By Natasha Bertrand, CNN
NATO military officials said Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg’s announcement earlier this week that 300,000 troops would be placed on high alert across the alliance is something the alliance will work on. the future, rather than an immediate change.
Stoltenberg said on Monday that NATO will “transform the NATO Response Force and increase the number of our high-readiness forces to over 300,000.” But it now appears that number is more ambitious and based on a new model that NATO thinks will take at least another year to accomplish.
The initial announcement appeared to be a sevenfold increase from the 40,000 troops NATO currently has on high alert. Two NATO officials told CNN the figure caught the defense chiefs of many NATO countries off guard.
It was not clear to them, for example, which troops from each member state should contribute to this new high-readiness force, or whether enough countries had even been invited or had agreed to provide sufficient forces for this. It was a point of apparent confusion and inconsistency in an otherwise highly choreographed display of unity between the allies.
Two senior NATO officials told reporters during a briefing on Thursday that the new high-readiness model will eventually replace the NATO Response Force model, but that it is “still a matter of of a work in progress”.
“We know from nations, through our planning process, how many forces nations have, how prepared they are,” one of the officials said. “So there will be several stand iterations of this model, but we wouldn’t give numbers for a model if we weren’t extremely confident that we could deliver these things. But it’s a work in progress.
The high-profile summit saw NATO formalize its invitation to Sweden and Finland to join its alliance on Wednesday, a historic expansion of the defense bloc. The group collectively decided to approve countries’ membership applications after Turkey dropped its objections on Tuesday, paving the way for NATO’s biggest enlargement in decades. The decision will now go to the parliaments and legislatures of all 30 member states for final ratification. NATO leaders have said they expect the process to move quickly, allowing unprecedented membership and a show of unity against Putin.
The enlargement vote, coupled with substantial new commitments strengthening NATO’s force posture in Europe, combined to make this week’s summit in Madrid one of the most productive in recent memory. The alliance has approved a new “Strategic Concept” document which outlines NATO’s goals for the next decade. The document, last updated in 2010, lays out the security challenges facing the defensive alliance while outlining a plan of action.
For the first time, the document describes China’s “challenge”, saying that the country’s “ambitions and coercive policies challenge our interests, our security and our values”. This was the first time the Strategic Concept document mentioned China; the 2010 version made no mention of Beijing. He also states that climate change is “a defining challenge of our time”.
The document identifies Russia as “the most significant and direct threat to the security of allies and to peace and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area” and discusses NATO support for an independent Ukraine . In the 2010 version of the document, Russia was referred to as a “Euro-Atlantic partner”.
Officials said that under the new model, many troops would remain in their home countries rather than coming under the command of NATO’s Allied Operations Command. But they would be quickly available to NATO in the event of a security crisis, such as if Russia were to attack a member country.
Asked what the trigger would be to move those forces on high alert under NATO command, one of the officials said only that it would involve “indications and warnings” of a potential attack.
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