Following its biggest reinforcement of collective defence since the end of the Cold war, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in an exclusive interview to EN.DELFI by the Lithuania Tribune, underlined the alliance’s commitment to the Baltic states should a crisis with Russia emerge.
“Our focus on the Baltic region is strong,” said Stoltenberg. “We are almost doubling the size of the NATO Response Force [from 13,000 to 30,000].
“We are creating a new 5,000-strong quick reaction Spearhead Force, with lead elements who will be able to respond within 48 hours [in the event of a crisis].”
Stoltenberg also confirmed NATO is creating six multinational command and control units across Eastern Europe.
Three of the units will be located in the Baltic states, meaning that Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian militaries and other NATO forces from across the Alliance will be able to act as from the start should a crisis begin.
In his interview Stoltenberg outlined the reasoning behind the NATO expansion. He added that the Russian military’s practice of calling snap exercises “also raises serious concern” after it conducted around a dozen over the last two years.
“NATO is doing its job, which is to defend its allies against any threats,” he explained. “This is why we are reinforcing our collective defence.
“In recent years, Russia’s military activity close to the Alliance’s borders has increased in quantity and complexity - it increased significantly in 2014, and we see the same trend continuing in 2015.
“In 2014, allied aircraft intercepted Russian planes over 400 times. Of these, over 150 were in the Baltic region, which is four times (37 per cent) more than in 2013.
“We [now] have more planes on patrol over the Baltic, more ships in the Baltic Sea, and more troops in Eastern Europe on exercises.”
Stoltenberg went on to point out that NATO is not seeking conflict with Russia, but its increased military activities near its borders and upsurge in emphasis on nuclear armaments is cause for concern. “And make no mistake: NATO will defend every part of the Alliance,” General Secretary said.
“We do not seek confrontation with Russia,” he affirmed. “We continue to strike for a cooperative and constructive relationship with Russia.
“Transparency and predictability are key to misunderstandings, but the conditions do not exist for this at the current time.
“Russia must respect its neighbours, respect their borders, and respect international rules.
“Russia has also stepped up its nuclear exercises. It is developing new nuclear weapons, and it is testing new nuclear-capable missiles.
“This does not help to build trust or lower tensions.”
In March 2015, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė decided to re-introduce conscription to the country’s armed forces in light of the increase in Russian military activities.
Stoltenberg was also quizzed on Grybauskaitė’s decision and the effectiveness it would have in increasing a NATO member state’s level of defence.
“It’s up to each individual NATO member state to develop the kind of national army that best meets its security needs,” he responded.
“What is important, is that each member state’s national army is capable to work effectively alongside the forces of the remaining NATO allies, thus contributing to the collective defence and preservation of security in the euro-Atlantic area.”
The conscription will be in effect until 2020 and last for nine months.
It will be compulsory for all men fit for military service between the ages of 19 and 26 depending on their marital status, education, employment and financial situation.
In 2015, it is expected that the Lithuanian army will increase by around 3,000 - 3,500 soldiers.
By 2020, the decision to re-introduce conscription is predicted to contribute to the country’s reserve of 16,000-17,000 soldiers, constituting 75 to 90 per cent of the total reserve forces required.
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