NATO’s rapid reaction force will be nearly eightfold increased to 300,000 troops as part of its response to a “era of strategic competition,” according to the military alliance’s secretary-general on Monday.
The NATO response force currently has around 40,000 soldiers on standby and can deploy quickly when needed.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the move, when combined with other measures such as the deployment of forces to defend specific allies, is part of the “biggest overhaul of collective defense and deterrence since the Cold War.”
“These troops will train alongside home defense forces,” Stoltenberg said. “They will also become acquainted with the local terrain, facilities, and our new pre-positioned stocks.” So that they can respond to any emergency smoothly and quickly.” Stoltenberg made the remarks at a press conference ahead of a NATO summit later this week in Madrid, where the 30 allies are expected to agree on additional support for Ukraine in its conflict with Russia.
Stoltenberg stated that he expects allies to state unequivocally that Russia is “the most significant and direct threat to our security.””
According to Stoltenberg, NATO’s new strategic concept will also address for the first time the security challenges posed by China. Allies will meet in Madrid to discuss how to respond to Russia and China’s growing influence in their “southern neighborhood.” “He continued.
Stoltenberg stated that allies will agree to provide additional military support to Ukraine when they meet in Spain, with NATO members set to adopt a “strengthened comprehensive assistance package,” which will include deliveries of secure communication and anti-drone systems.
In the long run, allies hope to assist Ukraine in transitioning from Soviet-era armaments to modern NATO equipment, according to Stoltenberg. The world’s seven leading economic powers reaffirmed their commitment to Ukraine on Monday for “as long as it takes.”
Another major topic at the NATO summit will be the possibility of Finland and Sweden joining the alliance in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. So far, NATO member Turkey has blocked the applications, citing the two countries’ leniency toward organizations Turkey considers terrorist, such as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK.
Turkey wants Sweden and Finland to grant extradition requests for people wanted by Turkish authorities. Ankara claims the countries are harboring PKK members as well as individuals linked to a failed coup attempt in 2016.
Turkey also wants assurances that the two countries’ arms embargoes imposed in response to Turkey’s military incursion into northern Syria in 2019 will be lifted.
Stoltenberg stated that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Finnish President Sauli Niinisto, and Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson have agreed to meet on the sidelines of the summit.
“We have worked hard since Finland and Sweden applied to join the alliance to ensure that they can join as soon as possible,” Stoltenberg said. “I will not make any promises, but I can assure you that we are working hard to ensure progress because Finland and Sweden’s applications to join NATO are historic.”
NATO released new defense spending figures, revealing that the United States’ European allies, as well as Canada, increased defense spending for the eighth consecutive year.
“By the end of the year, they will have invested well over 350 billion US dollars more than we agreed on in 2014,” Stoltenberg said.
NATO countries reduced their military budgets after the Cold War ended in the 1990s, but increased spending when Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014. NATO allies also pledged in that year to reach a defense budget target of 2% of their GDP by 2024.
“Nine allies now meet – or exceed – the 2% target.” Nineteen allies have detailed plans to achieve it by 2024 “Stoltenberg explained. “Two percent is increasingly regarded as a floor rather than a ceiling.” We will also agree to increase our collective investment in NATO.”