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Meeting of NATO Ministers of Defence:

“A stronger NATO”

NATO’s ability to respond rapidly to crisis situations and challenges on NATO’s periphery were at the top of the agenda when NATO defence ministers met in Brussels on 5 February.

The primary focus of the ministers was to follow up on decisions taken at the Wales summit in September 2014. The Readiness Action Plan (RAP) adopted in Wales contains a variety of deterrence and reassurance measures in addition to initiatives for developing the alliance in response to the new security situation. These measures will bolster NATO’s ability to deal with threats anywhere in its territory and fulfil the need for heightened responsiveness.

Germany, the Netherlands and Norway cooperate on rapid reaction

One of the measures agreed during the summit was to strengthen the alliance’s ability to respond quickly in urgent situations. A force is now being created that will be able to react faster than the current NATO Response Force (NRF). This new force, the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF), is under development. Germany, the Netherlands and Norway have announced their willingness to contribute to a pilot project for this force. VJTF will be the “spearhead” of an enhanced new NRF, which will be able to react quickly and follow through with reinforcements if the situation requires it.

“NATO needs to increase its response capability and readiness, and it has been decided that a preliminary VJTF force will be composed of German, Dutch and Norwegian reaction forces. What we learn from this collaboration will be important to the continued development of the concept. Together with Germany and the Netherlands, we are now pioneers in a cause that’s important for NATO – one that in short order will contribute to increased reaction capability and readiness,” says Norwegian Minister of Defence Ine Eriksen Søreide.

“The fact that Norway is helping shape what will be the final configuration of this force ­–and ­that we’re already getting started with two key allies – is an important step, and a concrete follow-up of Wales,” she adds.

A great deal of discussion in NATO has centred on hybrid warfare and the need to be prepared for the mix of tools and tactics this kind of warfare entails. VJTF is meant to help answer this need by shortening reaction time. NATO will also expand its presence by creating command and control units in six eastern member states, improving their ability to receive allied reinforcements.

“By participating militarily we are accepting responsibility, respecting our international obligations and demonstrating solidarity,” says Eriksen Søreide. “The will to take responsibility helps strengthen NATO cohesion and credibility. But I would stress that it’s important to keep all NATO forces in top condition, and not to focus only on ‘the spearheads’. We must also maintain our depth and endurance – in our individual countries, and in NATO as a whole.”

Sending three experts to Georgia

The Nordic and Baltic defence ministers decided in November 2014 to establish a joint military advisory package. It will be possible to plug this package quickly into NATO-, EU- and UN-led programmes and operations in countries that need help reforming their defence sectors.

“NATO has asked member states for military advisors to be used in such circumstances. The Nordic and Baltic countries have come together to offer the alliance a turnkey package. Norway will now contribute three experts to the Joint Training and Evaluation Centre in Georgia as part of the support package adopted in Wales. Our efforts are coordinated with Denmark, Latvia and Lithuania, which will also provide experts. This is the first use of our package,” says Norway’s defence minister.

“We aim to start up in the first half of 2015 and will maintain support over time by rotating personnel from various Nordic and Baltic nations into the individual jobs,” she continues. “Our support for Georgia will help cover the country’s most important needs; it will also be an important capacity-building boost for NATO and will allow us to test and develop the new Nordic-Baltic cooperation in capacity building. Our combined support to Georgia will amount to five to 10 personnel out of NATO’s total support package of 25 personnel. The experience we gain through our cooperation with Georgia will permit future Nordic-Baltic efforts on a larger scale and in more demanding situations.”

The security policy backdrop

The meeting was dominated by the security situation in Europe. The continent is confronting a complex new set of security policy issues.

“The year 2014 was dramatic, both in Europe and in Europe’s wider vicinity,” says Eriksen Søreide. “We have seen Russia annex parts of another country’s territory and make use of military force to achieve political goals. We see new threats originating in Iraq and Syria. At the same time, we see a NATO that takes the new situation seriously and has put collective defence back on the agenda. Peace in Europe cannot be taken for granted. NATO is and will be an important actor in resolving the major crises we now see in the world. The importance of a strong NATO was underscored by all.”

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