Austrian territory. Austrian neutrality is actually an enforced neutrality.

Can NATO defend the Baltics? ›

When the Baltic states became members of NATO, they acquired a guaranteed collective defence of their countries by NATO forces in the face of Russian aggression. Perhaps more important is NATO's enhanced forward presence in Poland and the Baltic states, triggered in 2016 two years after Russia annexed Crimea.

Is Austria going to join NATO? ›

In May 2022, Finland and Sweden applied for NATO membership, while Austria announced that it would continue its neutrality policy.

Why is Mexico not in NATO? ›

Mexico wasn't a founding member of NATO because, at the time NATO was formed, Mexico was strongly inclined towards isolationism and neutralism.

What happens if Ukraine joins NATO? ›

If Ukraine were to join NATO, the collective defence principle would mean the whole of the alliance was at war with Russia. The West has been toeing a precarious line when it comes to direct conflict with Moscow, and trying its best to avoid becoming an active participant in the current Ukraine war.

Why is Japan not part of NATO? ›

As the name “North Atlantic Treaty Organization” suggests, NATO is essentially a treaty organization for nations in the North Atlantic region. Located on the rim of the Pacific, Japan is not eligible to join NATO because of its geographical location.

What is the most powerful alliance in the world? ›

United States. The United States of America is a North American nation that is the world's most dominant economic and military power. Likewise, its cultural imprint spans the world, led in large part by its popular culture expressed in music, movies and television.

Why is the US military so powerful? ›

The U.S. Armed Forces has significant capabilities in both defense and power projection due to its large budget, resulting in advanced and powerful technologies which enables a widespread deployment of the force around the world, including around 800 military bases outside the United States.

What is NATO's smallest army? ›

Meet NATO's smallest army, the Luxembourgers. Luxembourg is a founding member of NATO and although small in size, its army has taken part in NATO operations and missions throughout the world.

Why did Turkey join NATO? ›

In the aftermath of the Second World War, Turkey made the historic choice of siding with the free world and the Western Bloc. This policy was led Turkey to become member of NATO on 18 February 1952. Since then, NATO has been the cornerstone of Turkey's defense and security policy.

How big is the Chinese army? ›


Why did France withdraw from NATO? ›

In 1966, due to souring relations between Washington and Paris because of the refusal to integrate France's nuclear deterrent with other North Atlantic powers, or to accept any collective form of control over its armed forces, French president Charles de Gaulle downgraded France's membership in NATO and withdrew France ...

What 3 countries are not in NATO? ›

Which European nations are not in NATO?
  • Andorra.
  • Armenia.
  • Austria.
  • Azerbaijan.
  • Belarus.
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina.
  • Cyprus.
  • Finland.
Apr 28, 2023

Which country would not be a part of NATO? ›

Five EU member states, all who have declared their non-alignment with military alliances, are not NATO members: Austria, Cyprus, Ireland, Malta, and Sweden. Additionally, Switzerland, which is surrounded by the EU, has also maintained its neutrality by remaining a non-EU-member.

Did Putin want to join NATO? ›

George Robertson, a former Labour defence secretary who led Nato between 1999 and 2003, said Putin made it clear at their first meeting that he wanted Russia to be part of western Europe. “They wanted to be part of that secure, stable prosperous west that Russia was out of at the time,” he said.

Why is Ukraine so important to Russia? ›

What are Russia's broad interests in Ukraine? Russia has deep cultural, economic, and political bonds with Ukraine, and in many ways Ukraine is central to Russia's identity and vision for itself in the world. Family ties. Russia and Ukraine have strong familial bonds that go back centuries.

What was the last country to join NATO? ›

Finland became NATO's newest member today (4 April 2023), upon depositing its instrument of accession to the North Atlantic Treaty with the United States at NATO Headquarters in Brussels.

Do all NATO members have to agree? ›

The Alliance takes all its decisions by consensus. Every member country, no matter how large or small, has an equal say in discussions and decisions. Member states are committed to individual liberty, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. These values are at the heart of NATO's transatlantic bond.

Is Georgia a member of NATO? ›

In 1996, Georgia submitted their first Individual Partnership Plan, and in 1997 ratified the Status of Forces Agreement. Georgia opened official relations with NATO in 1998 by opening a diplomatic mission and presenting an ambassador.

What does it cost a country to join NATO? ›

Each member contributes to a common fund based on the size of its overall economy. NATO's common fund budget — $3.1 billion in 2021 — covers administrative costs and collective military infrastructure. One example of a common fund project: housing US military vehicles, tanks, and artillery at a Polish Air Force Base.

Who are the 5 superpowers in the world? ›

China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States are often referred to as great powers by academics due to "their political and economic dominance of the global arena". These five nations are the only states to have permanent seats with veto power on the UN Security Council.

What is the largest military base in the world? ›

Fort Bragg – Covering over 250 square miles of North Carolina, Fort Bragg is not only the largest base for the U.S. Army, it's the largest military base in the entire world. Built-in 1918, around the end of World War I, Fort Bragg is currently home to nearly 60,000 military personnel.

What country has the strongest Air Force? ›

United States of America

What is the hardest military training in the world? ›

There's a great argument that the Marine Corps has the hardest military training of anyone, and here's why. Of course, when you reach the top, you can find them becoming SEALs or a part of the Marine Raider Regiment (MRR), but the training of any Marine is some of the hardest military training in the world.

Which country has the most advanced weapons in the world? ›

The country with the most advanced military technology is the United States of America (USA). Russia, China, France, and the United Kingdom are the other countries with the most advanced military technology in the world.

How many tank have Russia lost? ›

Many estimates vary, but Dutch open-source verification outlet Oryx has placed Russia's visually confirmed tank losses at 1,847, as of Sunday. The website lists 1,101 as "destroyed" and 550 as "captured" by Ukrainian forces.

Why did Norway not join NATO? ›

Norwegian politicians believed that a Nordic pact could only stand with military support from the United States and countries from Western Europe. Norway failed to reconcile this disagreement with Sweden and remained unconvinced that the Nordic option would truly guarantee security.

Can Turkey veto Finland joining NATO? ›

Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has lifted his veto on Finland's application to join Nato, a move that will strengthen the west's ability to withstand any future Russian threat across the Baltic Sea but leaves Sweden's parallel bid for Nato membership unresolved.

Does Ireland want to join NATO? ›

Public opinion in Ireland continues to favour a policy of non-alignment in armed conflicts, though polls since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine have shown an increase in support for Ireland joining NATO.

How many U.S. troops are in Poland? ›

Currently, a total of about 10,000 troops of the US armed forces are stationed in Poland, primarily as part of a rotational presence. The U.S. V Corps Forward Command is one of the permanent U.S. installations in Poland, located at Camp Kosciuszko in Poznan.

Why does Russia want the Baltic states? ›

Russia considers the independence of the Baltic states and their active role in NATO and the EU as threats to Russia's security, sovereignty, and autonomy. The Vladimir Putin regime's operational code inclines it to respond with multiple, varied, and often independent covert political means.

What 2 countries are waiting to join NATO? ›

Russia's invasion of Ukraine prompted Finland and Sweden to apply for NATO membership in May 2022. Finland officially joined on 4 April 2023, while the ratification process for Sweden is in progress. Ukraine applied for NATO membership in September 2022 after Russia claimed to annex part of its territory.

Does Switzerland want to join NATO? ›

In May 2022, another poll indicated 33% of Swiss supported NATO membership for Switzerland, and 56% supported increased ties with NATO.

Why does Austria support Ukraine? ›

Alexander Van der Bellen also noted that Ukraine is part of the European family, so Austria supports the European integration perspective of our country and will provide practical assistance in carrying out the necessary reforms.

When did Canada leave NATO? ›

Although Canada continued plans to develop its maritime capabilities, Mulroney chose to cancel an increase in forces envisaged for West Germany and in fact decided to withdraw the last Canadian land forces from Europe. On 10 July 1993, the last Canadian Armed Forces personnel left Europe.

What is the only NATO country without an army? ›

Iceland, unique among NATO Allies, does not have a military. Icelanders have long been proud of their country's pacifist tradition, which goes back further than its independence from Denmark in 1944.

Why was Sweden never in NATO? ›

Since the time of the Napoleonic Wars, Sweden has not initiated any direct armed conflict. Sweden chose not to join NATO when it was founded in 1949 and declared a security policy aiming for non-alignment in peace and neutrality in war.

What is the threat to Russia if Ukraine joins NATO? ›

LONDON, Oct 13 (Reuters) - If Ukraine is admitted into the U.S.-led NATO military alliance, then the conflict in Ukraine would be guaranteed to escalate into World War Three, a Russian Security Council official was quoted as saying on Thursday.

How long does it take Finland to join NATO? ›

Finland formally became a member of NATO on 4 April 2023 during a scheduled summit, finalizing the fastest accession process in the treaty's history. Finland has a 1,340 km (832 mi) border with Russia, which more than doubles NATO's border with Russia.

Why isn't Austria and Switzerland part of NATO? ›

Austria is bound to neutrality by the 1955 Austrian State Treaty and its constitution, which prohibits entry into military alliances and the establishment of foreign military bases on Austrian territory. Austrian neutrality is actually an enforced neutrality.

How big is NATO's army combined? ›

*Information taken from this SIPRI press release (as of January 2022). The values for the USA, France and the United Kingdom were added together for the information for NATO.
Comparison of the military capabilities of NATO and Russia as of 2023.
Total military personnel5,817,1001,330,900
12 more rows
Mar 30, 2023

What is the size of NATO's military? ›

The combined total of Nato military personnel currently exceeds 5.4 million – around four times as many as Russia, according to Statista.

Is NATO looking to send 300000 troops to the Russian border? ›

NATO considering deployment of up to 300,000 troops on border with Russia. NATO is discussing the need to strengthen the eastern borders with Russia by concentrating equipment and a military contingent of up to 300,000 soldiers, which should prevent Russia from expanding the war beyond Ukraine.

How big is a NATO brigade? ›

The typical NATO standard brigade consists of approximately 5,000 troops. However, in Switzerland and Austria, the numbers could start as high as 10,000 troops.

Who is more powerful Russia or USA? ›

In short, Russia is ranked 2nd out of 140 in military strength while the US is ranked 1st.
Russia vs US Military Strength: Comparison.
ComparisonRussiaThe United States
War deaths3390
Ranks in War DeathsRanked 17th.Ranked 73rd.
13 more rows
Mar 7, 2022

How big is the US Army compared to Russia? ›

Active personnel:1,358,5001,000,000
Reserve personnel:799,5002,000,000
Available for military:73,270,04334,765,736

What is the world's largest military? ›

Introduction. The size of armies around the world varies greatly, with the People's Republic of China having the largest army, with over 2 million military personnel. India and the United States follow closely behind with 1.46 million and 1.39 million military personnel respectively.

Who has the strongest military in the world? ›

1. United States Of America. US Military has the biggest defence budget in the world. They are known for their most powerful Air Force on the planet, named as United States Air Force (USAF).

Has NATO ever sent troops? ›

NATO's first major land expeditionary operation took place in Bosnia and Herzegovina as a result of the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords. The NATO force generation process, which is still in use today, was developed during the NATO-led operations in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and later in Kosovo.

How long is Russia's border with NATO? ›

Finland joining adds 830 miles of continuous border along northwestern Russia, taking the total to 1,584 miles. The increase in public and political support in Finland for joining NATO came after Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Has NATO ever deployed troops? ›

Established by UN mandate in 2001, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has been under NATO leadership since August 2003. ISAF comprises just over 130 000 troops from 50 different countries deployed throughout Afghanistan.

Who commands NATO troops? ›

ACO, under the command of the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), is responsible for the planning and execution of all NATO military operations, as directed by the North Atlantic Council.

What is bigger than a division? ›

A corps includes two to five divisions with anywhere between 20,000 and 45,000 soldiers. A lieutenant general is in command. The corps is the highest level of command that can provide operational direction for actual combat. Higher levels are concerned with administration rather than operations.


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