NATO is mobilizing 90,000 troops as part of its biggest military drill since the Cold War. The exercise, coined Steadfast Defender 2024, will include at least 1,100 combat vehicles, 80 aircraft, and 50 naval vessels from all 31 NATO member states, as well as from NATO candidate Sweden.
The drill will start next week and last until May, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander said at a press conference Thursday. The drill comes after a host of European leaders warned that Russia remains a real threat, despite expending a significant amount of its manpower and resources in Ukraine.
On Friday, the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania also announced they will build a common defensive line along their borders with Russia and Belarus to ensure they are prepared to ward off any future Russian attack. Earlier this week, the prime minister of Estonia warned that Europe has three to five years until the Kremlin rebuilds its forces and poses a serious threat to NATO’s eastern flank.
NATO’s primary goal is preparing for an attack by Russia
The drill will allow NATO to practice its first major defense plan in decades, which the alliance approved last year as it sought to increase its readiness for a conventional war after decades of preparing for low-intensity conflicts and peacekeeping operations. The defense plan “will reassure those allies most exposed to potential Russian aggression and improve the ability of all of the allies to act effectively together,” defense expert Kori Schake wrote in The Atlantic. European officials are increasingly sounding the alarm about the Russia threat, with the German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius warning that an attack could be possible in five to eight years. Earlier this month, Sweden’s commander-in-chief caused panic among the country’s children by announcing on a kids television show that war could come to Sweden.
Europe has failed to ramp up its ammunition production, despite lofty promises
Despite frequent warnings about European security, the continent has been slower to ramp up its production of military equipment than its militaries would have liked. “The uncomfortable truth,” analysts from The International Institute for Strategic Studies wrote, “is that European countries have hardly prepared for war at all.” Last year, the European Union delivered less than half of the one million artillery shells it had promised to Ukraine by spring of this year. Most of the shells the EU did provide came from existing reserves, raising questions about whether the EU will be able to continue supplying Ukraine at the same rate once European stockpiles empty out. While several countries are ramping up their production — both Finland and Norway have announced major funding packages for their arms industries in the past weeks — defense companies have warned that without further investment they will be unable to develop the production capacity European countries hope to build.
Finnish membership and Swedish application strengthen NATO’s Baltic flank
The coming military drill will also allow NATO to continue integrating its newest member, Finland, as well as Sweden, which is expected to join NATO eventually despite sustained Hungarian opposition to its membership application. The two countries will strengthen NATO’s military capacities in the Baltics, with analysts frequently quipping that the Baltic Sea has become a “NATO lake.” The Baltics have been a concern for NATO for decades: One war game conducted by the think tank RAND in 2016 concluded that Russian forces could reach the capitals of Estonia and Latvia within less than three days in the event of a full-scale invasion. But Finland’s accession has also created a new challenge for the alliance, which now has to manage an 800-mile border with Russia that is “highly exposed to Russian military threats,” according to a study by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.