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Ukraine conflict: NATO discards its six-year-old tripwire defence of eastern flank for more muscle

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told journalists after a 15–16 June 2022 defence ministers meeting in Brussels that there will be “more scalable forward-presence troops in the east and more pre-positioned equipment, supplies, and ammunition”. (NATO)

Reacting to pressure from NATO's former Warsaw Pact members and Russia's brutal war tactics in Ukraine, the alliance is ditching its thin, so-called tripwire line of defence along its eastern flank for a military posture more redolent of decades past: more troop deployments, more pre-positioned weapons and supplies across the region, and a return to Cold War-like pre-designated areas for particular allies to defend on short notice.

More details of the new posture, and indications of which ally might do what, will be announced when NATO leaders gather for their 28–30 June summit in Madrid, although it will fall to NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) to sort out the final details by the end of 2022, according to NATO sources.

“The Baltics have won this argument: the tripwire strategy is not adequate to what we've seen Russia do in Ukraine. It means the first fight has to be the most important,” a senior allied official told reporters during the second day of a 15–16 June meeting of NATO defence ministers in Brussels.

The tripwire approach agreed at NATO's 2016 Warsaw summit, led to the initial deployment of one multinational battalion each in the three Baltic countries and Poland. The strategy's rationale was deterrence by default: that each battalion's mixture of allied soldiers would dissuade Russia from attacking the forces of so many nations.

Although NATO has recently doubled the number of battalions to eight – one in each of the alliance's eastern-flank countries – Moscow's full-scale attack against Ukraine has mulched the basic tripwire assumption.

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