Coordination and cooperation are the foundations of NATO’s work to strengthen defence capabilities, with numerous exercises focused on Eastern Europe following Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Chris Aaron looks at how NATO members are working together in training and exercise programmes

In response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March 2014, NATO increased the number of exercises it holds annually and raised the number of troops directly involved. The UK, for example, increased the number of personnel deployed on NATO exercises from about 2,000 in 2012-13 to more than 9,000 in 2016.

Many of these exercises have taken place in the Baltic states and Poland, or have focused on practising deployment of the NATO Response Force (NRF) and its new Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) element.

In 2015, NATO held more than 300 exercises, including Trident Juncture, which involved 36,000 personnel in a test of the NRF and Operation Dragoon Ride, a US-led exercise involving the transfer of men and materiel across 1,900km of allied territory in Eastern Europe. Noble Jump 2017 in Poland was the first big test for the VJTF. NATO exercises in Poland and the Baltics in 2016 included Anakonda, BALTOPS, Brilliant Jump, Flaming Sword, Flaming Thunder, Iron Wolf, Sabre Strike and Swift Response, illustrating the range and number of significant exercises focused on this region. Overall, the increase in activity signalled NATO’s commitment to collective defence in the face of Russia’s actions in the Ukraine, and emphasised its forward presence.


When NATO agreed on a Readiness Action Plan at the Wales Summit in 2014, it outlined a mix of ‘Assurance’ and ‘Adaptive’ tasks based on the need for short-term measures to bolster NATO’s eastern flank, as well as actions to adjust NATO’s posture for the medium term. The increase in multinational training and exercises described above was a relatively quick way of signalling NATO’s commitment to collective defence, and formed the basis for training rotating elements that would constitute a persistent multinational force in these regions. In this way, the Transatlantic Capability Enhancement and Training Initiative (TACET) and the Combined Joint Enhanced Training Initiative (CJET) were born.

TACET started out in June 2015 as a US-German initiative to support the Baltic states and Poland, but was quickly joined by the UK, and now numbers 15 participant states. Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Norway agreed to take part in February 2016.

Through training and exercise programmes and the deployment of specialist companies to share expertise, TACET has strengthened the defence capabilities of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland and increased their interoperability with the NATO partner forces deployed on their territory.

This has aided the integration process that is required as force elements are rotated in and out of the region to make up the Multinational Battalion Battle Groups that are being deployed in the Baltic states and Poland.

CJET took form in June 2016, when the NATO Warsaw Summit decided to develop a ‘tailored forward presence’ in the Black Sea states of Bulgaria and Romania, based on a multinational framework brigade in Romania. CJET provides a TACET-like training, exercise and interoperability function for the forces deployed for this brigade.

The Multinational Corps Northeast Headquarters in Szczecin, Poland, will oversee the TACET objectives and activities in its area of responsibility, as will the Multinational Division Southeast (MND-SE) Headquarters in Bucharest, Romania, for CJET. Both TACET and CJET will work closely with the six NATO Force Integration Units (NFIUs) that have been established to coordinate the deployment and integration of NATO force elements in their respective countries: TACET is linked to the NFIUs based in Bydgoszcz (Poland), Riga (Latvia), Tallinn (Estonia) and Vilnius (Lithuania), while CJET works with the NFIUs in Bucharest (Romania) and Sofia (Bulgaria).

Coordination of exercises and training between NATO and the EU is another important development, fostering cooperation on the ground at the same time as higher-staff-level interactions are being increased and improved. Examples of this increased cooperation began in 2003 with the first Crisis Management Exercise (CME/CMX 03). _ese have continued ever since, and this year will see another CME/CMX, with a Multi-Layer Crisis Management Exercise in 2018. These will involve parallel and coordinated activities on the part of both the EU and NATO. Staff from both organisations will participate in the planning, conduct and lessons-learned stages of each exercise.


The aim of such cooperation is to deepen each organisation’s understanding of the other’s protocols and concerns, at both the political and practical operational levels. One example might be the logistical and political issues involved in moving equipment across European borders in a crisis: identifying and resolving issues beforehand – through coordinated exercises similar to Dragoon Ride – will directly strengthen the posture of collective, responsive defence that is now taking shape.

Projecting Stability | ATA special publication for the Brussels Summit 2017

For the occasion of the NATO Special Meeting in May 2017, ATA has published a dedicated monograph where high level policy makers and experts tackle the strategic issues of the summit. This publication was distributed to all the delegations and representatives that were taking part to closed-doors discussions and parallel meetings that took place before and during the Summit.

The publication is available in its entirety here:  Projecting Stability | ATA special publication for the Brussels Summit 2017