Spain to lead new NATO rapid action force to deal with military crises

Alliance’s advance team organized as response to growing Russian military threat

Spain will next year lead a NATO high-readiness force that could be deployed “in just a few days” to areas where major crises break out, including parts of Ukraine where the Russian army continues to back pro-separatists groups, government officials and NATO sources said on Thursday.

The decision to organize a 5,000-member rapid reaction force was made during a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels, where a Readiness Action Plan was drafted.

The Spanish military will supply 4,000 of the 5,000 land troops that will make up the new advance team, which would be the first to be deployed to volatile areas, when it heads the unit next year.

“The essence of this force is its deterrent capability. NATO needs to have a unit that will show the world that its reaction can be strong and immediate,” said Spanish Defense Minister Pedro Morenés.

Spanish Defense Minister Pedro Morenés

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg explained that the spearhead team would be backed by special forces and air and sea units. Together, the enhanced NATO Response Force will consist of around 30,000 troops, he said.

Morenés said 3,000 troops would be sent in from different Spanish brigades while another 1,000 will come from the Bétora base in Valencia.

The need for a revamped response force comes amid growing concerns within the alliance about its weak spots in eastern Europe, where NATO officials believe a real threat is being posed by Russia.

Germany, the Netherlands and Norway will head the force this year, while Spain is taking over in 2016, followed by the UK in 2017.

Six new command posts

As NATO deals with the growing crisis in Ukraine, the defense ministers also approved a measure to set up six command and control posts, each with 30 to 40 soldiers, in Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Romania and Bulgaria.

The objective is to rely on reinforcements “in case it becomes necessary,” said one alliance source.

NATO sees these initiatives as a response to Moscow’s recent muscle-flexing, which includes flying fighter jets near European airspace and conducting military exercises along the borders of NATO-member countries.

“If a crisis arises, [control and command posts] will ensure that national and NATO forces from across the alliance are able to act as one from the start. They will make rapid deployment easier, support planning for collective defense, and help coordinate training and exercises,” the secretary general said.