On Tuesday 11 July, at the end of the first day of the Nato summit in Vilnius, German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius said Germany would permanently station 4,000 troops in Lithuania – first announced by German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius on June 26th – as part of a bilateral agreement between the two countries, rather than as part of NATO’s plans to increase the existing battalions, reported Lithuania’s public broadcaster, LRT.
However, this came a little more than 24 hours after a release from the German Federal Ministry of Defence, on 10 July – the morning of the day before the Vilnius summit – stating that the deployment of troops to Lithuania, necessary to respond quickly to any change in the security situation on Nato’s eastern flank, would only come about if the move was in line with the further planning of Nato and Germany’s allies.
Lithuania was forthright in its views, and clearly exercised by the need for Nato consensus. In an interview published later on 10 July, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda told the Times the treaty with Russia that deterred the defence of Nato’s eastern flank as ‘dead’, killed by Russia’s announcement to deploy tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus, and that Nato should scrap its constraints on establishing permanent bases near Russia’s borders.
If Germany was willing, at the end of the first day of the Nato summit, to send the 4,000 troops to Lithuania in a purely bilateral arrangement between the two countries, why then had Germany required a Nato consensus for the deployment as recently as the day before?
“It is not in line with what was decided at Madrid.”Admiral Rob Bauer, Chair of the Nato Military Committee
“The question that I would raise,” said Dr Ben Schreer, Executive Director for Europe at the International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS), and head of its European Security and Defence Programme, speaking of the decision to send 4000 German troops to Lithuania on a permanent basis, on 6 July at an IISS roundtable, “is when did they come up with this idea?”
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Schreer’s curiosity stems from an answer the Chair of the Nato Military Committee, Admiral Rob Bauer, gave on 3 July to a question on the possible permanent deployment to Lithuania: “It is not in line with what was decided in Madrid.”
At the Nato summit in Madrid in June 2022, it was decided to have eight battalion battle groups, normally of the order of 300 to 800 soldiers, stationed across Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Slovakia, to defend Nato’s Eastern flank.
Bauer detailed the contradiction when he went on to say that these battalion groups would be “beefed up” to brigade standards, generally between 1000 and 1500 soldiers, only “if necessary, based on intelligence, on indications, and warnings. That is still the decision. There is nothing changed there.”
Consistency at risk
The contradictions surrounding the arrangement between Germany and Lithuania, first with the conclusions of the Madrid summit, and then with views of the Chair of the Nato Military Committee, illustrates a lack of close alignment between the national plans of Nato members, and Nato plans.
Furthermore, the notion a permanent deployment to Lithuania highlights the contradiction between Germany’s developing perspective and its past position. A permanent deployment to Lithuania would be in contrary to the 1997 NATO-Russia Foundation Act, one that had a commitment by Nato to refrain from permanent stationing substantial combat forces in Nato’s new member states.
This is a commitment that Berlin had until recently been in favour of supporting, according to Justyna Gotkowska and Jakub Graca, of the Centre for Eastern Studies (OSW). “Should a permanent deployment of the German brigade to Lithuania indeed happen, this would de facto equate to Berlin changing its stance,” wrote Gotkowska and Graca, in analysis for OSW, on 30 June.
Enhanced Forward Battlegroup Lithuania
Currently, Germany has around 50 troops permanently stationed in Lithuania, and approximately 1,000 German troops among the 1700-strong, six-nation, enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) Battlegroup that is rotationally stationed in Lithuania, around 100km away from Russian territory. The OSW estimates that it will take three years to fully deploy the 4,000 troops being considered for deployment in Lithuania.
It was agreed that eFP Battlegroup Lithuania would be lead by Germany in a joint Lithuanian-German communique on 7 June 2022. However; there was a discrepancy between the two nations afterwards on where the battlegroup would be stationed, according to OSW, with Germany intending to host the combat ready brigade itself. Lithuania disputed this, and the announcement by Pistorius to station the troops in Lithuania indicates that the country has been successful in demonstrating its perspective.
However, while Germany has now agreed to enhance its deployment in Lithuania without the need for Nato agreement, no schedule has yet been agreed, and it may still be difficult for Germany to fund the brigade deployment unless its defence budget is increased.