The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) activated its response force for the first time ever on Friday. The response force is being activated as part of larger deterrence efforts along the alliance’s eastern front, amid a Russian invasion of neighboring Ukraine.
“We are deploying elements of the #NATO Response Force,” NATO’s Twitter account announced Friday.
“This is a historic moment and the very first time the Alliance has employed these high readiness forces in a deterrence and defense role. They represent a flexible, combat credible force that can be employed in multiple ways and we are utilizing fully their inherent agility,” NATO Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Tod Wolters said in a statement shared with CNN. “These deterrence measures are prudent and enhance our speed, responsiveness and capability to shield and protect the one billion citizens we swore to protect.”
The full NATO response force consists of about 40,000 troops. It was not immediately clear how many of those troops would be called up in the initial mobilization on Friday.
It is unclear what the NATO response force will do at this time. In a Friday afternoon press conference, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said U.S. forces would comprise part of the NATO response force, but he said U.S. troops would not be deployed in Ukraine. Kirby said 10,000 to 12,000 U.S. troops are already being prepared to deploy to other NATO-allied nations in Europe and said some of those forces would be part of the NATO response force but did not specify how many.
On Friday, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance needs to do more to deter Russia, amid its ongoing Ukraine invasion.
“We must stand ready to do more, even if it means we have to pay the price, because we are in this for the long haul,” Stoltenberg said. “We have to take this seriously, and that’s exactly why we are now deploying the NATO response force for the first time in a collective defense context.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has also questioned if NATO would do more to support Ukraine directly in its fight with Russia.
“We are alone in defending our country. Who is ready to defend us together with us? Honestly, I don’t see any,” Zelensky said Friday morning. “Who is ready to give Ukraine a guarantee of joining NATO? Honestly, everyone is afraid.”