NATO Ministers Approve New “Four 30s” Readiness Plan

NATO Defense Ministers Put Aside Tariff Tensions to Approve New "Four Thirties" Plan

(Source: Deutsche Welle German Radio; issued June 07, 2018)

Defense ministers met yesterday for the first time in NATO’s swanky new headquarters in Brussels. The defense ministerial continues today. (NATO photo)

NATO defense ministers have unveiled a new plan to bolster troop numbers, aircraft and navy vessels on the European continent. The initiative comes despite a festering trans-Atlantic trade disputes.

NATO defense ministers tried to put aside frustrations over the US' newly imposed steel tariffs during Thursday's Brussels summit by rallying around their latest plans to bolster troop levels in Europe.

In a bid to reinforce their presence in the event of a crisis in Europe, the new "Four Thirties" initiative will enable NATO members mobilize 30 land battalions, 30 air squadrons and 30 combat vessels within 30 days. The plan will comprise of around 30,000 troops, 300 aircraft and at least 30 vessels or submarines.

Defense ministers also agreed on Thursday to staff more than 1,200 personnel in the two new NATO command centers in Norfolk, Virginia and Ulm, Germany.

"We have decided further steps to strengthen our shared security and boost defense and deterrence against threats from any direction," NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters. The two new commands would help "ensure we have the right forces in the right place at the right time," he added.

NATO chief dismisses tariff tensions

Thursday's summit marked the first time NATO officials had met since US President Donald Trump imposed steel tariffs on European allies and Canada.

Stoltenberg dismissed any notion that festering trade tensions had threatened to overshadow the Brussels summit. "There are differences related to issues like trade, the Iran nuclear deal and climate change," he said. "We have disagreements between NATO allies but we stand together in NATO when it comes to the core task of NATO ... to protect each other."

The tariffs have also been a delicate issue for US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who had placed great emphasis on strengthening US ties with its western allies. Asked whether the trade restrictions threatened to hurt defense ties, Mattis said: ""Right now I don't see that ... And I think it's still premature to call it a trade war."

Defense spending up, but Germany still likely to face Trump's ire

Stoltenberg also praised plans by NATO allies, excluding the US, to up their defense budgets by almost 4 percent compared to the previous year.

The issue of defense spending — or "burden-sharing" in NATO speak — has been at the forefront of talks since US President Donald Trump chided allies for not meeting the 2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) spending target, agreed during 2014's summit in Wales.

During last year's NATO leaders' summit, Trump embarrassed NATO allies outside their new billion-euro headquarters by publicly berating them for failing to spend enough on their defense budgets.

The US currently accounts for almost 72 percent of all NATO spending, while only three European nations have hit the 2 percent target — the UK, Greece and Estonia. Officials hope that four more nations — Poland, Romania, Latvia and Lithuania — will join the list by the upcoming July summit.

Germany, which has been singled out by Trump for criticism, has also vowed to increase its defense budget by €3 billion over the next year, bringing total spending up to €41.5 billion.

The figure, however, still falls short of the 2 percent target, amounting to just over 1.3 percent of GDP. On Wednesday German Chancellor Angela Merkel indicated that defense spending was set to rise to 1.5 percent of GDP by 2025.

German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen said her country still fully backed NATO's 2 percent goal and that extra funds would go towards modernizing the Bundeswehr. "When I speak to Americans they are always impressed when they realize that since the 2014 NATO summit in Wales we will have achieved an increase of 80 per cent in a decade," she said.

Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon said the US was "encouraged by Germany's effort," although Trump's NATO envoy, Kay Bailey Hutchison, stressed the spending issue would remain a sore point for the president.

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NATO Defense Ministers Approve Joint Force Commands, Discuss Burden Sharing

(Source: US Department of Defense; issued June 7, 2018)

WASHINGTON --- NATO defense ministers approved the creation of two new joint force commands and discussed burden sharing during their meeting in Brussels today.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also announced that for the fourth year in a row, alliance defense spending has grown.

Defense Secretary James N. Mattis is attending the defense ministers meeting for the United States.

The NATO defense ministers approved creation of a joint force command in Norfolk, Virginia, that will ensure alliance maritime security in the Atlantic. They also approved a joint force command to be based in Ulm, Germany. These changes will grow the NATO command structure by more than 1,200 personnel, Stoltenberg said during a news conference.

'These Headquarters Will be Essential'

"These headquarters will be essential for Alliance reinforcements across the Atlantic and across Europe," he said.

The defense ministers also approved a new NATO Readiness Initiative, called the "Four Thirties" -- 30 battalions, 30 squadrons and 30 ships ready for deployment in 30 days.

"This is not about new forces, but about increasing the readiness of the forces our nations already have," the secretary general said. "This shows our determination to instill a culture of readiness across the alliance."

The leaders addressed defense burden sharing, which is a particular concern of President Donald J. Trump. "Allies are making real progress on all aspects of burden sharing -- cash, capabilities and contributions," the secretary general said.

On the budget side, Stoltenberg announced there has been four consecutive years of real increases in defense spending. "All allies have stopped the cuts," he said. "All allies are increasing defense spending."

More NATO members are spending 2 percent of their nations' gross domestic product on defense and the majority of allies now have plans to do so by 2024, Stoltenberg said.

The European allies and Canada have increased spending by 3.8 percent this year. "This means that, since 2014, European allies and Canada will have spent additionally $87 billion dollars on defense," he said. "When it comes to capabilities, allies have committed to investing 20 percent of their defense spending on major equipment."

Alliance nations have also increased contributions to NATO missions and operations, the secretary general said.

"But of course, we still have more work to do," Stoltenberg said. "Burden sharing will be a key theme of our summit next month, and I expect all allies to continue their efforts."

The defense ministers also discussed cyber defense, he said. Since 2016, allies have enhanced cyber capabilities and look to building a cyber operations center as part of the new alliance command structure.

"Having agreed the principles last year, we have now agreed to a framework for the integration of sovereign cyber effects into alliance operations and missions," Stoltenberg said. "This supports NATO's overall deterrence and defense because all crises today have a cyber dimension. And we must be as effective in cyberspace as we are on land, at sea and in the air."

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