ReutersBRUSSELS (Reuters) — NATO allies backed plans on Wednesday for two new military headquarters to help protect Europe in the event of a conflict with Russia, laying the ground for the U.S.-led alliance’s biggest expansion in decades.
Hoping to add to its deterrent factor against Russia, NATO defense ministers agreed to create an Atlantic command and a logistics command to help respond more quickly to threats in Europe, officials said.
“This is vital for our transatlantic alliance,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told a news conference. “It is about how to move forces across the Atlantic and how to move forces across Europe.”
Costs will not be discussed until 2018, but the two new regional bases have broad support and show NATO’s focus on its traditional task of defending its territory after out-of-area campaigns in the Balkans, Libya and Afghanistan in recent years.
Germany is eager to host the logistics command, diplomats said, given its strategic location straddling central Europe, allowing for swift movement of equipment and personnel across borders in the event of a conflict.
Maritime nations such as Portugal, Spain, France and the United States could host the Atlantic command, diplomats said, stressing that no decision had yet been taken.
In a staggered response to Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula, NATO has already put troops on rotation in the Baltic states and Poland, strengthened its presence in the Black Sea and sought to modernize its forces.
The Kremlin, which denies harboring any aggressive intentions toward Europe, has condemned the moves as an attempt to encircle Russia.
NATO says Russia’s war games in September, which massed tens of thousands of troops on the alliance’s eastern flank, are another reason for it to be better prepared to deter Moscow.
Naval patrols eyed
Russia has increased its naval patrols in the Baltic Sea, the north Atlantic and the Arctic and deployed submarines, NATO officials say, although the size of its navy is smaller now than during the Cold War era.
“We want to pull NATO back to Europe, and we want to focus more on NATO’s maritime role,” Norway’s Defense Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen said.
The new Atlantic Command would survey a vast area and have the task of making sea lanes safe for U.S. reinforcements to Europe, manned by experts in cyber warfare as well as conventional weapons.Speech