The NATO European reassurance initiative is meant to calm Russia's NATO neighbors.

With Russia Looming, Eastern NATO Members Ask For Reassurance

Photo of NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen courtesy of DVIDSHUB via Flickr.

Following Russia’s annexation of Crimea, NATO’s eastern European allies became worried the same could happen to them. Here’s how the alliance is bolstering eastern defenses.

Within a very short timespan, Russia had mobilized tens of thousands of troops along Ukraine’s border. Allies are worried NATO would not be able to do the same, even though the alliance is obliged to.

See our Ukraine context center for an overview of the conflict.

In order to defend eastern allies such as Poland and the Baltic nations, the alliance is committing to the NATO European reassurance initiative.

1. The U.S. commits $1 billion as a reassurance package
2. Eastern nations pledge to spend 2% of their GDP on their military
3. NATO prepares a readiness action plan

1. The American reassurance package

Announced on June 3, the American European Reassurance Initiative will set aside $1 billion to fund an increased American presence in eastern Europe.

This will include troop exercises involving land, air, and sea troops. In addition to large-scale exercises it will fund special forces training, like the 600-man mission the 173rd Airborne Brigade is currently carrying out in Poland.

It will also fund additional training missions for F-16 jet fighters and “more persistent” naval missions in the Black and Baltic Seas.

The plan is subject to approval from Congress.

2. Pledges to increase defense spending

Most NATO nations fall short of the 2% of GDP military spending target agreed to by the alliance.

Perhaps taking things into their own hands, eastern nations such as Latvia and Lithuania are pledging to double their military spending in order to meet that target.

This alone won’t be enough to halt a potential Russian advance, however.

Poland, a relatively large nation that spends 1.95% of its GDP on the military and has more than twice as many deployable tanks as France or Great Britain, is still calling on NATO to permanently station troops there.

3. The NATO European reassurance initiative

Also recently announced, NATO leadership has called for a readiness action plan to bolster the alliance’s ability to respond quickly.

The plan would include pre-positioning supplies and equipment in member states, as well as improved cooperation between both ground troops, intel, and command.

It’s expected that NATO leaders will be discussing the plan at a summit in Wales in September.

Not enough support for the East – or already too much?

According to an internal report obtained by Der Spiegel, NATO in its current state could not defend the east against a large-scale attack.

Part of the reason is the cutbacks in defense spending among Western European allies in the last decade.

This could lead to a split in the alliance, perceived or otherwise, where only the U.S. is willing to spend money on its military and deploy troops among threatened allies.

Of course, the question of troops is controversial in the first place. In the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act, the former pledged to not place troops in any new member states.

Some analysts say that agreement can no longer be honored after the Ukrainian conflict.

But Russia will doubtless see it as another provocation, in the same way it sees the eastward NATO exansion of the last two decades as an encroachment upon its national security and spheres of influence.

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Ole Skaar