NATO Eastern Europe Spearhead Hinges on Troop RotationsJames G. Neuger
NATO’s plan for deterring a Russian attack hinges on rotating troops from a number of allied countries into at-risk states on the alliance’s eastern flank, Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said.
A summit this week will agree to beef up North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces in eastern frontline states by stockpiling equipment at forward bases, holding more exercises and training and speeding deployability of the rapid-reaction force.
The point is an invader “would meet not only national troops from that specific ally, they would meet NATO troops,” Rasmussen told reporters today in Brussels. “That’s the purpose of this spearhead force.”
Russia’s intervention in Ukraine and President Vladimir Putin’s remarks that he has a duty to assist ethnic Russians in the country have alarmed NATO’s eastern members, especially those that border Russia or that have significant Russian minorities including Estonia and Latvia.
Rasmussen said the force numbering several thousand soldiers drawn from air, sea and special operations troops will be deployable within a few days’ notice. The unit, which will be part of NATO’s Response Force, will be approved by leaders of the 28 NATO nations at a Sept. 4-5 summit in Wales, he said.
NATO will need to upgrade airfields, ports and bases in eastern member states, he said, adding that the number of bases needed for rotating forces will be decided after the summit. Rasmussen said it wasn’t yet clear how many allied nations would contribute to the force.
Russia now considers NATO an opponent and not a partner, he said.
“We cannot afford to be naive; we don’t have any illusions,” Rasmussen said. “We are faced with a new reality that Russia considers us an adversary and we will adapt to that situation.”
Alliance leaders will meet with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko at the summit and undertake concrete steps to help the Kiev government, he said, without saying what these measures would be.
“This is a time of multiple crises on several fronts,” Rasmussen said. “To the east, Russia is intervening overtly in Ukraine. To the south, we see growing instability with fragile states, the rise of extremism and sectarian strife.”