NATO defense ministers discussed on Thursday ways to build up forces and deterrence along the military alliance’s eastern borders to deter Russia from planning further aggression following its invasion of Ukraine. .
The Russian invasion led the allies to rethink their strategies and to agree that NATO forces should be present in greater numbers on this eastern flank. NATO says it has more than 40,000 troops under its direct command, mostly on the eastern flank, and is exploring how it can further boost its presence, readiness and capabilities.
“This will mean more combat formations forward deployed to NATO, to reinforce our battlegroups in the eastern part of the alliance, more air, sea and cyber defences, as well as stockpiles of equipment and weapons. ‘pre-positioned weapons’, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said. After the meeting.
The meeting of defense ministers preceded the June 29-30 NATO summit in Madrid which will seek to set out a roadmap for the alliance in the years to come.
Germany has already announced its intention to strengthen its commitment in Lithuania, while France wants to increase its presence in Romania, where it plans to have deployed 1,000 soldiers with Leclerc tanks by the end of the year.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin declined to detail any changes in the positioning of US forces across Europe, but said the US and its allies would take steps to rapidly deploy troops if needed. This includes positioning more equipment in the area and placing troops at higher alert levels.
“All of our allies have learned from any shortcomings we may have encountered in the past, and they will build to ensure they have the right capabilities to provide flexible, accountable and credible forces in combat when the time comes,” did he declare. .
Artis Pabriks, the Latvian defense minister, said the military alliance should position more armed forces and equipment in the Baltic countries.
“We want better planning. We want a headquarters structure. We want a pre-positioning of different types of equipment, so if a crisis arises, we should not wait,” he said.
Stoltenberg said the issue of pre-positioned equipment is critical because moving armored vehicles, supplies and ammunition takes a long time.
“So of course it’s much easier and faster to reinforce when needed,” he said.
Stoltenberg said ministers had made “significant progress” in their discussions on a new force model that would involve more forces at a higher level of readiness and others assigned to the defense of specific allies.
Discussions in Brussels also focused on the need to increase defense spending, Stoltenberg said, with offers from Sweden and Finland to join the alliance also on the table.
Stoltenberg welcomed the United States’ decision to send an additional $1 billion in military aid to Ukraine and said NATO allies stand “ready to continue to provide substantial and unprecedented support” to the country. country.
The latest package, the US said, includes anti-ship missile launchers, howitzers and more rounds for the high-mobility artillery rocket systems on which US forces are training Ukrainian troops. These are all key weapon systems that Ukraine’s leaders have urgently requested as they struggle to block Russia’s march to conquer the eastern region of Donbass.
Austin hailed Finland and Sweden’s “historic decision” to apply for NATO membership, expressing hope that talks will continue to progress favorably.
Turkey, however, has expressed opposition to the Nordic pair joining NATO and Stoltenberg has worked hard to try to break the impasse. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan refuses to back down on what he calls alleged Swedish and Finnish support for Kurdish militants.
“My goal is to find a solution as soon as possible,” Stoltenberg said.