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NATO plans huge upgrade of rapid reaction force in ‘era of strategic competition’

NATO SUMMIT

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NATO will nearly eightfold the strength of its rapid reaction force to 300,000 troops as part of its response to an “era of strategic competition,” the military alliance secretary-general said Monday.

The NATO response force currently has about 40,000 soldiers who can be deployed quickly when needed.

Combined with other measures, including deploying troops to defend specific allies, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the move is part of the “biggest collective defense and deterrence overhaul since the Cold War”.

Stoltenberg made the remarks during a press conference ahead of a NATO summit in Madrid later this week, when the 30 allies are also expected to agree on further support for Ukraine in its war against Russia.

Stoltenberg said he expects allies to make it clear that they view Russia “as the most important and immediate threat to our security”.

In NATO’s new strategic concept, the alliance is expected to address China’s security challenges for the first time, Stoltenberg said. In Madrid, allies will discuss how to respond to Russia’s and China’s growing influence in their “southern neighborhood,” he added.

Stoltenberg said allies will agree to provide further military support to Ukraine when they meet in Spain, with NATO members adopting a “strengthened comprehensive aid package” including supplies of secure communications and anti-drone systems.

In the long run, Stoltenberg said allies aim to help Ukraine transition from Soviet-era armaments to modern NATO equipment. The world’s seven leading economic powers on Monday underlined their commitment to Ukraine for “as long as it takes”.

Leaders of Turkey, Finland and Sweden meet

Another central theme at the NATO summit is the possibility for Finland and Sweden to join the alliance after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

NATO member Turkey has so far blocked the applications, citing what it sees as the two countries’ soft approach to organizations Turkey deems terrorist, such as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party or PKK.

Turkey is demanding that Sweden and Finland grant extradition requests for persons wanted by Turkish authorities. Ankara claims the countries are home to PKK members as well as people it believes are linked to a failed 2016 coup.

Turkey also wants guarantees that arms restrictions imposed by the two countries following Turkey’s 2019 military invasion of northern Syria will be lifted.

Stoltenberg said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson have agreed to meet on the sidelines of the summit.

“We have worked hard since Finland and Sweden applied for membership to ensure that they can join the alliance as soon as possible,” Stoltenberg said. “I won’t make any promises, but I can assure you that we are actively working to make progress because Finland and Sweden’s application to join NATO are historic.”

(AFP)

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