NATO Response Force: 30K Troops Necessary?

The NATO Response Force was doubled to 30,000 troops whereas a 5,000 strong quick reaction spearhead force will be acting as the first-line of defence against potential threats.

When the NATO Response Force was created in 2003, the amount of soldiers was established at 30,000. However, in the following years, it was lowered to 13,000. The diminution was most likely due to the campaign in Afghanistan where many allied countries soldiers were deployed.

The NATO Response Force reinforcements came in a time where Russia is trying to expand its borders. These reinforcements brings the amount of troops near the number deployed during the Cold War.

The Spearhead Force could deploy in less than 48 hours. Six command and control centres have been established in the Baltic States and in three other allied countries to facilitate the coordination of training, exercises, and to facilitate rapid reinforcements.

Does NATO really needs 30,000 troops in its Response Force? I believe so!

The NATO Response Force to counter Russia’s expansionism

Russia is currently trying to expand its borders and has been really active in conducting military drills throughout its vast land. Russian strategic bombers, alongside fighter aircrafts, have been probing NATO airspaces and even flew over NATO warships in a provocative gesture.

New S-400 Triumf anti-aircraft systems and Iskander missiles were move to Kaliningrad, capable of reaching many NATO countries. The Voronezh radar built in Pionersky, Kaliningrad is also capable of detecting incoming missiles and aircrafts up to 6,000km while tracking 500 different objects.

S-400 Triumf Anti-Aircraft Weapon System
S-400 Triumf Anti-Aircraft Weapon System

Strategic bombers were also redeployed to Crimea, most likely to conduct operations over the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. The same bombers could also fly near Turkey’s airspace, where NATO has setup a Patriot surface-to-air missile system.

Adding to that, Russian nuclear submarines have been lurking around Latvia’s territorial waters coming as close at 50km from the waterways. Meanwhile, Russia also created an Arctic command to oversee Russia’s militarization of the Arctic. In fact, many Cold War-era bases were reopened and many others are currently being built.

Russia’s annexation of Crimea and treaties with South Ossetia and Abkhazia is alarming. Threats were also made to Denmark due to the possibility of having Danish warships carrying a NATO anti-missile system, capable of countering Russian missiles.

Two NATO countries are sharing a border with Russia’s mainland; Estonia and Latvia. The Kaliningrad Oblast also shares borders with NATO countries; Poland and Lithuania.

Total Forces of NATO and Russia in Eastern Europe
Total Forces of NATO and Russia in Eastern Europe

Between the Western and Southern Military District, Russia approximately has 140,000 active soldiers. The 3 Baltic States NATO allies have a small combined amount of 10,450 soldiers and Poland has 48,200 soldiers for a grand total of 58,650 NATO soldiers.

A difference of more than 80,000 soldiers. With a 30,000 strong NATO Response Force deployed in the allied countries that shares a border with Russia, NATO would be able to contain Russian attacks until further reinforcements arrives from other NATO countries.

NATO Response Force: bolstering the allied military cooperation

Since the end of the Cold War, NATO countries have been really active in theatres such as Bosnia, ex-Yugoslavia, Kosovo, Libya and Afghanistan.

However, multinational training in Europe were pushed aside due to the great numbers of deployments, especially in the Middle East and Southwest Asia. Conventional warfare was not NATO’s priority since Russia wasn’t considering as an enemy anymore.

The campaign in Afghanistan is a true example of unconventional warfare where new doctrines and tactics were employed to defeat the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.

When Crimea was annexed by Russia and clashes between Ukrainian soldiers and pro-Russian militants erupted in Eastern Europe, NATO had no choice but to quickly draft a contingency plan to counter possible Russian incursions in the allied countries that shares a border with Russia.

Although NATO always had plans to counter the possibility of a new Russian emergence through an authoritarian regime such as President Putin’s current government, NATO wasn’t ready to counter Russia’s annexation of Crimea nor deploy multinational contingents in Eastern Europe.

Every NATO allies answered the calls and air policing operations were quickly adopted over the Baltic States countries. Adding to that, NATO deployed soldiers to Eastern Europe to reassure the nearby allies while providing valuable multinational trainings.

Polish and American soldiers conducting multinational exercises
Polish and American soldiers conducting multinational exercises

These joint trainings are giving NATO the possibility to reestablish relations between their soldiers and increase the interoperability between them. Because of Russia’s recent moves, these trainings are once again putting a lot of emphasis on conventional warfare; something many young soldiers never experienced due to the decade-long campaign in Afghanistan.

Fighting an insurgency and an organized military is two different things. These trainings will prove very valuable and many nations will learn from each other. The fact that many joint exercises are being held in the Baltic States and Poland gives these young soldiers the chance to train in a geographical region similar to Western Russia.

A major exercises will take part later this year where more than 25,000 soldiers from different NATO countries will work together.

What kind of force the NATO Response Force needs?

Having a 30,000 NATO Response Force would also enable the allies to maintain a high-readiness state throughout Europe while keeping their soldiers up-to-date with current NATO tactics and procedures.

The NATO Response Force also reassure the Eastern Europe allies and the six command and control centres would be able to quickly react to outside threats.

To succeed in establishing a strong response force, NATO will have to make sure every member countries are willing to participate and contribute any way they can. This force also needs enough firepower to provide a punch against any threats.

These 30,000 soldiers are not all infantryman, many of them are logistical support, intelligence operators, clerks and medical support soldiers, etc.

A strong mechanized infantry force with the support of tanks, self-propelled artillery, close air support (both aircrafts and helicopters) would be ideal. Eastern Europe is pretty flat hence the efficacy of a mechanized force.

The only issue with a big mechanized force is the huge support its needs to keep going forward. Convoys would be spread out and flank security would be a big issue. Great amount of fuel will have to be moved forward to keep the armoured vehicle rolling. Adding to that, air superiority will be essential for the convoy to move forward without being repeatedly attacked by enemy aircrafts and helicopters.

This 30,000 strong force will also require a solid logistical plan. Warehouses full of goods (rations, water, ammunition, fuel, medical supply, etc) will have to be strategically placed and kept operational.

Airborne forces are also essential in the NATO Response Force. In fact, the majority of the 5,000 spearhead force should be able to conduct airborne operations—enabling them to quickly deploy throughout Europe while ground troops are moving forward.

With both Russia and NATO boosting their military forces on each other’s borders, many argue that we’re seeing the start of the Cold War 2.0—I think we’re experiencing a “very” Cold War. While this it true, there is a possibility that it quickly becomes a warm war.

Nevertheless, a total war between Russia and NATO is highly unpredictable. Yet, NATO needs to show Russia they are ready to counter any future threats or aggression against their member countries. The NATO Response Force will play this role and will also demonstrate to the rest of the world that NATO will always stand on guard for its member countries.


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Jonathan Wade, CD

Jonathan Wade is the director of the ‘The Sentinel Analytical Group’ and a decorated veteran of the Canadian Forces. Specialized in tactical, strategic, intelligence and geopolitics analysis, Jonathan has a fondness for technical details. His military experience brought him valuable insight on the realities of conflicts and war. A combat veteran of Afghanistan, Jonathan brings in in-theatre experience. Jonathan writes about Russia, Canada and Arctic.