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France’s Land Forces: New Developments for the Lynx 2021 Mission in Estonia

16 March 2021

At the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) Summit in Warsaw in 2016, NATO heads of state and government decided to strengthen NATO’s enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) to further allow the allies to deploy limited military forces to the three Baltic countries and Poland.

The Lynx Mission in Estonia supports allied members through the deployment of multinational battalions. According to a common agreement, this mission strengthens the Alliance’s deterrent posture with a defensive military apparatus. This non-permanent engagement is intended to dissuade Russia from acting against the concerned countries, in violation of international law, or below the threshold for triggering the collective defence clause under Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, which states that: “if an Ally is the victim of an armed attack, every other member of the Alliance will consider this act of violence as an armed attack against all members and will take the actions it deems necessary to assist the Ally attacked.”

NATO and Russia have concluded various agreements, such as the NATO-Russia Founding Act of 1997. They expressed their willingness to engage in a sustained effort to collectively build a lasting and inclusive peace in the Euro-Atlantic area. Therefore, by these agreements, Estonia’s operations constitute a peacetime operation and have a non-offensive purpose. However, if the situation deteriorates, the presence of the allied forces will take a more defensive stand, proportional to the perceived threat.

A deterrent inter-allied presence in support of internal security issues

Driven by the concern that Russia could once again occupy its territory, Estonia has undertaken prompt and concrete actions to integrate itself firmly into Euro-Atlantic defence structures since its independence (1918). In the wake of the 2008 Russian intervention in Georgia, the Estonian government expressed concerns regarding the threat posed by Russian interference, likely through disturbing the security and peace of the territory and geared towards maintaining its influence in the post-Soviet region.

Maintaining national independence has always been central to Estonia’s foreign and security policy. Integration into the EU and NATO has enabled Estonia to preserve its sovereignty against Russia and establish a deterrent, interallied military presence within its territory. This is reflected in the Lynx Mission, for which French military forces have provided significant support since 2017.

France’s readiness to increase its presence and cooperation in Estonia in support of Allies

Although the Lynx Mission is not qualified as an external operation such as “Barkane” or “Chamal”, it has a specific purpose: to maintain interoperability in a multinational environment.

Within this framework, the non-permanent participation of French troops in Estonia since March 2017 provided support through a reinforced company from a joint tactical sub-group (Sous-Groupement Tactique Interarme – SGTIA). The legal legitimacy of the French military deployment in Estonia is, inter alia, in Articles 40 and 41 of the 1949 United Nations Charter (UN Charter). These Articles state that Member States of the UN Security Council may intervene in the allied territory to prevent the escalation of a security situation by taking temporary measures to maintain peace and security in the territory, while respecting the sovereignty principle according to Article 2 of the UN Charter. Furthermore, in compliance with the North Atlantic Treaty signed in Washington on 4 April 1949, allied forces may be sent, by collective agreement, to serve in the territory of another Party. Thus, by participating in NATO-led missions, France is now reaffirming its solidarity in its political and military dimensions, with its Allies through engagements in the Lynx Mission.

Located in Tapa (Estonia), around 100 kilometres from the Russian border, French troops are integrated into a British battalion, itself integrated into the 1st Infantry Brigade of the Estonian Land Forces. Together, they implement operational procedures and common tactics to prevent potential conflict. Several regular training exercises have improved interoperability with British and Estonian forces and strengthened the Alliance’s defensive posture. During recent exercises, defensive manoeuvres, route opening, armour recovery, casualty management, confined combat in forests, and anti-tank ambushes were practised. The SGTIA continued additional training with more specific firing and exercises with British forces.

Since the beginning of the Lynx Mission, several French units have been deployed to Estonia. This cooperative effort will be reinforced by the contribution of an additional 300 soldiers in March 2021 for a one-year mandate. The extension of French cooperation will increase the optimum use of resources allocated by the French forces, a key factor in achieving efficient interoperability.

The strengthening of interoperability through French armoured resources

Pursuant to the NATO eFP mission and in accordance with the declarations of President Emmanuel Macron at the Warsaw Summit in 2016, a detachment of the French Armed Forces will be deployed annually to Estonia. As part of this mission, France’s presence is supported by organised and armoured equipment. The SGTIA has full inter-army resources, representing a quarter of the operational capacity of the eFP Battlegroup in Estonia.

In March 2021, the French General Staff indicated that France will deploy a total of 137 French vehicles which will participate in an armoured detachment alongside their British allies for one year.

The French Ambassador to Estonia, Mr Eric Lamouroux, welcomed France’s engagement and recent developments concerning the Lynx Mission: “the extension of the mission and the doubled number of tanks demonstrate France’s willingness to contribute to the security of its close allies”.

Towards increased interoperability

The Lynx Mission affirms French solidarity with its allies while being consistent with the operational readiness effort. Besides, the strengthening of France’s engagement in the framework of the eFP also represents an important step forward in French defence cooperation with Estonia.

The Lynx Mission confirms the French ability to exercise credibly in varied inter-allied contexts, as well as in an unusual environment in a NATO country, in which the French Army had never operated. Indeed, such developments will contribute to the enhanced interoperability of allied forces and the emergence of a common operational culture conducive to further and broader joint efforts.

Written by Yéelen GEAIRON, Legal Researcher at Finabel – European Army Interoperability Centre


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