NATO will grow its quick reaction force nearly tenfold, to “well over 300,000” troops, to better protect the alliance’s eastern front in response to Russia’s war in Ukraine, NATO leader Jens Stoltenberg announced Monday.
The alliance is expected to formally adopt the change this week at its summit in Madrid, where leaders will also approve a new strategic document for the next 10 years, discuss a boost in defense spending and approve more aid for Ukraine.
“These troops will exercise together with home defense forces, and they will become familiar with local terrain facilities and our new pre-positioned stocks, so that they can respond smoothly and swiftly to any emergency,” Stoltenberg said at a press conference. “Together, this constitutes the biggest overhaul of collective defense and deterrence since the Cold War.”
The NATO Response Force is currently a group of about 40,000 troops that can deploy quickly wherever needed. Members of the high-readiness force were deployed for a deterrence-and-defense mission for the first time in February after Russia invaded Ukraine. The group had earlier been used for missions such as security during the 2004 Olympics in Athens, assistance during the evacuation from Afghanistan, and disaster relief following Hurricane Katrina.
The force, which was last enlarged in 2014 after Russia illegally annexed Crimea, is made up of troops from allied nations that do year-long rotations.
Stoltenberg said allies will need to spend more on defense to be able to fill this growing need for troops and replenish the military aid many are giving to Ukraine. In 2014, NATO set a guideline for members to spend 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense by 2024. Even after eight straight years of growth, Stoltenberg said the alliance should be aiming higher.
“Two percent is increasingly considered a floor, not the ceiling,” he said.
Nine NATO members are now at or above that 2 percent defense-spending target, Stoltenberg said. Nineteen have “clear plans” to reach that spending level within the next two years, and another five have made “concrete commitments” to hit that goal after 2024.
Stoltenberg also said NATO is expected to announce a new assistance package for Ukraine at the summit, which will include “substantial deliveries” of gear, including secure communications, anti-drone systems, and fuel. NATO will also announce a long-term plan to help Ukraine end its use of Soviet-era platforms and begin using modern NATO equipment, something that many Ukrainian officials have asked for.
In Germany, G7 leaders considered their own additional aid to Ukraine on Monday after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed the meeting. Member nations are expected to approve another round of sanctions targeting Russia’s defense industry and technology sector, and are also in broad agreement on setting a price cap for Russian oil, though the details of the latter proposal are still being debated, a senior administration official told reporters on Monday.
National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said the U.S. is also planning another tranche of weapons to Ukraine, including advanced air defense capabilities.
“As [Biden] told President Zelenskyy, we do intend to finalize a package that includes advanced medium and long-range air defense capabilities for the Ukrainians, along with some other items that are of urgent need, including ammunition for artillery and counter-battery radar systems,” Sullivan told reporters, according to a pool report.
One major question hanging over the NATO summit is the status of Finland and Sweden’s applications to join the alliance, which have been stalled by Turkey because of Sweden’s support for a Kurdish group that Ankara has designated terrorists. Stoltenberg said the leaders of Turkey, Finland, and Sweden will meet Tuesday in Madrid on the sidelines of the summit to try to make progress on negotiations to allow Finland and Sweden to join the alliance.
Asked if Finland and Sweden may be able to take the first steps to joining before the summit, Stoltenberg was careful not to set any expectations.
I will not make any promises, but I can just assure you that we are working actively to ensure progress,” he said. “It’s too early to say what kind of progress you can make by the summit.”