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NATO to shift focus to Europe, create ‘spearhead force’

NATO to shift focus to Europe, create ‘spearhead force’
The priority for the 28-member alliance will be to get the new agile expeditionary force into operation, but also settling the question of who will pay for it, analysts say.

The multinational force, often called the “spearhead,” was ordered into existence by President Obama and other NATO leaders in September so it could be deployed to reinforce alliance members feeling threatened by the actions or ambitions of Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has called the new force and other components of the reboot of alliance capabilities “the biggest reinforcement of our collective defence since the end of the Cold War.”

With NATO officially out of combat operations in Afghanistan as of Jan. 1, the alliance’s agenda is expected to be dominated by the new strategic realities in Europe conjured up by Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and alleged proxy war in eastern Ukraine, and what the West should do in response.

In reaction to Moscow’s actions, Obama and the other NATO leaders approved a Readiness Action Plan to upgrade alliance capabilities, and 2015 “will be about making it more concrete and visible for Russia,” said Marcin Terlikowski, head of the European Security and Defence Economics project at the Polish Institute of International Affairs in Warsaw.

“The main task will be to decide what this force will be, where it will be based, and how it will be commanded,” Terlikowski said. “It’s also about money.” It is unclear who will pay for the force, said Bruno Lete, senior program officer for foreign and security policy at the German Marshall Fund, a Brussels-based think-tank.

Many are hoping the Americans will foot much of the bill, while others are looking to Germany, NATO’s wealthiest and most populous member in Europe, Lete said.

It is vital for NATO cohesiveness that as many members as possible contribute to payments, he said, or “the plan will lose its legitimacy.”

In 2015, decisions are also expected that would continue the rotation of U.S. and other allies’ air, land and naval forces to maintain a non-stop heightened profile in the NATO member countries closest to Russia. On New Year’s Day, NATO officials said, the Italian Air Force, flying four Eurofighter jets, took over from the Portuguese in executing one of those operations, the Baltic Air Policing mission in the skies over Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

In the coming year, the go-ahead should also be given by NATO governments to stockpile fuel, ammunition and other supplies and equipment in the frontline countries for use by the rapid
reaction force if needed, Terlikowski and other analysts said.
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