The UK will “highly likely” add many hundreds more troops to a NATO force in Estonia tasked with deterring Russia, but some could be based back home, the defence secretary has revealed.
Ben Wallace said allies are considering a further increase in the size of a network of military units deployed across the alliance’s eastern flank – a presence that was already bolstered significantly in the wake of Russia‘s invasion of Ukraine in February.
Britain leads the so-called Enhanced Forward Presence unit in Estonia, with two battlegroups, each comprising close to 1,000 personnel.
Adding a third battlegroup would turn it into a brigade.
Such a move looks set to be finalised in the run up to a landmark NATO summit of heads of state and government at the end of the month in Spain.
“It is highly likely that come Madrid we will seek to allocate a brigade to those two battle groups,” Mr Wallace told Sky News.
“It doesn’t necessarily mean they will always be in Estonia, they may well be back in the UK. But their command and control and indeed their forward units will most likely be in Estonia where they are now.”
This would mean the creation of a brigadier-led headquarters in the Baltic state.
Other allies look set to make similar commitments.
One – Germany – already has, having said it will commit a brigade-size force of 3,500 troops to the NATO unit it leads based in Lithuania.
However, unlike the UK, the majority of Germany’s personnel will reportedly be based back in their home country rather than in the nation they are tasked to protect.
Mr Wallace said there was a live discussion over how many NATO troops should be posted forward and how many should be stationed back home and only deployed in a crisis. Those based in their home country would still train for the mission.
NATO allies to set out plans for boosting ability to deter Russia at Madrid summit
The alliance has had Enhanced Forward Presence units in the Baltic states and Poland since 2017 – the NATO nations seen most at risk from Russia because of their proximity. This year it added a battlegroup to other allies, similarly seen to be in need of a greater deterrence force. They comprised Romania, Hungary, Slovakia and Bulgaria.
“The key areas of discussion are how our forces are going to be distributed – how permanent versus how deployable, versus how ready, will be the main area of discussion,” Mr Wallace told a group of reporters.
He was speaking at NATO headquarters in Brussels following a two-day meeting of alliance defence ministers.
NATO allies are expected to set out plans for boosting their ability to deter Russia at the Madrid summit as well as other key issues such as enduring support for Ukraine, which is not a member of the bloc.
More detailed work on the deterrence forces, their size and composition, will be drawn up by the end of the year by US General Tod Walters, the Supreme Allied Commander Europe, NATO’s top military commander.