NATO agrees to divisional structure, brigade-sized unit in Estonia

The UK's 1st Battalion The Royal Welsh took over as lead unit of Estonia's NATO eFP battlegroup on March 18, 2022.
The UK's 1st Battalion The Royal Welsh took over as lead unit of Estonia's NATO eFP battlegroup on March 18, 2022. Source: Ministry of Defense

A NATO divisional structure will be established and a brigade-sized unit will be assigned to Estonia to strengthen its defense, Minister of Defense Kalle Laanet (Reform) said on Wednesday after a day of discussions at the alliance's summit in Madrid.

"The divisional structure will be launched under the leadership of Estonia and in cooperation with the United Kingdom. Work on the division will begin in the coming months. The division will be under NATO chain of command," Laanet said.

It was also decided to strengthen the Eastern Flank by scaling up troops to brigade-sized units in countries where the threat and need for military reinforcement are the greatest.

"The United Kingdom has decided to deploy an additional brigade to defend Estonia, with a force integration unit and some of its subunits set to be based in Estonia," Laanet said.

It is crucial that elements of the United Kingdom brigade with additional capabilities will rotate to Estonia in peacetime and practice the defense of Estonia in real conditions on the ground, a government press release said.

This will ensure a high level of preparedness and comprehensive cooperation with Estonian units in crisis and in war.

A brigade usually consists of between 3,000-5,000 troops. Currently, approximately 1,500 NATO troops are stationed in Estonia.

NATO's Eastern Flank (June 2022). Source: NATO

Two British battalions and French and Danish companies will remain in Estonia for the foreseeable future. The Baltic Air Policing mission will also continue to operate in Estonia, and Allies can reinforce it quickly.

The defense minister added that the United States will also significantly increase its military presence in Europe.

"The United States will also increase their rotating military presence in the Baltic countries. This decision would presumably include both land and air force units, including air defense. The exact details will be worked out in collaboration with allies," Laanet said.

The Baltic states submitted a joint proposal to NATO for divisional command centers in each country and additional troops, which was granted by the alliance on Wednesday.

Estonia has said all the troops do not need to be stationed in the country at once but must be able to deploy quickly if necessary. The divisional structures are needed so military units can be integrated and cooperate.

NATO's new strategic concept was agreed upon at the summit where it says Russia is the biggest threat to the alliance.

"NATO will continue to protect our populations and defend every inch of Allied territory at all times," a joint statement from allies said.

President, PM welcome decision

Kaja Kallas at the NATO Madrid Summit. Source: NATO

After the announcement, Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) thanked the allies for their decision.

"I would like to thank all Allies for strengthening our posture in Estonia and in the NATO's Eastern Flank as a whole. My special thanks go to all those who have announced today additional support to the Baltic countries, especially the UK and the US, Germany and Canada," she said.

President Alar Karis praised the move away from deterrence to forward defense.

President Alar Karis said: "The only viable strategy to ensure Estonia's security is forward defense. This will be hard, and costly. But not as hard and costly as war with Russia.

"Estonia is grateful to UK, France, Denmark, Iceland & all other Allies who contribute to forward presence here. We'll do own homework to be prepared and to welcome the additional force elements."


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Editor: Helen Wright

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