Belgium (Brussels Morning Newspaper) NATO members will agree on a massive increase in the number of combat-ready troops from the current 40,000 to more than 300,000, and will adopt a new strategic document describing Russia as a direct threat.
Alliance Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg announced the news speaking in Brussels on Monday, ahead of a summit to be held on 28 June in Madrid. “Russia has walked away from the partnership and the dialogue that NATO has tried to establish with Russia for many years,” said Stoltenberg. “They have chosen confrontation instead of dialogue. We regret that – but of course, then we need to respond to that reality.”
The NATO Response Force (NRF) – a high-readiness force comprising of land, air, sea and special forces units – can currently tap up to 40,000 troops, and can, in theory, be deployed anywhere in the world within weeks. A special “spearhead” segment, dubbed the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force is envisioned as being able to deploy within 48 hours of receiving an order, with the remainder of the forces deploying following the VJTF.
NRF suffered from years of neglect due to a lack of enthusiasm and political will of NATO member states to actually maintain it as a combat-ready force. It was challenged by chronic equipment and personnel shortages, and often branded as a failure.
Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, NATO planners and members states reignited the idea of the NRF and put the group on alert for possible deployment to Europe, with the NRF eventually activated and some of its current units forward deployed to Germany and NATO countries bordering Ukraine.
On Monday, Stoltenberg announced that the alliance would raise the overall number operating as part of the NRF to “well over 300,000”, almost increasing the size of the NATO rapid reaction forces by an order of magnitude.
This change will likely take place as part of NATO’s work on a new force structure, which will include various national troops put on different alter levels in order to secure a higher number of combat-ready troops available on a short notice in case of major crises – whether humanitarian or military in nature.
Stoltenberg also hinted that the alliance would update its current official stance on Moscow, which described Russia as a “strategic partner” ever since the Lisbon summit in 2010, when relations between the Kremlin and the West appeared to be thawing, and NATO actively sought to cooperate with Moscow on international security missions. “I expect the allies will state clearly that Russia poses a direct threat to our security, to our values, to the rules-based international order,” said Stoltenberg.
The Secretary-General was not overly optimistic about the prospects of reaching a quick deal on Finland’s and Sweden’s applications to join the alliance – currently opposed by Turkey which is calling for a number of political concessions from the Nordic countries. “I will not make any promises or speculate about any specific time lines, The summit has never been a deadline,” said Stoltenberg.
The alliance will also boost the number and composition of combat units deployed near NATO’s eastern borders, with its units in the Baltics planned to be upgraded to brigade level, and thousands of pre-assigned troops to stand ready in countries further west, such as Germany, prepared to offer rapid reinforcement if needed. “Together, this constitutes the biggest overhaul of our collective deterrence and defence since the Cold War,” Stoltenberg concluded.