As combat operations in Afghanistan are nearing the end in 2014, NATO plans to intensify training and exercises to maintain the high level of integration. The NATO's Response Force (NRF) must be able to respond to the full-spectrum of potential missions, including high-intensity combat. This requires exercising complex capabilities employed by interoperable and multinational forces in a challenging environment.
The NRF is made up of land, air, naval and special forces units committed by NATO nations for a twelve-month period. Partner countries can contribute to the NRF once their participation has been approved by the North Atlantic Council and the forces designated meet the required NATO standards. They reinforce the contribution of NATO Allies to the NRF, but do not replace them. NATO’s Connected Forces Initiative, launched by the Secretary General, foresees a reinforced program of exercises in the coming years – and reinforced cooperation with partners. «Over the past 20 years, NATO and our partners have stood shoulder to shoulder in our operations. We have learned to work as a team. The Connected Forces Initiative will make sure that that team keeps on getting better», according to Mr. Rasmussen.
There is a series of NATO Steadfast exercises scheduled this fall to certify the capabilities of NRF. The first live-fly one was Brilliant Arrow involving 40 fighter aircraft, 2 airborne early warning platforms and approximately 800 exercise participants in central Norway (25 Aug – 5 Sep) putting aircraft from nine NATO Allies into a realistic scenario to ensure the preparedness to assume the NRF mission in 2014. In late September and early October Exercise Brilliant Mariner honed the skills of maritime forces certifying their readiness for NRF rotation. There have been a variety of land drills like the NATO special forces exercise Brilliant Arrow to be held this October in Italy. To date, about 20 exercises have been held, with elements hosted in 14 different countries. The goal is to make sure that NRF troops are ready to deal with any situation in any environment. All of this training will finally culminate with one wrap up event.
Exercise «Steadfast Jazz» is the largest in scale NATO training event in seven years to be held from Nov. 2 to 9 in a number of locations across the Alliance with the largest elements being hosted in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland. If NATO were ever called on to defend an alliance member, «we have to be prepared for the more high-end of military operations», said U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove speaking at a NATO headquarters at Brunssum in the Netherlands on September 18…
The event involves about 6,000 personnel from many allied and partner nations. Around 3,000 headquarters personnel from Joint Force Command Brunssum and other headquarters will be involved in a command and control exercise on the Adazi Base near Riga, Latvia and at several other headquarters locations across the Alliance. In addition, multinational troops will participate in a live-fire exercise at Poland's Drawsko Pomorskie Training Area. Air, land, maritime, and special forces will also participate from several locations. At the conclusion of the exercise, the headquarters staff from Joint Force Command Brunssum will be officially certified to lead NATO joint operations in 2014.
The drill will also include a «sizable cyber threat», said French Major-General Michel Yakovleff, deputy chief of staff for plans at Brunssum. This is the largest of its kind organized by NATO since 2006.
«The NATO Response Force is the spearhead of this Alliance: a rapid-reaction group able to defend any Ally, deploy anywhere, and deal with any threat. Exercise Steadfast Jazz will make sure that the spearhead is sharp, and ready to use», the Secretary General Rasmussen said.
NRF non-NATO contributors
Sweden has offered substantial forces to the next four rotations of the NRF, including aircraft, ships and land forces. Sweden is thus the fourth partner to join NRF, following Finland, Ukraine and Georgia, who will make forces available for the NRF in 2014, as well as Georgia, who offered to contribute to the NRF in 2015. According to a NATO statement, the Swedish move comes after the North Atlantic Council approved the Swedish contribution on October 14. «I welcome Sweden’s participation, alongside that of Finland and Ukraine. Our relationship is already strong, and this will make it even stronger», NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in a statement.
The news was welcomed by Sweden’s Defence Minister Karin Enström. «The important thing is that we get access to the advanced training exercises that get carried out within the NRF frameworks by being accepted as participants», Enström told the TT news agency. «And this is important to maintain and develop our defence capabilities».
This year Swedish defense capability is a hot issue inside the country. There are political circles that try to intimidate public opinion with the obviously invented «Russian threat». They say Russia presents a growing menace combined with a feeling that the EU’s CSDP might be insufficient security insurance could yet instigate a Swedish application to join. In July the Social Democrats – the party traditionally opposed to stronger formal links with the alliance, reversed its position to support a government initiative to allow Swedish forces to train with NATO’s Rapid Response Force. Sweden’s Christian-Democrat opposition party, meanwhile, is lobbying for full membership in NATO. The Christian-Democrats say NATO membership offers the only long-term viable defense solution to protect the sovereignty of Sweden and neighboring Nordic states.
At that, the idea remains highly unpopular in the country. According to latest opinion poll in May, 29 percent of Swedish people support Sweden becoming a member of NATO unlike 32 percent who are against. 39 percent, a very large swing section is undecided.
In interview with the Voice of Russia on February 5, Agneta Norberg, Vice Chair of the Swedish Peace Council, Member of Steering Committee of the International Peace Bureau and a member of the board of directors of Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space discussed the facts surrounding Sweden’s non-neutrality and the country’s involvement in NATO and Western military expansion. According to her, «the people in Sweden and in Finland are against. It is only about 19% of the Swedish population that accept NATO; the others don’t. So, they have that problem here. But I can see the lust, how they try to form an enemy out of Russia, and you should understand this: how Russia now is demonized, again». She also added, «I think you have to start to understand that Sweden has quite another position now and we are a NATO country. It is only a document that is left to be done. That’s the situation now in Sweden».
Finland is a contributor to a Response Forces Pool, which can supplement the Immediate Response Force when necessary; it is also a participant in the Steadfast Jazz event.
Ukraine is an outside-NATO contributing nation. NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow has said that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization will support the European aspirations of Ukraine. At the same time, he noted that NATO respects Ukraine’s choice to adhere to the non-aligned status.
«The topic of Ukraine’s national security and its relations with international organizations is important, and recent developments in your country as well as in Russia, Republic of Moldova and Armenia have made it even more urgent», he said. «As I look to the future, I see great potential for closer cooperation between Ukraine and NATO in a number of areas. One particularly promising area is defence reform and military transformation. And I note that a NATO expert team on these issues has arrived in Kyiv just yesterday for consultations with Ukrainian experts», Vershbow said.
Ukraine was the first non – NATO partner to join the NRF. One hundred Ukrainian troops will also join a «live-fire» part of the drill in Poland's Drawsko Pomorskie training area. Ukraine's ambition to join NATO faded when Germany blocked its «membership action plan» in 2008. Apart from joint manoeuvres, Ukraine also contributes forces to NATO operations in Afghanistan, the Indian Ocean, Kosovo and the Mediterranean Sea. The country is also an important contributor to the EU operations.
Georgia – party to NRF outside Alliance
The Georgia’s armed forces are to join the NRF activities starting from 2015. During his October 14 visit to Brussels, Georgian State Minister on European and Euro-Atlantic Integration Alexi Petriashvili met with Deputy Secretary General of NATO Alexander Vershbow. Mr.Vershbow assured the readiness of NATO to continue supporting Georgia in the way of integration. He expressed the hope that this process will be irreversible and the government will continue with its democratic reforms. «In this sense, comprehensive support will be provided by NATO that will be reflected in future decisions. It is hoped that when the time comes for these particular solutions, the progress made by Georgia both from the point of view of an indemnity in the ISAF operation (International Security Assistance Force) and in the successful implementation of democratic reforms, will be accordingly and adequately reflected in the decisions of NATO», Petriashvili said.
The training event viewed from outside NATO
The planned NATO exercise includes ex-Soviet Baltic Republics; Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania as well as Poland, and envisage those countries being attacked by some unidentified «phantom menace» – a «foreign power». This is reminiscent of the Cold War according to the Deputy Defense Minister of the Russian Federation, Anatoly Antonov.
At the July 2013 meeting of the Russia-NATO Council in Brussels, the Deputy Defense Minister stated the following: «As we prepared for this meeting, we carefully studied information received from NATO countries about Steadfast Jazz-2013, and I can’t hide the fact that the Russian Defense Ministry was bewildered by the proclaimed goal of this exercise, which envisages the application of Article 5 of the Washington Treaty triggering a response to an aggression against Poland. These drills are in the spirit of the Cold War». He added, «I will not conceal the fact that the stated aim of this exercise providing for the invocation of Article 5 of the Washington treaty in response to the aggression against Poland made some officials from the Russian Defence Ministry raise their eyebrows. A chill of the Cold War is creeping from this exercise. How can these steps facilitate the increased confidence between NATO and Russia?»
Russia and NATO need to joint efforts to ensure security in the Euro-Atlantic area. The agenda implementation of the controversial missile defence component in Europe, moving NATO military infrastructure closer to the Russian borders, the North Atlantic policy towards NATO enlargement and the use of military force getting around the international law. The legacy of the Cold War, like the Steadfast Jazz scenario, hinders the efforts to reach the goal.