The illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014 shook the international community, challenging the very foundations of European security. In response to this violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, NATO quickly strengthened its commitment to collective defence and readiness. Central to this response was adopting the Readiness Action Plan (RAP) at the Wales Summit in September 2014. The RAP emerged as a solid strategy, meticulously crafted to counter the changing security landscape in Europe, marked by Russia’s aggressive actions and assertiveness.

Subsequently, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022, the Allies adopted a new Strategic Concept during the Madrid Summit (28-29 June 2022), entailing a more proactive posture to bolster responsiveness, readiness, and combat power while taking measures to strengthen NATO’s deterrence and defence. In line with the 2022 Strategic Concept and in response to the ongoing war in Ukraine, the fragile Baltic Sea situation, and Russia’s notable increase in military spending to approximately 7.1% of its gross domestic product (GDP) by 2024, NATO launched Steadfast Defender 2024 on January 25. This exercise, the largest since the Cold War, will end on May 31. The exercise is designed to demonstrate NATO’s readiness, test its defence mechanisms, and showcase the Alliance’s ability to respond to potential threats across various domains and geographical areas.

After the details of the exercise became clear, many questions were raised within the Atlantic zone and

beyond around the possibility of NATO engagement in a hypothetical war against Russia. Against this backdrop, this commentary will analyze the multifaceted message of NATO’s Steadfast Defender 2024 exercise, mainly to Russia. Moreover, it aims to examine Steadfast Defender 2024’s objectives and goals, including its role in showcasing NATO’s readiness and resolve in the face of contemporary security challenges. Then, an assessment of Russia’s response to Steadfast Defender 2024, including its perceptions, condemnations, and strategic maneuvers, is provided. The commentary will be concluded with strategic foresight.


1. Objectives Of Steadfast Defender 2024

NATO’s Steadfast Defender 2024 exercise is fundamentally anchored in the core tasks outlined in the Alliance’s Strategic Concept. The exercise is a striking demonstration of NATO’s unwavering commitment to deterrence and defence and shows the Alliance’s formidable readiness to respond to potential threats and aggression. Moreover, in a changing security landscape, the drill aims to strengthen NATO’s crisis prevention and management capabilities. By refining interoperability, conducting realistic scenarios, and improving rapid response mechanisms, Steadfast Defender 2024 seeks to ensure that NATO can effectively manage and de-escalate crises, safeguarding stability in the Euro-Atlantic region.

The Steadfast Defender 2024 marks a vital moment for NATO, showcasing a significant shift in posture and readiness since the Cold War era. It aims to assert NATO’s resolve to defend the Alliance zone against any potential threat with an unprecedented display of military might and coordination. The last major military exercise during the Cold War, Exercise Reforger, primarily focused on rapid troop deployments to West Germany to address a possible violation of conflict with the Warsaw Pact. However, Steadfast Defender 2024 adopts a broader and more nuanced strategy.

Compared to previous exercises, the ongoing drill features an impressive deployment of forces, involving over 90,000 troops from all 32 NATO Allies. The air contingent comprises more than 80 F35s, FA18s, F15s, helicopters, and drones, demonstrating NATO’s air superiority. The naval component features over 50 sea vessels, while the ground forces involve 1,100 combat vehicles.

Specifically, the Steadfast Defender 2024 is split into two stages to be conducted in European countries, strategically selected to demonstrate NATO’s territorial defence capabilities and regional cooperation.

These countries include Finland, Estonia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

The first phase, led by Joint Force Command Norfolk (JFCNF), focuses on naval warfare. In contrast, the second phase, overseen by Joint Force Command Brunssum (JFCBS), showcases European military capabilities, working with national exercise officials.

Rooted in the core principles of Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, the exercise showcases NATO’s readiness to defend every inch of its territory and protect each Ally from evolving threats in the 21st-century geopolitical landscape.

2. Fortifying European Security: Steadfast Defender 2024 and the Imperative of Unity

In an era of shifting security landscape and multifaceted threats, NATO’s Steadfast Defender 2024 reflects the Alliance’s commitment to unity and strength. From the European perspective, the drill significantly validates and fortifies the continent’s defense capabilities. It aims to demonstrate the seamless interoperability of its forces and ensure effective coordination and cooperation among member nations. By examining command structures and readiness levels closely, NATO signals its unwavering determination to defend every territory. Moreover, the ongoing simulation from the United States’ perspective underscores the Alliance’s unwavering dedication to transatlantic security. With a heightened focus on the eastern flank and the Baltic states, NATO reaffirms its pivotal role as a cornerstone of stability in Europe.

Additionally, the exercise is a strategic reminder of the urgent need for a united and vigilant Europe capable of responding decisively to emerging threats within and beyond the alliance’s borders.

As the geopolitical landscape continues to evolve, Steadfast Defender 2024 emerges as a symbol of NATO’s adaptability and strength in the face of multifaceted challenges. Ultimately, it prepares for probable threats and emphasises the critical importance of a cohesive and coordinated approach in safeguarding Europe’s stability and resilience.

NATO’s Steadfast Defender 2024 exercise carries a nuanced message to Russia that speaks volumes through its actions. While officially avoiding specific targeting, the exercise is widely interpreted as a preparation for potential conflicts with Russia. The show of force by Steadfast Defender 24, which has not been seen since the Cold War, is a response act to the Russian Invasion of Ukraine, showing the Alliance has accomplished the shift of mindset, moving from a post-Cold War liberal stance towards a more realist one that sees a significant war in Europe as a possibility. It further shows the Alliance constantly boosts its capabilities to deter probable adversaries.

3. Russia’s Response and NATO’s Deterrence Strategy

Russian officials, including Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova and Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko, have condemned Steadfast Defender 2024 as an attempt to legitimise NATO’s presence and strengthen U.S. influence. Grushko told Russian news agency RIA that the scale of the exercise marks an “irrevocable return” to the Cold War schemes. The Russian perception underscores the deep-seated distrust and animosity between itself and NATO. The narrative of the “collective West” engaging in a hybrid war against Russia, fueled by the West’s support for Ukraine, adds to this antagonism.

Russia sees the NATO exercise as a direct challenge to its regional influence and strategic interests, mainly because it aligns with China and Iran to counter what it perceives as Western encirclement in joint naval exercises in the Gulf of Oman. These actions demonstrate Russia’s efforts to assert its power and challenge NATO’s dominance, showing Russia’s determination to counter threats to its interests.

Conclusion and Strategic Foresight

Steadfast Defender 2024 is a complex communication tool conveying NATO’s commitment to collective defence, deterrence, and unity. It is crucial in the Alliance’s ongoing evolution and readiness, serving as a multifaceted message to internal and external audiences. For the internal audience, the exercise anchors NATO’s position as the main security provider. As for external messaging, it sends a nuanced yet potent message to Russia, underscoring NATO’s unwavering readiness to defend its members against any form of aggression, thereby highlighting the solidarity among allied nations.

However, Russia’s response reveals deep-seated distrust as it perceives the exercise as an attempt to legitimise NATO’s omnipresence and challenge to its regional influence.

Many concerns have been raised about the exercise and the Alliance’s future adjustments, especially in light of the changing geopolitical landscape. As the upcoming US presidential election approaches, candidates like Trump inject significant uncertainty with a mere suggestion of a potential withdrawal from the North Atlantic Treaty. Such a move could fundamentally alter NATO’s internal dynamics and economic structure, necessitating a re-evaluation of strategic priorities to navigate this uncharted territory.

Simultaneously, the impending EU elections and the forthcoming selection of a new NATO Secretary General further compound the uncertainties ahead. These events are poised to influence the direction and focus of NATO’s future strategies, especially concerning its relationship with Russia and the broader Eurasian region.

The Steadfast Defender 2024 robust deployment of forces and emphasis on showcasing defensive capabilities naturally raise questions about NATO’s strategic intentions, particularly from the perspective of Russia and other regional actors.

Russia’s potential responses to NATO’s Steadfast Defender 2024 exercise are multifaceted and indicative of a strategic recalibration in the region. Firstly, Russia may opt for large-scale military exercises, demonstrating its readiness and capabilities. Subsequently, an intensification of the propaganda campaign can be expected, portraying NATO as an aggressive and destabilising entity in the region.

Moreover, a critical possibility is that Russia may resort to nuclear threats in response to perceived provocations. An example of such provocation was the recent announcement by the President of the French Republic, Macron, regarding the possible deployment of some troops in Ukraine. Moscow could increasingly issue dangerous warnings about the use of nuclear weapons, especially if NATO were to support the placement of military forces in Ukraine, which is seen as a direct threat to Russia’s strategic interests.

All in all, NATO and Russia’s decisions in the coming months will significantly shape the geopolitical landscape, with far-reaching implications for regional stability and global security.