BRUSSELS – Representatives from NATO nations have agreed in principle toward an “enhanced forward presence” along the eastern flank of the alliance, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg declared Wednesday.
The news comes as the United Kingdom announced it will increase its maritime commitment to the alliance, with London almost doubling its NATO sea deployments in 2016.
White few details were readily available on what the new force structure would look like or what countries would be involved, Stoltenberg said it would be a “multinational to make clear that an attack against one ally is an attack against all allies, and that the alliance as a whole will respond.”
The forward presence will be rotational, and feature a program of exercises, along with the “logistics and infrastructure to support prepositioning and facilitate rapid reinforcement,” he added.
Those pieces all sound similar to the European Reassurance Initiative (ERI) announced as part of the US fiscal 2017 budget request on Tuesday. Under the ERI, the Pentagon will spend $3.4 billion on, among other things, adding a rotational armored brigade combat team to Europe.
A senior US defense official expressed restraint when discussing the potential presence, noting the US, UK, Germany and Canada have already provided multinational forces to the east.
"We talked about a framework, and NATO has been talking about a framework, and it's something [where] the details have to be looked at very closely," the official said. "We’re just not there yet."
The official also said there was no request from the US for NATO forces to match either the funding or personnel commitment in the ERI. Instead, the focus was on how other nations could up their "readiness and response" on the continent.
Following Stoltenberg’s statement, UK Defence Secretary Michael Fallon, who attended the meeting in Brussels, announced the UK would be stepping up its military commitment on the maritime front.
“Increasing our NATO deployments sends a strong message to our enemies that we are ready to respond to any threat, and defend our allies,” Fallon said in a statement. “2016 will see a particular focus on the Baltic region with our ships sent there as part of the Maritime Group, the Mine Counter Measure Group and the Baltops exercise.”
In January, the UK began its commitment to NATO’s Standing Maritime Group 1 (SNMG1) when it deployed the HMS Iron Duke, a Type 23 Frigate, to the Baltic Sea. That deployment, which will go from January to July, represents the first time the Kingdom has taken part of the SNMG1 mission since 2010. It will be followed by the deployment of an unnamed Type 45 Destroyer to the SNMG1 from October to November. The dual deployments will involve “around 400 Royal Navy personnel,” according to a MoD release.
Britain only has 13 frigates and six destroyers in its overworked surface fleet. Currently, the only commitment from the Royal Navy to the alliance’s maritime forces is to Standing NATO Mine Counter Measures Group 1, deployed across Northern European waters and surrounding areas. That commitment will continue over the next year.
Additionally, the UK will allow NATO to use its National Exercise Joint Warrior in North Scotland and the North Atlantic for training in October; contribute two Frigates to the Dynamic Mongoose anti-submarine exercise and the HMS Ocean to the Exercise Baltops training event; and commit a Fleet Diving Unit to two exercises, one in Lithuania and one in Iceland.
Andrew Chuter in London contributed to this report.