By Jim Garamone
DoD News, Defense Media Activity
WASHINGTON, May 22, 2015 – The NATO alliance is standing firm and adapting to the challenges on its eastern and southern flanks, military officials said during a press conference following the alliance’s Military Committee meeting here.
The chiefs of defense from all 28 alliance member nations met to discuss the new and constantly evolving security environment, said Danish Gen. Knud Bartels, the chairman of the committee. The chiefs discussed ways to ensure the safety of all members of the alliance, he said.
With challenges from Russia and from nonstate actors, the alliance agreed to change its procedures and defenses last year at the Wales Summit, Bartels said.
“We have improved our situational awareness and intelligence, we are speeding up our decision making, exploring new ways of working with our international partners and we are implementing the biggest reinforcement of our collective defense since the end of the Cold War with the Readiness Action Plan,” the general said.
The alliance has substantially increased the number of troops in the Eastern part of NATO and is establishing six command and control centers in the region. NATO also is developing a Spearhead Force that will be able to deploy in 48 hours to reach any trouble spot.
Fragile Situation in Ukraine
The situation in eastern Ukraine precipitated by Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea continues to concern the military leaders, Bartels said. Supreme Allied Commander Europe U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip M. Breedlove has called the situation in the region “fragile,” and reiterated world leaders’ calls for Russia to abide by the Minsk agreement.
While fighting in Ukraine has increased since the Minsk agreement was signed in February, the relative calm that followed allowed Russia to resupply forces and stockpile equipment in and around the cities of eastern Ukraine, officials said.
Russia remains capable of moving significant forces quickly to destabilize that region, Breedlove said.
Bartels said the alliance must strengthen its outreach to partner nations.
“Partnerships are and will continue to be essential, essential to the way NATO works,” he said. “Partners have served with us in Afghanistan, Kosovo, and other operations, sacrificing alongside alliance troops, and working with us in combating terrorism and piracy.
Bartels added, “It is by training and exercising together with our partners that interoperability increases, and this in turn makes everyone’s neighborhood more secure as it is easier to plug into military operations or coalitions when nations and organizations work to the same standards.”
NATO’s Changing Role in Africa
Partners will play a large role also in the south, Breedlove said.
“To the south, we face a different set of challenges that involve multiple state and nonstate actors,” he said. “Our members are facing the consequences of instability in North Africa, Sahel and sub-Sahara as well as other regions which is driving migration and proving fertile ground for extremism, violence and terrorism.”
The alliance must think outside the box to combat this threat and military leaders must adapt policies to work across national boundaries and among international organizations to respond fully and properly, Breedlove said.
More Unified Than Ever
No matter what the topic, he said, one theme came up again and again in committee discussions -- unity.
“Our alliance is as unified as I’ve ever seen it,” Breedlove said.
NATO unity is highlighted in the exercises alliance forces are participating in, said French Air Force Gen. Jean-Paul Palmieros, the supreme allied commander for transformation.
“The scope of the exercises, the realism of the exercises, has been improved dramatically, including hybrid threats, including cyber,” he said.
In the fall, NATO will host the Trident Juncture 15 exercise throughout the southern nations of the alliance, officials said. More than 35,000 troops will deploy from 33 countries. The exercise will include international organizations and non-governmental organizations.
“That will not only be a high-visibility exercise; that will be a highly credible exercise,” Palmieros said.