NATO is gearing up to launch its most extensive military exercise since the Cold War, with approximately 90,000 personnel slated to participate in these large-scale war games, according to General Chris Cavoli, the alliance's top commander. The drills, set to unfold over several months, are designed to simulate and rehearse NATO's execution of regional defense plans—strategic frameworks that outline the alliance's response to potential security threats, particularly those posed by a Russian attack.
While General Cavoli announced the upcoming exercise, known as Steadfast Defender 2024, NATO's official statement did not explicitly mention Russia by name. However, the alliance's top strategic document identifies Moscow as the most substantial and direct threat to its member states. The exercise aims to demonstrate NATO's capability to swiftly deploy forces from various parts of the alliance, including North America, to reinforce the defense of Europe.
Steadfast Defender 2024 will feature the participation of more than 50 ships, ranging from aircraft carriers to destroyers, over 80 fighter jets, helicopters, and drones, as well as at least 1,100 combat vehicles, including 133 tanks and 533 infantry fighting vehicles. The scenario envisioned for the war games involves a "simulated emerging conflict scenario with a near-peer adversary," providing a realistic test of NATO's collective defense capabilities.
General Cavoli, speaking to reporters in Brussels after a two-day meeting of national chiefs of defense, emphasized that the exercises would showcase "our unity, our strength, and our determination to protect each other." The Baltic states, deemed most vulnerable to a potential Russian threat, will be a key location for the drills. Additionally, the exercises will focus on deploying NATO's quick reaction force to Poland during the second phase of the Steadfast Defender exercise.
Germany, acting as a hub for incoming reinforcements, and other countries on the fringes of the alliance, such as Norway and Romania, will also host elements of the war games. The inclusion of Germany is strategically significant due to its logistical role in facilitating reinforcements.
The exercises are scheduled to run until the end of May, presenting an extensive and sustained demonstration of NATO's collective defense capabilities. General Cavoli asserted that the drills would exhibit the alliance's unity and determination to protect its members.
The decision to conduct these large-scale exercises follows the approval of regional defense plans at the 2023 NATO summit held in Vilnius, Lithuania. These plans marked a departure from the alliance's earlier perspective, which had deemed large-scale defense plans unnecessary in an era where conflicts were primarily focused in the Middle East or Afghanistan. The belief in a reduced threat from Russia contributed to this shift in NATO's military posture.
This forthcoming exercise, Steadfast Defender 2024, is reminiscent of Cold War-era Reforger drills in 1988, which saw 125,000 participants, and the Trident Juncture exercises in 2018, involving 50,000 participants, as highlighted by NATO. The scale of Steadfast Defender 2024 underscores NATO's commitment to collective defense and preparedness in the face of evolving security challenges.
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