STUTTGART, Germany — NATO plans to approve increased readiness objectives and provide more support to Ukraine, as well as formalize a key strategic document at its annual summit this week, alliance Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Monday.
At the summit held Tuesday and Wednesday in Madrid member nations will agree to increase the number of high-readiness forces to “well over” 300,000 troops, in what Stoltenberg called the biggest overhaul of the alliance’s collective defense and deterrence since the Cold War. The alliance plans to enhance many of its forward-deployed battlegroups currently stationed in its eastern member countries up to brigade levels, he noted in a press conference broadcast online from Brussels.
The readiness increase will be matched with more prepositioned equipment and supplies stockpiles, notably air defense capabilities, he added. NATO is also planning to upgrade its defense plans, and pre-assign troops to defend specific allies.
“These troops will exercise together with home defense forces, and they will become familiar with local terrain facilities and our new prepositioned stocks, so that they can respond smoothly and swiftly to any emergency,” Stoltenberg said.
The ongoing war in Ukraine will be at the top of the summit’s program, particularly as President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is expected to attend. NATO plans to approve a new comprehensive aid package for Kiev, to include “partial deliveries” of capabilities like secure communications, unmanned systems and fuel, per Stoltenberg.
NATO’s identification of Russia as its most significant threat will be reflected in the ongoing deliberations over whether Finland and Sweden will become the alliance’s newest members. While Stoltenberg and other stakeholders have called for the two partner nations to join NATO as quickly as possible, member Turkey has promised to veto their accession, claiming Sweden has harbored members of the Kurdish Worker’s Party (PKK), which Ankara considers a terrorist organization.
On Monday, Stoltenberg reasserted the need to “take into account concerns expressed by allies” and said that the leaders of Finland, Sweden, and Turkey would meet at NATO headquarters in Brussels later that day, as well as on the sidelines of the Madrid summit this week.
“I will not make any promises, but I can just assure you that we are working actively to ensure progress, because the applications of Finland and Sweden to join NATO – they are historic,” Stoltenberg said. “It will strengthen the security of Finland and Sweden, it will strengthen NATO, and it will be something that will contribute to stability across the Euro-Atlantic area, Europe and North America.”
NATO member nations are also expected to formally approve the new “Strategic Concept” document which lays out the alliance’s defense and security vision. Members tasked NATO to update the Strategic Concept document at the 2021 summit. Per the alliance, the document has been updated about once every 10 years to reflect the current security environment.
This latest concept will reflect a “fundamental shift in NATO’s deterrence and defense” and will focus on NATO’s “evolving approach” to current and new threats and challenges, to include terrorism, cyber attacks, and hybrid warfare, Stoltenberg said Monday.
“I expect it will make clear that allies consider Russia as the most significant and direct threat to our security,” he said, noting that this document will be the first to address China “and the challenges that Beijing poses to our security interests and values.”
Stoltenberg placed the blame on Moscow for walking away from “the partnership and the dialogue that NATO has tried to establish for many years.”
“They have chosen confrontation instead of dialogue. We regret that,” he told reporters. “But of course, then we need to respond to that reality.”
Stoltenberg lauded the fact that NATO members have increased defense spending for the eighth consecutive year. “By the end of the year, they will have invested well over $350 billion extra since we agreed on our defense investment plan in 2014,” he noted.
Nine member-nations are now spending 2 percent or more of the GDP on defense expenditures, and 19 allies expect to meet the threshold by 2024, Stoltenberg said. Those nine nations include: Greece; the United States; Poland; Lithuania; Estonia; the United Kingdom; Latvia; Croatia; and the Slovak Republic. France and Romania are spending 1.9 percent and 1.99 percent of their GDP on defense, per data provided by NATO.
Vivienne Machi is a reporter based in Stuttgart, Germany, contributing to Defense News' European coverage. She previously reported for National Defense Magazine, Defense Daily, Via Satellite, Foreign Policy and the Dayton Daily News. She was named the Defence Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2020.