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NATO's military response to Russia: November 2016 update

Published Friday, November 4, 2016

To counter increased assertiveness by Russia along NATO's eastern flank, the alliance adopted its Readiness Action Plan in 2014. This briefing paper explains the main elements with a specific focus on the UK military contribution.

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NATO has undertaken a series of measures in response to Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014 and increased military activity along NATO's eastern borders.

Some of these measures were adopted in April 2014 as part of NATO's immediate response to events in Ukraine. They crystalised into the Readiness Action plan adopted at the September 2014 NATO Summit. NATO described it as the "most significant strengthening" of its collective defence in decades. Further measures were adopted at its 2016 Summit in Warsaw.

The Readiness Action Plan

The Readiness Action Plan is a two-pronged response, divided into Assurance and Adaptive measures.

The Assurance measures seek to reassure the members of the Alliance that border Russia. These include bolstering air policing and air surveillance in the Baltics and along NATO’s eastern flank and a more visible military presence in these states by means of additional exercises and training.

The Adaptive measures seek to adapt NATO’s force structure to strengthen the ability of the Alliance to respond to any crisis that may occur. These include significantly enlarging the existing Response Force, creating a new ‘spearhead’ force of around 5,000 troops, and pre-positioning equipment in member states along the eastern flank.

The decision taken at the Warsaw Summit to deploy four multinational combat battalions to the three Baltic States and Poland reflects a shift from 'assurance' to 'deterrence' - to actively seek to deter any potential Russian aggression against those states by providing a multinational combat force capable of responding to any Russian military manoeuvres. War-game scenarios suggested the Baltic States are vulnerable to a Russian invasion.

Main elements of the Readiness Action Plan

  • deploy four multinational battalions to Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Poland
  • enlarge the existing NATO Response Force from 13,000 to 40,000 troops
  • create a new very high readiness force (VJTF) of around 5,000 troops
  • appointing a country, drawn from a pool of seven nations, to lead this force
  • Significant increase in size and number of exercises
  • Pre-position equipment in Baltics and Eastern Europe
  • Establish small headquarters in Baltic and eastern European states
  • Speed up the decision-making for the Response force

UK military contribution

The UK is significantly contributing to the Readiness Action Plan.

The UK will lead one of the new multinational battalions in 2017. 800 personnel equipped with Warrior armoured fighting vehicles and Challenger 2 tanks will be deployed to Estonia in the spring.

The UK will lead the new Very High Readiness Force in 2017 with up to 3,000 personnel and has pledged annual contributions of up to 1,000 personnel to the force in future years.

RAF Typhoon aircraft have policed the skies above the Baltic States on three occasions - in 2014, 2015 and 2016 - and will be based in Romania on a four month deployment in 2017. RAF Sentry aircraft have also conducted air surveillance flights.

The UK has significantly increased the number of troops deployed on NATO-led or other joint exercises since 2011, with an expected 9,000 personnel participating in exercises in 2016.

The Royal Navy sent five warships to the Baltic Sea in 2016: a frigate, a destroyer and three mine counter-measure vessels.

Context

The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation was formed in 1949 as an Alliance of 12 nations dedicated to ensuring their collective security and preservation and intended to counter the perceived threat from the Soviet Union and later the countries of the Warsaw Pact. THe main tenet of the Alliance is Article 5 of the Washington Treaty which states unequivocally that an armed attack against one shall be considered an attack against all.

From its inception through the Cold War, NATO looked eastwards to the Soviet Union. That focus shifted in the 1990s and relations with Russia improved - NATO and Russia signed a Founding Act in 1997 and established a Council in 2002. However events in Ukraine in 2014, coupled with what NATO perceives to be aggressive military action by Russia - violations of NATO allied airspace, provocative military activity near NATO borders - has prompted a significant re-evaluation of that relationship.

Russia suggests it is NATO, not Russia, that is the aggressor. Moscow judges NATO to be a significant external threat to Russia, pointing to the deployment of military forces near the border of the Russian Federation and further expansion of the Alliance. President Putin argues NATO requires an 'enemy' to justify its ongoing existence.

NATO currently has 28 members. This will increase to 29 when the formal ratification process for Montenego is complete. 

Commons Briefing papers CBP-7276

Author: Louisa Brooke-Holland

Topics: Armed forces, Defence policy, Military operations, NATO, Russia

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