NATO plans to expand its rapid reaction force

The NATO Response Force currently has about 40,000 troops. The Western alliance wants to significantly expand this rapid intervention force to more than 300,000 soldiers.

NATO leaders gather in Madrid on Wednesday and Thursday. As at the previous summit in March, the war in Ukraine remains the most important topic of discussion. The Russian invasion rocked NATO – which French President Emmanuel Macron still declared ‘brain dead’ a few years ago – with a powerful electric shock. Almost all allies are increasing their defense budgets.

Many NATO members – especially the former Eastern Bloc countries – are concerned. Already last week, Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas expressed fears that Estonia and the other Baltic states would be completely wiped off the map before his allies sent in reinforcements.

The NATO Response Force consists of troops, armored vehicles, artillery, aircraft and ships, to which NATO member countries ensure rapid deployment.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg realizes that clear steps need to be taken. “We will increase our capacity to strengthen in the face of crisis and conflict,” he announced at his traditional press conference ahead of each summit. “We will transform NATO’s Response Force and increase the number of high – readiness military personnel to more than 300,000.”

To be clear: NATO’s Response Force is not sitting anywhere in a group waiting for action. It consists of troops, armored vehicles, artillery, aircraft and ships, which NATO members ensure can be deployed quickly. However, there is a fixed command structure, and exercises and training must ensure a smooth collaboration. A limited ‘spearhead force’ should be able to be on site in about 48 hours.

Shortly after the Russian invasion in late February, NATO leaders decided to deploy NATO’s Response Force for the first time to deterrence and defense. Belgium sent 300 troops to Romania, mainly from the army. They joined a group of French soldiers for the purpose of training and conducting military exercises together.

More advanced impact strength

Stoltenberg has not yet given many details about the significant expansion of the NATO Response Force. In any case, NATO is aiming for ‘more prepositional equipment, advanced capabilities such as air defense and armed forces pre-allocated to the defense of certain allies’.

The current multinational combat forces in Eastern Europe will also be expanded to ‘brigade level’. For example, 1,600 soldiers are currently deployed in Lithuania. A brigade usually consists of three to five thousand soldiers.

Stoltenberg expects other “reform” and important decisions to be made at that summit. For example, a new strategic concept is being developed in which Russia is identified as ‘the most significant and immediate threat to our security’. But the challenges that China presents will also be mentioned for the first time.

Two out of three allies will achieve a defense budget of 2% by 2024

In terms of defense budgets, Belgium has been at the back of the list of NATO countries for years. At the NATO summit in Wales in 2014, then-Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo and his colleagues pledged to reach 2 percent of GDP by 2024. Eight years and a Russian invasion of Ukraine later, current Prime Minister Alexander De Croo has renewed that promise, but before 2035

At present, nine of the 30 Member States meet the agreed target of 2%. In 2024, according to new figures from the alliance, there may be 19.

“The year 2022 will be the eighth year in a row with increased defense budgets,” NATO Chief Jens Stoltenberg noted with satisfaction. “By the end of the year, European Member States and Canada will have invested an additional $ 350 billion (approximately € 330 billion) since the commitment was made in 2014.”

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