Allied defence ministers have firmed up NATO's 2016 Warsaw summit declaration in July to send four combat-ready battalions to its north eastern flank. Numerous national commitments to cluster troops and capabilities around the four nations leading the battalions were made during a two day meeting in Brussels on 26-27 October.
Serious questions hover over the alliance's ability to rapidly deploy the NATO Response Force (NRF), however, and particularly larger follow-on forces should the battalions need hefty reinforcement.
"I think [the full operational capability of] the NRF will have be declared in bits and pieces, because it is going to take a long time," a NATO diplomatic source told IHS Jane's prior to the meeting. "And the bigger follow-on forces will take longer still."
NATO's two immediate obligations are to firm up the defences of its northeastern and southeastern regions. The northeast region's outlines are now clear, as various allies cluster around the battalions' lead nations and their future deployment.
Belgium, Croatia, France, Luxembourg, Netherlands and Norway will cluster around the German-led battalion in Lithuania. Albania, Italy, Poland, and Slovenia will attach to the Canadian-led battalion in Latvia. Denmark and France will join the UK-led battalion in Estonia, while Romanian and British detachments will be assigned to the US-led battalion in Poland.
The battalions will vary in size from 400 to 900 personnel. The largest will be in Poland where the US will supplement its presence there and in other eastern allies with additional rotational troops and pre-positioned assets as part of Washington's pledge to spend USD3.4 billion in 2017 for new defensive measures in Europe in reaction to Russia's sabre-rattling.
"So many nations made firm and concrete commitments to the battalions that they will deliver a clear message of strength and deterrence," NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg told reporters after the meeting, adding that the deployments to the four target countries will begin in early 2017 for completion by the middle of that year.
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