The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is preparing to increase its high alert force size to 300,000 troops in response to Russia’s military aggression along the eastern edge of the alliance.
In a press conference on Monday ahead of a summit of alliance members in Madrid, Spain, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said alliance members will discuss ways to bolster their defenses in the eastern flank of the alliance, including increasing troops.
“At the Summit, we will strengthen our forward defenses,” Stoltenberg said. “We will enhance our battlegroups in the eastern part of the Alliance up to brigade levels. We will transform the NATO Response Force and increase the number of our high readiness forces to well over 300,000.”
Increasing the NATO Response Force (NRF) to 300,000 troops is a major mobilization move from current levels. The NRF currently consists of around 40,000 troops from various NATO member nations. The plan laid out would therefore require nearly eight times as many troops from NATO member nations to be moved into this high-readiness force.
Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began, the U.S. has increased its force size in Europe from around 70,000 troops to over 100,000 — some of which are part of the NATO readiness force.
The force build-up comes as Russia’s war in Ukraine has entered its fifth month and Russian officials have repeatedly threatened to attack NATO members if the alliance intervenes on Ukraine’s behalf or the conflict spills over into other parts of Europe.
In addition to the NRF troop buildup, Stoltenberg said the NATO members will also “boost our ability to reinforce in crisis and conflict.” He described members pre-positioning equipment and military supplies into stockpiles and adding more forward-deployed capabilities like air defense systems.
Stoltenberg said NATO will set up forces that are pre-assigned to defend specific allied nations and said, “These troops will exercise together with home defense forces and they will become familiar with local terrain, facilities, and our new pre-positioned stocks so that they can respond smoothly and swiftly to any emergency.”
“Together, this constitutes the biggest overhaul of our collective deterrence and defense since the Cold War,” Stoltenberg said. “And to do this, we will need to invest more.”
Stoltenberg said to date, nine of the 30 NATO members now meet or exceed the two percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) target for defense spending. He said another 19 members are on track to meet this spending target by 2024. But, Stoltenberg added, “two percent is increasingly considered a floor, not a ceiling” for defense spending.
Stoltenberg also said NATO members will make progress on processing the NATO applications of Finland and Sweden, which could add to the military capacity of the alliance.