For years, Germany has come under heavy fire for neglecting its defense spending — a situation that dates to the end of the Cold War. This criticism is warranted, but Germany has taken some very significant steps since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, building up its military capabilities and beefing up deterrence on NATO’s eastern flank.

Germany first announced a special fund of €100 billion (U.S. $108 billion) to provide its armed forces, the Bundeswehr, with additional procurement and training funding through 2027, along with a promise to maintain defense spending above the 2% minimum that NATO encourages its members to reach. It’s the second-largest national contributor of military aid to Ukraine after the United States.

Now Germany is establishing a permanent military presence in Lithuania, which is along NATO’s eastern flank. In April, about two dozen German soldiers arrived in Lithuania, marking the first time since World War II that German forces will be based outside the country for a long-term basis. The deployment is expected to be at full strength by 2027, totaling 4,800 soldiers.

Germany also plans by 2027 to order 105 Leopard 2 A8 tanks, some of which will be delivered to augment the German brigade in Lithuania, which will be designated as Panzerbrigade 45. This German base in Lithuania will resemble American overseas bases in Germany, with families being stationed alongside service members, and housing and amenities available on base.

Additional NATO forces are especially necessary in Lithuania, which sits between Russian-allied Belarus and the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad. Formed in 1945 from Germany’s East Prussia, Kaliningrad was ceded to the Soviet Union as part of the Potsdam Agreement. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Kaliningrad remained part of the Russian Federation, but now finds itself separated from the rest of Russia by the three Baltic states and by Belarus. Kaliningrad hosts Russia’s Baltic Fleet, along with thousands of Russian troops, fighter jets and nuclear-capable Iskander missiles.

The small corridor between Lithuania and Belarus is known as the Suwalki Gap — widely identified as the weakest point in NATO. If Russian forces were ever to attempt an attack on the three Baltic states, they could both link Belarus and Kaliningrad to cut off supplies from Poland to the Baltic states via an attack on the Suwalki Gap.

This means that Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia are the NATO member states with the most pressing need for additional assets capable of deterring Russia.

Estonia and Latvia deserve similar assurances. Both host rotational forces, but a permanent base from other NATO members in each would offer a far firmer and more permanent security guarantee from the rest of the alliance.

The United States needs to focus its scarce resources on the Indo-Pacific region, where it faces the daunting challenge posed by China. The need for permanent basing in Estonia and Latvia — approved and coordinated with the host nations, of course — should be filled by European NATO members willing to step up and follow the example Germany has set in Lithuania.

Americans should applaud, encourage and assist European NATO states in taking steps to increase their contributions to conventional deterrence in Europe, enabling as it does the pivot of U.S. resources to the Indo-Pacific.

Wilson Beaver is a policy advisor for defense budgeting in The Heritage Foundation’s Allison Center for National Security. Elizabeth Lapporte is a member of the think tank’s Young Leaders Program.

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