US forces launch an airborne attack. A nocturnal beach landing is carried out by British marines. After flying across Europe, French paratroopers parachute from the sky.
The allies train in Estonia, on NATO’s eastern frontier, in the shadow of Russia’s assault on Ukraine. The message is unmistakable.
“It says that at short notice we can deploy very fast,” said Lieutenant Colonel Edouard Bros, commander of the French troops in Estonia and taking part in the Spring Storm exercise.
15 months into Russia’s war on Ukraine, and a month before a NATO meeting in Vilnius, the alliance is beefing up its eastern defenses.
Now that Moscow has shattered decades of post-Cold War order, NATO is overhauling its defenses and strategy for the first time in a generation.
“This change will move us from an alliance that was optimised for out of area contingency operations to an alliance fit for the purpose of large-scale operations to defend every inch of the alliance’s territory,” US General Christopher Cavoli, NATO’s supreme commander in Europe, said this month.
“This is necessitated by the new realities we face.”
Following the devastation caused by Russian forces in Ukraine, NATO reverted to “deterrence by denial” at a meeting in Madrid last year, as it had done during the Cold War stalemate with the Soviet Union.
This implies preventing any border attack by Moscow, rather than being willing to sacrifice frontline territory such as the Baltics, which would then have to be regained.
“What is clear is that NATO made a strategic shift,” said Kristjan Mae, the head of the policy planning department at Estonia’s defence ministry.
“Collective defence is the most important task and we need to get our house in order.”
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