NEWPORT, WALES —
NATO leaders meeting in Britain have approved creation of a force that will maintain a presence in Eastern Europe to deter, and if necessary respond to, any Russian attack.
Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen says the force will consist of several thousand ground troops, with naval, air and special forces units in support. It will be staffed on a rotating basis by member countries, and will be ready to deploy on a few days’ notice.
Britain will contribute 3,500 personnel to the rapid-reaction force, Prime Minister David Cameron said, because he feels NATO must increase its capacity to deal with challenges in Europe.
The force will have bases ready in several NATO countries in Eastern Europe, potentially the Baltic States, Poland and Romania, with equipment and supplies in storage and a small command, planning and communications staff on site.
The move is a response to Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, which is not a NATO member. Secretary-General Rasmussen says the new force is designed to ensure Russia does not try the same thing in any of the former Soviet satellite states that are now part of the western alliance.
“The decision we have taken today to prepare a readiness action plans sends a very, very clear message to Russia that we are strongly determined to take all steps necessary to provide effective protection and defense of our allies," Rasmussen said.
He called the decision an “appropriate” response to the “dramatically changed security environment in Europe.”
NATO also announced that its next summit, in 2016, will be hosted by Poland, which Rasmussen described as symbolic of the alliance’s commitment to its eastern members.
Rasmussen also said NATO leaders agreed on more cooperation on the crisis in Iraq. He welcomed military and humanitarian involvement by several allies, including the United States. And he said the alliance may help coordinate some support functions, like airlift. But Rasmussen said NATO will have no role inside Iraq unless invited by the Iraqi government, and even then probably only for training.
He also said NATO leaders agreed to share information on their citizens who go to Iraq to fight with the militants and then try to return to Europe or North America. At a meeting here involving the U.S. secretaries of state and defense and their counterparts from several NATO members and partner countries, there was agreement to establish a multi-national task force to do that.
The ministers also agreed to engage with the new Iraqi government, when it takes office, to try to improve the situation in northern Iraq, which they believe would ease the motivation for Iraqis to join the militants.
President Barack Obama is due to speak on the issues facing NATO later Friday (at about 11:30 EDT).