NATO Sets Seven-Day Response for Rapid Reaction Force

NATO said its rapid-response force will be on seven-day standby in case of an attack and could go into action faster if it picks up signals of an imminent threat.

The high-readiness force, made up of land, sea, air and special operations units, is a key part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s strengthening of eastern Europe’s defenses following Russia’s seizure of Crimea and backing -- denied by the Kremlin -- for the rebellion in eastern Ukraine.

Initial response time “will be about seven days,” U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove, NATO’s top military commander, told reporters in Brussels Thursday. Faster deployment is possible “if indications and warnings or intelligence call for a higher readiness.”

NATO allies are also shuttling troops through countries closest to Russia -- the Baltic republics, Poland and Romania -- stockpiling equipment there and conducting more exercises to deter President Vladimir Putin and reassure people living near the front lines of a potential conflict.

Troops from Germany, the Netherlands and Norway form the core of an “interim” rapid-reaction force, drawing on an older and little-tested NATO force with far slower reaction times. The new spearhead is due to become fully operational in early 2016.

“Robust activity” will continue, Breedlove said after top generals from the 28 allies met. The heightened preparedness includes an air-policing mission that has regularly intercepted Russian warplanes, especially over the Baltic Sea.

Defense ministers meet Feb. 5 to take stock of the planning, which fills in gaps in allied defenses that were left open after eastern European countries started joining NATO in 1999. At the time, the U.S. and its European allies were courting Russia and, as a goodwill gesture, didn’t extend NATO’s bases to the east.

While the Russia-Ukraine crisis spurred NATO to make the reinforcements, Breedlove said “they are designed to address a range of conventional and unconventional threats from all directions, not just the east.”

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