NATO, a 70-year-old alliance whose primary reason for being is to defend Europe against a Russian attack, could only muster a tiny fraction of its forces if they were needed for a rapid combat deployment, according to military planners.
The alliance’s European members have just 14 battalions — roughly 14,000 troops — capable of deploying to a combat zone within 30 days, despite having more than one million people in their armies, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday. Aside from the U.S., just a few NATO countries can count on any combat battalions being deployable within the 30-day window.
The readiness deficit has U.S. military planners pushing NATO allies to boost the ranks of combat-ready forces. A proposal under consideration in Brussels would have allied countries aim for 30 battalions, 30 fighter squadrons and 30 naval ships ready for rapid deployment.
That would put roughly 30,000 troops and 360 fighter planes at commanders’ immediate disposal in the event of a conflict, according to current and former NATO officials.
The plan comes as relations between the West and Russia continue to sink to Cold War levels. Earlier this week, the U.S., Canada and a dozen NATO-allied governments kicked out Russian diplomats in response to Moscow’s alleged involvement in a nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy living in Britain. Washington has also implemented several rounds of sanctions against Russian officials over the Kremlin’s military intervention in Ukraine and meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
As Russia has become more aggressive in pursuing its interests at the eastern edge of Europe and in the Middle East, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has made boosting NATO’s ability to counter Moscow a priority. He has urged NATO to speed up its decision-making and improve its ability to move forces with little notice.
The changes are needed to counter Russia’s military and political resurgence since the end of the Cold War, Mattis says.
“Russia’s chosen to be a strategic competitor, even to the point of reckless activity,” Mattis told reporters on Tuesday, referring to the nerve agent attack in Salisbury, England.
Previous doubts about NATO’s ability to rapidly deploy troops prompted allied commanders last year to move 4,600 troops to Poland and the Baltic states, near the Russian border. Another 5,000 troops in a quick-reaction force can support those troops within 10 days, reports TheWSJ.
Those troops are not meant to fight a long-term engagement with Russia, and would need immediate reinforcements in the event of a direct clash, according to Alexander Vershbow, a former NATO deputy secretary-general.
“Reinforcements are still the indispensable element,” Vershbow told TheWSJ. “And it is clear that NATO’s capacity to reinforce is still far less than is required.”
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