NATO to boost special defense forces to 40,000 - Stoltenberg

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (Reuters / Francois Lenoir)
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has announced that the alliance plans to extend its Response Force to 40,000 troops from current 13,000.

"All together we expect this force to be 40,000 strong," Stoltenberg said.

READ MORE: NATO conducting biggest beef up of defenses since Cold War – alliance chief

The announcement was made in Brussels ahead of a meeting of NATO defense ministers.The current strength of the Spearhead Force is 13,000 troops.Secretary General Stoltenberg said the threefold increase in troops was “substantial.”

"This will enable us to deploy our forces as quickly as we need when crises arise, while maintaining full political control," Stoltenberg said.

NATO member states welcomed the deployment of American military hardware in Europe. Stoltenberg said it doesn’t violate the Alliance’s international obligations. According to the NATO head, the Alliance won’t get into an arms race with Russia, but it has obligations to protect its allies.

NATO aims for a dialogue with Moscow, yet strengthening the Alliance’s defense capabilities doesn’t contradict this goal, said Stoltenberg. He stressed that strong defense is one of the conditions for a dialogue with Russia.

Although military cooperation between the Alliance and Moscow is on hold, political dialogue on various levels is ongoing. Direct communications between the militaries are also active to avoid incorrect interpretations of military activities.

During the media conference on Wednesday, British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said that Russia and NATO were “saber-rattling” to provoke and intimidate one another, adding that “ it is important also that the alliance ... continues to commit to the collective will to defend all its members.”

READ MORE: Moscow will respond to NATO approaching Russian borders ‘accordingly’ – Putin

On Tuesday, US Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced that Washington plans to station its military hardware, including tanks and armored vehicles, in a number of European countries.

Heavy armaments are going to be deployed to Europe for the purpose of conducting military drills, said Stoltenberg, answering a question about the move being possibly considered a provocation against Russia.

Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania will be hosting up to 250 vehicles, including Abrams tanks, Bradley armored vehicles and self-propelled howitzers.

NATO is preparing to adopt an assistance package for Moldova to help it modernized its forces, Stoltenberg said.

Stoltenberg said he will meet the Ukrainian defense minister on Thursday to “review the challenges” the country faces. “We will also review the support we are providing for a strong and sovereign Ukraine,” said the NATO chief.