NATO Squabbles Over Cost of Eastern Reinforcements

NATO’s pledges to protect its eastern flank against Russia will run into financial reality tomorrow when foreign ministers from budget-stressed governments weigh how to share the burden.

A “robust debate” is under way in the 28-nation alliance over who will pay to rebuild the eastern defenses that were scaled back after the Cold War, U.S. Ambassador to NATO Douglas Lute said.

“We haven’t decided where the bill’s going to fall,” Lute told reporters in Brussels today. “You can imagine that that’s a big deal. Forces of that size, at that readiness, are not inexpensive. NATO has got to come to grips with costs.”

Germany, Norway and the Netherlands will take the lead in fielding a brigade in early 2015 to serve as the nucleus of the planned rapid-reaction “spearhead” which would be deployable within days in response to a threat to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s eastern borders.

A commitment to the high-readiness force went along with American complaints about declining European defense budgets at a summit of allied leaders in Wales in September, the first since Russia seized Crimea and sent troops into eastern Ukraine.

The U.S. contribution to the force remains to be decided, Lute said. NATO is counting on the U.S. to provide airlift capacity, which is in short supply in Europe.

The planned task force of 3,000 to 5,000 troops requires NATO to dust off concepts for rapid-response warfare that fell into disuse during two decades of operations away from the home front, in places like the Balkans, Afghanistan and Libya.

Interim Force

The three-nation interim readiness force puts NATO ahead of schedule in meeting its self-defense commitment, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said. Defense ministers will fill in the details at a meeting in February.

“We are committed to implementing the plan, on time and in full,” Stoltenberg told reporters.

Other eastern reinforcements include stepped-up air policing over the Baltic Sea, troop rotations into the Baltic states and Poland, and more frequent military exercises. NATO announced those steps in April and will formally agree to continue them at tomorrow’s meeting of foreign ministers.

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