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Mar 29 2024

20 years ago, seven new Allies joined NATO in largest round of accession

RAMSTEIN, Germany – On March 29, 2024, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia joined the Alliance in the second wave of post-Cold War NATO enlargement

All seven countries had participated in the Membership Action Plan before acceding to NATO. They went through an individual programme of political, legal, military and security reforms that aligned them with NATO procedures. NATO invited them to begin accession talks at the Alliance's Prague Summit in 2002.

With the first post-Cold War enlargement, the Allies Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia joined the Alliance bringing a host of capabilities and enhanced security on the eastern flank of NATO. Close cooperation with and full integration of the new member States demonstrated NATO's cohesion and solidarity in providing collective security to all its members. Photos by Ognyan Stefanov, Manfred Reudenbach, Latvian Air Force, Lithuanian Air Force, Remo Guidi, Slovak Air Force, Slovenian Air Force .

Integrated into NATO’s command and force structure, the seven new members contributed to staff work, exercises and operations. All of them have been represented at Allied Air Command with their expertise across the headquarters’ divisions at Ramstein Air Base.  

The fall of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact after the end of the Cold War opened up the possibility of further NATO enlargement. Some of the new democracies of Central and Eastern Europe were eager to become integrated into Euro-Atlantic institutions.

In the field of Air Policing, NATO has expanded its standing arrangements to safeguard the airspace over the new members in special ways.

Bulgaria and Romania have conducted the enduring 24/7 Air Policing mission with their own fighter jets. Since 2014 – when NATO introduced enhanced Air Policing as an assurance measure for the eastern Allies – other members have deployed their fighter jets to bases in both countries to fly Air Policing mission alongside national fighters demonstrating integration and cohesion.

Slovakia initially also conducted Air Policing with own fighters. However, since 2013, Czechia, Germany and Poland have made their fighters available to safeguard skies also over Slovakia based on bilateral cross-border agreements. 

For Slovenia, NATO has established an Air Policing arrangement, which ensures Italian and Hungarian fighters are available to cover the country’s airspace in case of need.

Yet another arrangement exists for Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania: since end of March 2004, Allied fighter detachments have deployed to air bases in the region on a rotational basis – with Šiauliai Air Base being the main operating base – to conduct Baltic Air Policing.

All Air Policing solutions are firmly embedded in NATO’s Integrated Air and Missile Defence System. In peacetime, the Allied mission involves the use of the Air Surveillance and Control System (ASACS), Air Command and Control (Air C2) and appropriate air assets, so called Quick Reaction Alert (Interceptor) or QRA (I) fast jets. 

This system of systems is overseen at Allied Air Command and executed by the two Combined Air Operations Centres at Uedem, Germany, and Torrejón, Spain. All Allies contribute to NATO’s Air Policing ensuring the integrity of NATO airspace and protecting member nations making it a true cornerstone for NATO collective security, deterrence and defence.

Story by Allied Air Command Public Affairs Office

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