The recent meeting of NATO’s defence ministers in Brussels produced a raft of decisions that were aimed at implementing the agreements of the September 2014 Wales summit and are thus important for Estonia. It will bring several dozen NATO staff officers to work at a NATO command element being established in Tallinn, and also bolster the ranks of NATO soldiers.
The central result of the meeting was the decision on the size of the Very High Readiness Task Force – VJTF) to be established as part of the NATO Response Force. The rapid response force core will be a brigade-sized army unit that would be ready for combat in as little as 2-3 days.
The NRF itself was created more than 10 years ago, but with NATO member state attention and resources placed on Afghanistan and other NATO missions, it was somewhat neglected and had not claimed it own proper role. With the decisions made now, the entire NRF will be strengthened so that it would be prepared to support the VJTF in the event of a larger crisis.
It is noteworthy that European allies will be responsible for manning the rapid response force being created. The so-called framework countries that will provide the main troops that will be complemented by other NATO members will be France, Germany, Britain, Italy, Poland and Spain, and they will take turns in rotations. The US will mainly contribute air transport and various intelligence and surveillance capabilities. This solution signals that shielding NATO’s eastern wing will not just be America’s business – European allies will also take part militarily in guaranteeing security.
As the NRF core in readiness mode this year was formed on the basis of a German-Dutch corps, these two countries, along with Norway, are like guinea pigs whose units will start practicing the functioning of the VJTF model already this year. As an article I the 5 February issue of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung proudly declares, “Germans to the front lines!” (Die Deutschen an die Front!). The newspaper reported that in spring, the German Bundeswehr would also deploy an airborne company in the region, and that it would start rotating between Poland and the Baltics.
In the context of this story, we should not forget that it remains extremely important for Estonia that the US as the dominant military power in NATO have a permanent presence in Estonia with American troops. Estonian politicians and specialists have repeatedly expressed hopes that European army soldiers would also be seen on Estonian soil in addition to US units and Baltic Air Policing personnel. We can presume that the Dutch company currently taking part in exercises in Tapa is the first, and will be followed by other European units. This underscores the importance of developing the necessary infrastructure and training areas needed for basing allied troops in Estonia and allowing them to operate here.