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5 Sep, 2014 14:24

At least 4,000 troops: NATO approves new E. Europe-based spearhead force

At least 4,000 troops: NATO approves new E. Europe-based spearhead force

A new rapid reaction force, likely numbering at least 4,000 and ready to be deployed within 48 hours, will be created in Eastern Europe, after a decision by the 28 NATO member states following a conference in Wales.

This is a demonstration of our solidarity and resolve,” said NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen as the summit, largely dedicated to Ukraine, and attended by the country’s President Petro Poroshenko, wrapped up.

"Should you even think of attacking one ally, you will be facing the whole alliance.”

NATO said the reason for the new unit is “a security environment which is more unpredictable than ever, including Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, violent extremism in the Middle East and instability in North Africa.”

“This spearhead will include several thousand land troops ready to deploy within a few days with air, sea and Special Forces support,” said Fogh Rasmussen.

The Baltic States and Romania have already offered to host the force, whose exact numbers have not been agreed, with Downing Street saying it will likely number 4,000 and Warsaw 5,000. Poland, the largest NATO state in Eastern Europe, is expected to house the headquarters.

(L-R) NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron and U.S. President Barack Obama watch a fly-past by the Red Arrows during the NATO summit at the Celtic Manor resort, near Newport, in Wales September 5, 2014.(Reuters/Andrew Winning)

The Baltic States have been among the most vocal advocates of NATO strengthening in the region, but the organization is bound by a 1997 agreement with Russia, which bars it from placing permanent bases in Lithuania, Latvia or Estonia. This can be circumvented by staging constant rotations of “exercises” that can in practice amount to the same thing.

The new force will be the vanguard of the existing NATO Response Force (NRF) that began operations a decade ago. The 25,000-strong NRF can take up to a month to deploy, by which time any military incursion can become a fait accompli.

“We must be able to act more swiftly,” said UK Prime Minister David Cameron, whose country said that it will provide up to a quarter of the new force’s troops.

Georgia coming in, Ukraine told to wait

Fogh Rasmussen rebuffed Moscow’s warning that if Kiev made steps to join NATO, it would undermine the chances of reaching a lasting compromise in Ukraine.

"No third country has a veto over NATO enlargement. NATO's door remains open. Each country will be judged on its merits," said the former Danish Prime Minister.

Nonetheless, Ukraine, which has made intermittent moves towards joining the alliance in the last decade – and whose Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk called for membership earlier this week – is not currently being considered, despite being granted a symbolic aid package from the alliance on Thursday.

"The alliance must stick to previously made statements that such an opportunity may appear possible only in the long-term future," said Norway’s Conservative prime minister, Erna Solberg.

"Ukraine is still a neutral state, bounded by its regulations and the security situation in the region. The whole of Ukraine must undergo essential changes before it joins NATO," she added.

On the other hand, Georgia, which fought a war with Russia in 2008, has made progress: it was included on the shortlist of countries looking for 'enhanced co-operation' with NATO, alongside Australia, Finland, Jordan and Sweden.

“We agreed on a substantive package of measures for Georgia… that will help Georgia advance in its preparations towards membership of NATO,” said Fogh Rasmussen.

The Polish capital Warsaw has been chosen as the venue for the next NATO summit in 2016, after Fogh Rasmussen said that the choice of location would “send a strong signal of Polish involvement in the alliance and a very visible presence by NATO in the eastern regions of the alliance.”