NATO Treading A Fine Line In Ukraine

The continuing reports of war crimes and atrocities committed by Russian troops in Ukraine has led to a large increase in NATO deployments in Eastern Europe despite waning public support in France, Germany and Italy (where only a quarter of the population are now in favour of sanctions according to recent polls).

As a reminder, at the Madrid summit this year, member states agreed to increase the NATO Response Force from 40,000 to 300,000 troops. What we are currently seeing on the ground is a doubling of the multi-national battle-groups in Poland, Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia; with new formations in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia, as well as extra divisional headquarters and pre-positioned equipment, weapon-stockpiles and missile-defence-systems in the region.

There is an element of brinkmanship at play here. From my experience of NATO operations in the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan, there are so many political caveats that accompany these multinational teams that it makes it almost impossible for the lead nation to send troops into the danger zones. There are also the interoperability challenges that degrade the fighting capability, which is why we used to insist that the smallest building block for effective and capable deployments was/is a brigade (not a company as seems to be the case now).

The numbers are also a long way from the size and scale of NATO forces in the Cold War. When I deployed with the NRF’s predecessor to the Russian border in the Arctic Circle and was involved in the famous Reforger exercises in Germany, Britain alone had more than 300,000 troops. However, taken with the increased support provided to the Ukrainian armed forces by individual nations and the need to avoid escalating the war into a nuclear conflict, the new deployments are important developments as the winter approaches.

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