NATO Defense Chiefs Agree to Dramatically Boost Military Forward Presence in Baltics and Eastern Europe

Brussels, Belgium (SCF) – A meeting of North Atlantic Council at the level of defence ministers was held at NATO Headquarters in Brussels on 10-11 February, 2016. The agenda was dominated by Russia. The European Union, Australia, Finland, Georgia, Jordan and Sweden were among the invitees.

The participants agreed on enhanced forward presence in the eastern part of the Alliance. NATO is to station additional soldiers in six member states in Eastern Europe as part of its anti-Russian strategy. The units would be small, but involved in possible deployment of the alliance’s future «rapid response» force. It could involve up to a battalion of 500-1,000 troops sent to each of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria. They will likely include large numbers of US, British and German servicemen. Actual force levels will probably be hammered out only after consultations with NATO’s supreme commander in Europe, US Force Gen. Philip Breedlove. The forces deployed on rotation will include highly-mobile special operations units armed with surface-to-air missiles backed up by ground-attack aircraft and helicopters. One NATO official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to make public statements, told the Associated Press one proposal being considered calls for the creation of a brigade-sized unit: roughly 3,000 troops.

The forces, according to the alliance, would respond to a critical situation within just two days, with the assumption that it would counter an attack from Russia.

It is all part of the plan that includes boosting intelligence capabilities, making preparations to rapidly reinforce the frontline units from Western Europe in case of an emergency, and providing training to make «vulnerable» states better prepared for combat actions.

US Defense Secretary Ash Carter briefed other NATO defence ministers on the details of American plans for Europe with about half of the $3.4bn to be spent on pre-positioning of tanks, artillery and other equipment in Western Europe for fast deployment to Eastern Europe. The Secretary stressed that the initiative will go beyond the training exercises and troop deployments announced six months ago. «This is another step», he said, «this permanently prepositioned heavy equipment of the kind that US forces could fall in on in an emergency».

While the United States will be investing more money to defend Europe, America’s NATO allies also have to step up to the plate. The United States needs NATO allies to demonstrate that they are prepared to increase their contributions to defend their continent. «I’ll be looking for others at NATO to echo in our investment,» Carter said.

The Alliance has an agreement with Russia not to deploy permanent troops along its border, but it is getting around it by having troops training in Eastern Europe on a rotational basis, which is, by and large, the same as having them based there permanently.

NATO and the European Union signed technical arrangements to enhance cyber cooperation and enable response teams have acquired a structured framework for exchanging information and sharing practices.

The meeting agreed to improve a range of steps to enhance NATO’s response to «hybrid attacks» and accelerate its decision-making processes.

The ministers declared the initial operational capability for NATO’s Joint Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (JISR) initiative. This initial operational JISR capability is centered on enhancing the situational awareness of the NATO Response Force through heightened proficiency in collecting, processing, and exchanging intelligence. In short, JISR will maximize the resources already present, both in NATO and in individual Allies.

The meeting confirmed the commitment of the Alliance to assist Georgia in moving forward to NATO membership.

The recent North Korean missile tests in violation of UN Security Council’s resolutions were condemned – the only issue that Russia and NATO see eye to eye on.

Image Source: The U.S. Army, Flickr, Creative Commons www.Army.mil U.S. Army Sgt. William Reese watches flames rise into the night sky after setting canal vegetation ablaze in Tahwilla, Iraq, July 30, 2008. Extremists have been using the canal's thick vegetation to plant bombs under the cover of darkness. The soldiers are assigned to Company B, 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment.U.S. Army photo by Spc. David J. Marshall

Image Source: The U.S. Army, Flickr, Creative Commons
www.Army.mil
U.S. Army Sgt. William Reese watches flames rise into the night sky after setting canal vegetation ablaze in Tahwilla, Iraq, July 30, 2008. Extremists have been using the canal’s thick vegetation to plant bombs under the cover of darkness. The soldiers are assigned to Company B, 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment.U.S. Army photo by Spc. David J. Marshall

It was decided to endorse US request for NATO AWACS surveillance planes to backfill national capabilities, which will increase the anti-Islamic State (IS) coalition’s ability to conduct air strikes, as well as the capability to survey Russia’s military operation in Syria.

Eight Allies (Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Greece, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, and Spain) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for a Danish-led Smart Defence project on the multinational provision of air-to-ground precision-guided munitions (PGMs). This will enable the participating Allies to address all aspects of their air-to-ground precision-guided munitions (PGM) including procurement and management of munitions inventories. In parallel, the group of Allies has already submitted a Letter of Request to the United States for a first future multinational order under this cooperation framework.

The UK is to send five extra ships to the Baltic as part of a NATO buildup against Russia – the kingdom’s first contribution since 2010. The UK, which already has planes operating in the Baltic states and regularly sends troops to the region on training exercises, is to deploy a Type 23 Frigate – HMS Iron Duke – with the NATO force in the Baltic, as well as a Type 45 destroyer and three minesweepers, with, in all, 530 naval personnel. The idea of NATO’s permanent naval presence in the Black Sea advocated by Romania was endorsed to become part of the agenda of the NATO summit to take place on 8-9 July, 2016 in Warsaw.

NATO will continue to station Patriot air defense systems in Turkey.

Against the backdrop of the NATO meeting more than 1,600 British troops and over 300 military vehicles were headed to Jordan. This is the largest British force projection since the US-UK invasion of Iraq. The war game in Jordan aims to ensure the British army can deploy a 30,000-strong contingent of tanks and troops to a crisis zone anywhere in the world. The exercise Shamal Storm was formally reported to practise a deployment of a large armoured force of British troops to Eastern Europe. But the terrain in Jordan is different. It is likely that, in reality, the exercise is an element of preparatory plans potentially aimed against Russian troops in Syria at the time Turkey and some Arab states express their readiness to deploy troops on Syrian soil under US umbrella. They will be acting in violation of international law, if the plans are brought to life.

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The decision to enhance NATO military presence in Eastern Europe and the Baltics had been discussed for some time before the Brussels meeting to make Moscow plan retaliatory steps.

When Russia and NATO signed a historic cooperation deal in 1997, officials hailed the accord as a “victory for reason,” a “definitive” end to the Cold War, and the dawn of collaboration in “a new Europe of unlimited possibility.” The accord’s second paragraph, after all, states that NATO and Russia “do not consider each other as adversaries.” Further in the document, the alliance’s pledge to forego “additional permanent stationing of substantial combat forces” is preceded by the qualifier “in the current and foreseeable security environment.”

Nearly two decades later, the NATO-Russia Founding Act appears all but dead amid the alliance’s push to boost its military presence on its eastern flank.

The accord has been mired in mistrust with NATO violating the tenets of the partnership act by troops deployments in the alliance’s eastern member states. The decisions just made at the NATO meeting will definitively undermine the key provision not to deploy substantial combat forces on a permanent basis to make Russia ponder deploying additional military aircraft and Iskander missile systems closer to the border.

Russia will beef up its troops in the western and central regions of the country in 2016 due to NATO intensifying exercises in Eastern Europe, Ground Forces Commander Col.-Gen. Oleg Salyukov said on January 22, 2016.

«The formation of new divisions is one of the measures being used in response to the intensity of [military] exercises by NATO countries that have lately been observed», he added.

The NATO meeting has made its contribution to undermining the already fragile Europe’s security and increasing tensions and spurring arms race.

This report was prepared by Andrei AKULOV for Strategic Culture Foundation.