The Pentagon on Monday announced that it is placing 8,500 US troops on high alert, including those that could be deployed as part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s Response Force. . Largely led and run by Europeans, this force is built for the kind of crisis Russia is causing with its destabilizing buildup around Ukraine.
But during the NRF’s nearly 20 years of existence, the consortium has treated it like an antique book – very expensive and rarely taken off the shelves. The US military warning not only shows that Washington is shifting from a strategy of containment but also wants to keep NATO at the center of any response to Russia’s re-invasion of Ukraine. This makes sense, but the union has been reluctant to use NRF in the past.
The multinational NRF was the brainchild of US defense leaders in the early 2000s. After NATO operations in Kosovo, which were conducted by US forces, US leaders wanted European allies. Europe can act quickly with more capable military power. The NRF is based on a rotational system in which allies commit land, air, sea or special operations forces for a period of 12 months. The NRF’s leadership rotates annually among a relatively small group of European allies known as the “framework states”.
After Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014, NATO shortened the response time of the NRF’s 5,000-strong multinational central brigade to two to three days. NATO has also increased the total size of the NRF to about 40,000 troops from 13,000, but the change is essentially an exercise in creative calculation. NATO simply states that troops who have just completed a 12-month tour, as well as those assigned to the next 12-month rotation, are considered part of the NRF and can deploy declared within 30 to 45 days.
However, since the creation of the NRF, NATO has been reluctant to use it. Aside from supporting the Afghan elections (2004), security of the Athens Olympics (2004), disaster relief in Pakistan and the US (both 2005), and the evacuation of Afghan refugees (2021), the NRF has had little act. NATO did not use the NRF to reinforce the Baltic states, Poland or Romania in response to Russia’s actions in 2014.
One reason the coalition is unwilling to deploy the NRF for anything more than the most passive military missions is that doing so requires consensus. Some allies, such as France, were reluctant to see the alliance take full advantage of this possibility.
The Biden administration’s decision to place thousands of US troops on high alert and prepare them for a potential NATO mission is significant for three reasons. First, Washington insisted that the core response to Russian aggression would be managed through a unified NATO. In recent days, there have been rifts in the unified Western approach to Russia’s force building. Although some argue that Washington deserves some of the blame, the real rifts lie in Europe, where a new German government has yet to find its footing in Russian policy.
Second, by getting the military ready for potential deployment in the NRF before NATO decides to activate it, Washington shows a desire to overcome the alliance’s reluctance to use this rapid response tool. . This push is especially needed as the NRF’s lead country in 2022 is France.
Third, Washington’s statement appears to be aimed at reviving some of America’s more hesitant European allies, including Germany, which are now contributing forces to the NRF. The NRF usually includes European combat forces, not the US military, and there has been some doubt about its effectiveness. Announcing that thousands of U.S. troops will participate in any NRF-enabled operations could bolster the confidence of other military-contributing nations.
The US approach is not without risks, including Germany’s focus on Russia and the politics surrounding France’s April presidential election. But Washington’s decision to issue a warning before another Russian attack, tie it to the NRF, and double down on its multilateral approach is a welcome strategic shift.
Deni is a research professor at the American War College’s Institute for Strategic Studies, a non-resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, and the author of “The Coalition of the Unwilling and Inability: The European Reordering and the Future of American Geopolitics.”
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https://www.wsj.com/articles/biden-puts-more-military-muscle-into-natos-russia-response-war-troops-deploy-11643214187 Biden adds more military muscle to NATO’s response to Russia