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NATO must fill military gaps to be ready for conflicts, commander says

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By Reuters
NATO must fill military gaps to be ready for conflicts, commander says
NATO must fill military gaps to be ready for conflicts, commander says   -   Copyright  Thomson Reuters 2022

By Sabine Siebold

BRUSSELSNATO countries must make up for post-Cold War cuts to military equipment to give the alliance the capacity to respond swiftly to a conflict, the commander of NATO‘s quick reaction force, first in line to respond to a crisis, told Reuters.

“We have an incredible amount of forces but our shortcoming is that the majority of these forces is not combat-ready on a permanent base – simply because they do not have all the equipment they need,” General Joerg Vollmer said.

He spoke to Reuters on the sidelines of a NATO exercise in Norway on Saturday, amid heightened tension over the war in Ukraine.

Vollmer is commander of NATO‘s Joint Force Command Brunssum, responsible for the alliance’s northeastern flank and also the NATO Response Force (NRF). The rapid-reaction NRF, with some 40,000 troops, was put on alert and partially deployed for the first time after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February.

Moscow describes its action as a special military operation.

“The crucial issue is to re-build our capabilities. It is about numbers but also about re-establishing combat-ready units and – this is the next key step – about reporting them bindingly again to NATO,” Vollmer said, referring to a procedure in which a member country informs NATO it has troops ready to be provided to the alliance. Vollmer added he was talking about units of brigade and division size.

PARADIGMCHANGE

The Ukraine crisis has brought a paradigm shift for NATO away from the expeditionary missions of the last 20 years, in theatres such as Afghanistan or Iraq, according to Vollmer, who said the threat Europe now faces from Russia was of a completely different scope.

“These expeditionary missions were wars of choice. We took a political decision to take part in them and then asked our allies for contingents of forces to deploy,” the general said.

“Now, and that is the change of paradigm, we need forces to be reported to NATO in advance so that we have them available in case of a conflict and a war as soon as there is a political decision to deploy them. We need forces assigned already in peacetime. Combat-ready, able to be mobilized on short notice.”

In the past, forces such as the German military have struggled to provide NATO with combat-ready troops because of defence spending cuts, and commanders often had to borrow from other units for tanks and weapons before going on a mission.

Vollmer said he aimed to have forces in the alliance’s northeast region on three different alert levels, ready for deployment within either 10, 30 or 180 days.

“The crucial issue is that nations report these forces to NATO already in peacetime so that they can be mobilized quickly after a political decision,” the general said. “This needs to be a reliable and predictable procedure in the future.”