Pre-summit ministerial meeting to boost NATO’s forward presence

A Polish tank during drills held at the Zagan training range in Western Poland in May 2016 Photo: Flickr/Jfcbrunssum
A Polish tank during drills held at the Zagan training range in Western Poland in May 2016 Photo: Flickr/Jfcbrunssum

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg briefed media on Monday (13 June 2016) on the agenda of this week’s meetings of NATO Defence Ministers. “Over the next two days, we will take a series of important decisions to strengthen our collective defence and enhance our cooperation with partners,” said Mr. Stoltenberg in a NATO press release. He stressed that these decisions will pave the way for the Warsaw Summit in July.

“We will agree to deploy by rotation four robust multinational battalions in the Baltic states and in Poland,” said the Secretary General. He underlined that these battalions are part of a much bigger shift in NATO’s defence and deterrence posture, including a larger NATO Response Force, a new Spearhead Force and 8 new small headquarters in the eastern part of the Alliance. “All together this strikes the right balance between a greater ability to reinforce, and boost our forward presence,” he added.

NATO has also taken action to ensure that Allied troops can move faster across Europe, for exercises or reinforcements, if needed. “Last month, the Spearhead Force conducted an exercise which showed how far we have come. One thousand troops and four hundred military vehicles moved from Spain to Poland within four days,” said Mr. Stoltenberg. He stressed that NATO will continue to work to improve freedom of movement for Allied troops and equipment, because speed can make the difference when a crisis emerges.

The Secretary General underscored that Allies must spend more on defence to sustain this shift in NATO’s defence posture. He highlighted that, following a long decline in defence spending, 2015 was the first year after many when the Alliance registered a small increase in defence spending. “Our estimates for 2016 show a further increase,” said Mr. Stoltenberg. The annual real change stands at around 1.5 percent, an increase of over 3 billion dollars, with twenty Allies planning to spend more on defence in real terms this year. “So this is real progress. After many years of going in the wrong direction, we are starting to go into the right direction,” he said.

This week, Defence Ministers will also discuss how NATO can expand its efforts to project stability beyond its borders, strengthening local forces in the fight against terrorism. “We will also consider providing AWACS surveillance planes to support the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL,” said the Secretary General. He added that ministers will assess what more NATO can do in the wider Mediterranean Sea, for instance in support of the European Union’s Operation Sophia.

On Tuesday, Ministers will discuss the future of cooperation between NATO and the European Union, together with High Representative Mogherini and Ministers from Finland and Sweden. Mr. Stoltenberg noted that ministers will also explore additional assistance for Ukraine and Georgia. “On Wednesday, we will meet the Ukrainian Defence Minister in the NATO-Ukraine Commission. We are concerned about the security situation, amid continued ceasefire violations in eastern Ukraine,” said Mr. Stoltenberg.