Warsaw 2016: NATO to Respond More Quickly to Threats

  • By defencematters

It is expected that the Warsaw summit will finally approve to strengthen the presence of NATO on the eastern flank.

Andrej Matisak

The North Atlantic Alliance means solidarity. “But during the European Football Championship there will be no NATO. National interests will prevail,” German General Carsten Jacobson laughs, when mentioning that Slovakia defeated his country at preparations for the 2016 Euro 3: 1.

Brilliant Capability

We are in Polish Szczecin, where the Headquarters of the Multinational Corps Northeast have been located since 1999. A group of journalists from NATO countries arrived here at the invitation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Poland will host a NATO summit on the 8th and 9th July. It will decide on the further strengthening of the Alliance in the East in response to Russia’s actions, which began by the annexation of Crimea in 2014. The Alliance’s summit will also address threats such as terrorism or cyber-safety, and it will confirm a more intense cooperation between NATO and the European Union.

In Szczecin, Exercise Brilliant Capability 2016 took place, which was to show how the local corps is able to manage the possible deployment of the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF). “We went through a fundamental transformation to make NATO more capable to face new security threats in this particular region of Europe,” said Corps commander German General Manfred Hofmann during the exercise.

Szczecin Headquarters is not without Slovak participation. “I work in logistics,” said Major Rastislav Koža for Pravda. “Slovakia joined the Headquarters in January 2005. In September 2015 we increased our participation to five people. It happened in the context of increasing the importance of the Headquarters. The overall situation in NATO has changed. Based on the conclusions of the Summit in Wales, we have switched from a low level of force readiness to high. Now, our certification is under way,” explained the Slovak officer.

Major Koža reminds us that the corps in Szczecin is superior to NATO liaison teams known as NFIU. They have already been active in the three Baltic countries as well as Poland; and Romania and Bulgaria, but they do not fall under the Headquarters in Szczecin. Two more liaison teams are formed in Slovakia and Hungary. They should probably be fully functioning. This is what Italian General Salvatore Farina from NATO Allied Joint Force Command Brunssum, the Netherlands, said to Pravda in Szczecin. “Later this year, I should also visit Slovakia,” said Commander Farina.

Koža believes that the experience gained by Slovak soldiers at the Headquarters is invaluable. “One reason is, as I said, that the importance of the Headquarters has increased. Two years ago, 14 countries were represented here, now there are already 23. Everything that we learn here, we will be able to use within the Slovak Armed Forces. Cooperation in the international environment is slightly different than in our country,” says Koža, who joined the Headquarters in October 2014, i.e. shortly after the change in the geopolitical situation with regard to Russia’s actions in Ukraine.

“In the past, we had 60 days to deploy forces in the territory under our command. At present, the time went down to five days. This means that in the event of any conflict or crisis, NATO is able to respond quickly. And a liaison team, that we have also in Slovakia, should ensure all the preparations,” said Koža. General Farina confirms that a lot of changes have taken place in NATO. He mentions that two years ago, the Alliance had a quick reaction force that could be deployed within 30 days. “Today, we are talking about two - three days. Thus we also have more units prepared,” says Farina. Previously, they consisted of some 15 thousand soldiers, now there are about 40 thousand.

“We have shortened the response time and strengthened our capabilities, both quantitatively and qualitatively,” said Farina.

Eastern Flank

Poland as well as the Baltic countries are demanding a more visible Alliance in the East. According to Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski it is easy. “What we want is the presence of troops, the presence of troops and once again the presence of troops,” said the chief of diplomacy at a meeting with journalists. “So far, Poland has been a second-category NATO member. NATO’s collective defence under Article Five of the Washington Treaty is not enough. Poland had agreements in the past, and we have had a bad experience with it. We want safeguards,” said Waszczykowski, when explaining why Warsaw calls for troops on its territory, since superpowers several times in the history divided Poland between themselves.

It is expected that the Warsaw summit will finally approve to strengthen the presence of NATO on the eastern flank. Waszczykowski claims that up to now, Poland has been a second-category member of the alliance, since no troops have been deployed on its territory and there in no larger military base. Waszczykowski states that Warsaw will respect the 1997 agreement between NATO and Russia, in which the parties undertook not to significantly strengthen its military presence toward one another.

Russia now claims that the Alliance violates it with their plans at the east. NATO, on the other hand, said that this is just a reaction to what Moscow began in the Crimea. It is assumed that the alliance’s troops will not be deployed permanently in the east but rather on on a rotational basis.

A total of four battalions will be located in the Baltic countries plus one American brigade. It is about ten thousand troops or even less, about five to six thousand. Slovakia is also planning to be involved in these activities, namely in exercise activities. As part of the Visegrad Group, they should send 150 troops on a rotational basis to the Baltic countries. Waszczykowski claims that such plans do not violate the NATO-Russia agreement. “It is just a political promise, but we will respect it. We understand that there is a certain limit, which should not be exceeded with regard to the deployment of troops to the East Wing. But that does not mean we cannot do it at all. If NATO decides to deploy a brigade or battalion, and when the Americans do the same, it is not a breach of obligations from 1997,” said Waszczykowski. “So far, there are no NATO troops in Poland. Thus, we do not ask for more Alliance troops, we ask at least for some,” emphasised the Polish foreign minister.