Jens Stoltenberg told reporters that NATO would strengthen its eastern flank in response to the “new security reality” in Europe
Jens Stoltenberg speaks during a press conference at the NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, March 15, 2022 © Getty Images / Dursun Aydemir
Russia’s offensive on Ukraine has ushered in a “new security reality” in Europe, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters on Tuesday. Stoltenberg called for more weapons, more exercises, and “major increases in investment” to strengthen the pact’s European presence.
“There are now hundreds of thousands of forces on heightened alert across the alliance,” Stoltenberg told a press conference in Brussels, referring to the 100,000 American troops on the ground in Europe, the 40,000 troops under direct NATO command on the continent, and the Patriot air defense systems currently en route to Poland from the US, and to Slovakia from Germany and the Netherlands.
This military buildup, he said, “sends an unmistakable message: An attack on one ally will be met with a decisive response from the whole alliance.”
Stoltenberg and US President Joe Biden have repeatedly stated that NATO would not intervene directly in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, and have thus far resisted calls to implement a no-fly zone over Ukraine – a move that would provoke open conflict between Russia and the alliance. However, both have been insistent that any attack on NATO soil would trigger an enormous military response.
The alliance will also be on a war footing going forward, Stoltenberg explained. Describing a “new security reality” in Europe, he declared that NATO’s 30 member states will take “concrete measures to reinforce our security for the longer term, in all domains.”
The NATO chief said that this “strengthening” would involve stationing “substantially” more troops in Eastern Europe, along with prepositioned equipment – presumably meaning missile and artillery batteries. The alliance will also conduct “more and larger exercises,” he added.
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At present, NATO is conducting its biennial Cold Response exercises in Norway. Involving some 30,000 troops, including some from non-member states, this year’s exercises take place just 200 kilometers (124 miles) from the Russian border, are the largest Norwegian-led NATO drills since the end of the Cold War, and have been criticized by Moscow as provocative.
“Any build-up of NATO military capabilities near Russia’s borders does not help to strengthen security in the region,” Russia’s embassy in Oslo told AFP last week.
However, these “major reinforcements of defense will require major increases in investment,” Stoltenberg added, calling on all NATO members to meet their required target of 2% of GDP on defense spending. The failure of most NATO members to meet this goal was a persistent gripe of former US President Donald Trump, who often accused America’s European allies of freeloading off of US military protection.