NATO to Increase Defense Sheild

NATO flag
NATO flag

By Reuters 2016-07-08 20:48:30

NATO leaders agreed on Friday to deploy military forces to the Baltic states and eastern Poland for the first time and to increase air and sea patrols to reassure allies who were once part of the Soviet bloc following Russia's seizure of Crimea from Ukraine.

The 28-nation Western defense alliance decided to move four battalions totaling 3,000 to 4,000 troops into northeastern Europe on a rotating basis to display its readiness to defend eastern members against any Russian aggression.

However, they also underlined their willingness to pursue a dialogue with Moscow and revive confidence-building measures that Russia has spurned since its 2014 annexation of Crimea and support for Russian-speaking rebels in eastern Ukraine.

"These battalions will be robust and they will be multinational. They make clear that an attack on one ally will be considered an attack on the whole alliance," NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told a news conference after the summit's first working session in Warsaw, the Polish capital.

President Barack Obama said the United States would deploy about 1,000 soldiers in Poland under the plan "to enhance our forward presence in central and eastern Europe". Germany will lead the battalion in Lithuania, Britain in Estonia and Canada in Latvia. Other nations such as France will supply troops.

White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters that what he called continued aggression by Russia would provoke a response by NATO and a greater alliance presence in Eastern Europe.

Obama said earlier that Britain's referendum vote to leave the European Union, an outcome he sought to avoid, should not weaken the Western alliance but raised "significant questions" about the future of European integration. America's "special relationship" with the U.K. would survive, the president said.

Host nation Poland set a tone of mistrust of Russian intentions. Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski told a pre-summit forum: "We have to reject any type of wishful thinking with regard to pragmatic cooperation with Russia as long as it keeps on invading its neighbors."

Obama was more diplomatic, calling for dialogue with Russia, but he too urged allies to keep sanctions on Moscow in place until it fully complies with a ceasefire agreement in Ukraine.

Ukraine is not a member of NATO but President Petro Poroshenko will meet allied leaders on Saturday, where he may face pressure to fulfill Kiev's part of the agreement by accepting more decentralization and local elections in the rebel-held eastern Donbass region.

NATO's new deterrent still incomplete

NATO needs to build up a sophisticated air deterrent that can counter Russian long-range missiles, a senior NATO commander said on Friday, urging allies to think beyond the multinational land force agreed at the alliance's summit.

NATO's response to Russia's 2014 annexation of Ukraine's Crimea has so far been cautious to avoid escalating tensions, creating a small rotating force for the Baltics and Poland to be backed up by rapid response forces with warehoused equipment at the first signs of trouble.

General Denis Mercier, whose brief is to focus on future threats, said that was just a starting point if NATO wanted to have a credible deterrent in the air and at sea, especially against Russian networked air defense systems.

"We need to be able to face any kind of challenge. We need high-end, war-fighting capabilities to face anti-access area denial systems," Mercier said at the NATO summit, using a term to refer to Russia's defensive zones.

The U.S.-led alliance is seeking a response to Russia's surface-to-air missile batteries and anti-ship missiles that can prevent forces from entering or moving across large areas.

When fully activated, the defense bubble based in Russia's Baltic enclave Kaliningrad could cover most of the air space over the three Baltic states and northern Poland, according to NATO officials.

"When I look at the strength of anti-access area denial systems, they have multi-sensors, multi-shooters. We need to do the same," Mercier said.

He added that NATO would soon have high-tech warplanes such as F-35 jets, which can avoid sensor detection, and other state-of-the art kit.

He stressed it was crucial to have all planes, ships, troops and other military assets connected to one another to be able to have a strong deterrent against adversaries.

"In the old thinking, if you have a radar, you say: we need to jam it. But that is just one sensor. We need to combine all our systems to penetrate, neutralize and destroy this kind of system," Mercier said.

Sources close to the Russian military have said that Moscow is likely to deploy advanced nuclear-capable missiles in Kaliningrad by 2019, casting the move as a reply to a U.S.-backed missile defense shield in Europe.

In a sign of the high stakes, Washington's envoy to NATO, Douglas Lute, warned last month that if Russia were to activate its long-range, networked air defenses in Kaliningrad, that could be an act of war.

NATO takes over U.S.-built missile shield

NATO takes command of a U.S.-built missile shield in Europe on Friday, after France won assurances that the multi-billion-dollar system would not be under Washington's direct control.

The missile shield, billed as a defense against any strike by a "rogue state" against European cities, is one of the most sensitive aspects of the United States' military support for Europe. Russia says the system is in fact intended by Washington to blunt its nuclear arsenal, which the U.S. denies.

"Leaders will agree that missile defense is initially operational," a NATO official said, referring to the alliance summit under way in Warsaw on Friday.

"This means U.S. ships based in Spain, a radar in Turkey and the missile defense base in Romania can work together under NATO command."

A second NATO official confirmed that, saying "the conditions are met" to put the shield system under a NATO flag.

Russia is incensed at such a show of force by its Cold War rival in formerly communist-ruled eastern Europe.

Washington hopes handing over control to the multinational NATO alliance can calm Russian fears. European NATO members states are seen as having nothing to gain by provoking Russia, their major energy supplier.

European nations will be responsible for some funding and adding assets to the shield over time.

The system comes as NATO prepares a new deterrent in Poland and the Baltics following Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea. In response, Russia is reinforcing its western and southern flanks with three new divisions.

France, which is leading diplomatic efforts with Russia and Germany to bring peace to eastern Ukraine, needed assurances that control of the shield was genuinely being transferred to NATO, not kept under the command of U.S. generals.

"The key is political control because of the consequences of any interception," Mercier said. "The leaders have found a good compromise."

Military commanders will have only seconds to decide whether to use the shield to try to shoot down a ballistic missile. Officials say NATO will follow rules set down by alliance ambassadors in Brussels.

France was reluctant to allow U.S. generals too much authority to act in such a missile crisis, although its concerns were never enunciated publicly in detail.

Mercier said the decision to hold another meeting of the NATO-Russia Council, a forum bringing together NATO envoys and Russia at NATO headquarters in Brussels, allowed the alliance to better explain its position to the Kremlin.

"The second thing is dialogue with Russia, to say clearly that this shield is against the proliferation of missile threats, not against one country and especially not against the nuclear capabilities of Russia," Mercier said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he doubts NATO's stated aim of protecting the alliance against Iranian rockets, following last year's historic nuclear deal with Tehran and world powers, which Russia helped to negotiate.

The United States switched on the $800 million missile shield base in Romania in May and will break ground on a final site in Poland due to be ready by late 2018, completing the defense line first proposed almost a decade ago. When fully operational, the defensive umbrella will stretch from Greenland to the Azores.