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Article published on the Atlantic Treaty Association Website http://bit.ly/2BP1Wm1

Mike Bryant highlights NATO’s efforts to reinforce its ability to provide collective defence to the east and south-east of its members’ territory via an enhanced military capability

NATO’s Readiness Action Plan (RAP) was agreed at the 2014 Wales Summit of Alliance partners. Intended to ensure that NATO can always respond “swiftly and firmly” to any security challenges from the east and the south, the Alliance has, over the past three years, moved ahead with the various component strategies of the plan.

A number of immediate assurance measures were implemented as part of the effort to reassure NATO’s Central and Eastern European members that they would be protected from any potential aggression from Russia. These measures included bolstering land, maritime and air activities in the relevant areas and undertaking a series of exercises focused on collective defence. The RAP also included longer-term adaptation measures to meet the evolving threat, including significantly improving the capability of the NATO Response Force (NRF); creating a Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF); establishing a number of NATO Force Integration Units (NFIUs) in Eastern Europe; plus a range of measures designed to enhance the capabilities of the Alliance’s multinational forces. In each of these areas, much progress has been made.

THE NATO RESPONSE FORCE

The NRF is a highly ready and technologically advanced multinational force, taking in land, air, maritime and special forces elements that can be quickly deployed wherever required. As well as its operational role, the NRF – which was initially launched in 2002 – is also seen as a tool for promoting collaboration in education and training, facilitating increased numbers of exercises and promoting better use of technology among the NATO allies. The RAP’s adaptation measures included a trebling of the NRF’s strength. In June 2015, NATO defence ministers confirmed that the enhanced NRF would be made up of 40,000 personnel. Command over the NRF lies in the hands of NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR).

The defence ministers also confirmed that a wide-ranging, multinational exercise, Trident Juncture 2015, would show off the enhanced NRF’s capabilities. In addition, a broader and more demanding exercise programme was to be launched from 2016, with the NRF a key element of the exercises. At the same meeting, ministers agreed to speed up political and military decision-making and to set up graduated response plans that enable executable operations plans to be generated “exceptionally quickly”. NATO partners confirmed that a new standing joint logistics support group headquarters would be established to support the movement of forces across the Alliance’s territory more quickly and efficiently.

The RAP also called for the creation of the VJTF, a “spearhead force” within the NRF that is able to deploy at very short notice. NATO defence ministers agreed in February 2015 that this would consist of a land formation of 5,000 troops supported by air, maritime and special forces elements, and that it would be operational by the 2016 Warsaw Summit.

The lead role on the VJTF rotates around NATO members, and in mid 2015 1,500 troops tested whether the Interim VJTF could deploy within 48 hours of an order to move as intended. Exercise Noble Jump saw the VJTF deployed for the first time as a total of 2,100 troops from nine NATO nations deployed to Żagań, Poland. The exercise marked the first time that these forces had conducted tactical manoeuvres under the enhanced NRF framework.

INTEGRATION UNTS

In late 2015, Exercise Trident Juncture – which involved exercises on and over land and sea across large parts of Alliance territory– saw the VJTF tested and certified for 2016. The exercise also certified the NRF headquarters for 2016: Joint Force Command (JFC) Brunssum.

The RAP has seen the creation of eight new NFIUs – which are effectively small headquarters – across Central and Eastern Europe. In September 2015, NFIUs were inaugurated in Sofia in Bulgaria, Tallinn in Estonia, Riga in Latvia, Vilnius in Lithuania, Bydgoszcz in Poland and Bucharest in Romania; in November 2016 the NFIU in Hungary was inaugurated, and the final NFIU, in Slovakia, was inaugurated in January 2017.

Each NFIU is able to help facilitate the rapid deployment of forces to the Eastern region of NATO, support defence planning and assist in coordinating training and exercises.

Multinational Corps Northeast in Szczecin, Poland and Multinational Division Southeast in Bucharest, Romania have also been created. These high-readiness headquarters are able to command forces within their respective regions and act as hubs for regional cooperation among NATO members.

Finally, NATO multinational force capability has been strengthened in relation to many other formations and deployments. For example, Standing Naval Forces have been enhanced as part of the RAP’s adaptation measures so that they meet the needs of the VJTF (Maritime) force.

MEETING EVOLVING THREATS

In January 2017, the UK-based Headquarters Allied Rapid Reaction Corps (ARRC) took over as the Land Component Command of the 2017 NRF from NATO Rapid Deployable Corps – Spain. At the same time, the UK’s 20th Armoured Infantry Brigade took over as NATO’s VJTF (Land) force.

The process of improvement and expansion as laid out in the RAP is still ongoing, but the progress made up to now clearly shows the level of determination that NATO has to effectively meet evolving challenges to the Alliance’s security.