NATO will press its allies to contribute more to its biggest military build-up on Russia's borders since the Cold War. Ahead of an alliance meeting in Brussels, the calls for a wider covering of costs are growing.
NATO defense ministers will go ahead with a promise made at the alliance's Warsaw summit in July to send forces to the Baltic states and eastern Poland from early 2017. It is overtly a response to Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea and fears the Kremlin could set its sights on reclaiming parts of what the Soviets called Russia's 'near abroad,' including Poland and the Baltics.
Tensions between NATO and Russia have been rising since Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the West's retaliatory sanctions. They have been aggravated further by the failure of a US-Russia brokered ceasefire in Syria on October 3, followed by US accusations that Russia has used cyberattacks to disrupt the presidential election. EU leaders last week spoke of new sanctions over Russian bombing of civilian areas in the Syrian city of Aleppo.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said he fears the Russian warships heading to the Mediterranean could launch new attacks on the Syrian city.
The US wants binding commitments from Europe to fill four battle groups of 4,000 troops as part of a new deterrent strategy that could be combined with missile defense, air patrols and defenses against cyberattack.
The battle groups will be backed by NATO's 40,000-strong rapid-reaction force, and if need be, further follow-on forces, for any potential conflict, which could move into Baltic states and Poland on rotation.
France, Denmark, Italy and other allies are expected to join the four battle groups led by the US, Germany, the UK and Canada to go to Poland, Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia, with forces ranging from armored infantry to drones.
The commitments would be "a clear demonstration of our transatlantic bond," Stoltenberg said.
A Black Sea strategy
NATO will also discuss a similar strategy in the Black Sea region. Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey are expected to propose plans to increase naval and air patrols in the area, as well as a multinational NATO brigade in Romania.
Responding to repeated Moscow allegations that NATO is again overstepping its tacit agreement post-Cold War remit, Stoltenberg said: "This is a credible deterrence, not to provoke a conflict but to prevent conflict."
Russia has pulled out of several nuclear disarmament agreements in the past two months and moved nuclear-capable missiles into its Baltic exclave in Kaliningrad.
"This deployment, if it becomes permanent, if the presence of nuclear weapons were confirmed, would be a change in (Russia's) security posture," the US's envoy to NATO, Douglas Lute, said.
A press conference with Stoltenberg is expected to start at 1630 GMT.
Since joining NATO in 2004, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia have tended to delegate strategic security and defense decisions to their Western partners, Egle Murauskaite of the University of Maryland says, adding that World Bank data shows Lithuania spending 1.36 percent of GDP on defense in 2001, but continuously cutting that share for over a decade and not until 2013 raising its defense spending to 1.14 percent in 2015. Similarly, Latvian defense spending peaked at 1.72 percent of GDP in 2006, after which point it declined until 2012 (0.91 percent) and was then gradually raised to 1.06 percent in 2015.
jbh/kl (Reuters, AFP)