By SAMUEL PETREQUIN
BRUSSELS (AP) — NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said Monday that the military alliance will increase the size of its rapid reaction forces nearly eightfold to 300,000 troops as part of its response to an “era of strategic competition.”
The NATO response force currently has about 40,000 soldiers which can deploy quickly when needed.
Coupled with other measures including the deployment of forces to defend specific allies, Stoltenberg said the move is part of the “biggest overhaul of collective defense and deterrence since the Cold War.”
Stoltenberg made the remarks at a press conference ahead of a NATO summit later this week in Madrid when the 30 allies are expected to also agree on further support to Ukraine in its war against Russia.
Stoltenberg said he expects allies to make clear they consider Russia “as the most significant and direct threat to our security.”
In NATO’s new strategic concept, the alliance is also expected to address for the first time the security challenges posed by China, Stoltenberg said. In Madrid, allies will discuss how to respond to the growing influence of Russia and China in their “southern neighborhood,” he added.
Stoltenberg said allies will agree to deliver further military support to Ukraine when they convene in Spain, with NATO members set to adopt a “strengthened comprehensive assistance package,” including deliveries of secure communication and anti-drone systems.
Over the long term, Stoltenberg said allies aim to help Ukraine transition from Soviet-era armaments to modern NATO equipment.
Another central theme at the NATO summit will be the possibility for Finland and Sweden to join the alliance following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
NATO member Turkey has so far blocked the applications, citing what it considers to be the two countries’ soft approach to organizations Turkey considers to be terrorist, such as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK.
Turkey is demanding that Sweden and Finland grant extradition requests for individuals who are wanted by Turkish authorities. Ankara claims the countries are harboring PKK members as well people it says are linked to a failed 2016 coup.
Turkey also wants assurances that arms restrictions imposed by the two countries over Turkey’s 2019 military incursion into northern Syria will be removed.
Stoltenberg said that Turkish president Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and the Swedish prime minister Magdalena Andersson have agreed to meet on the sidelines of the summit.
“We have worked hard since Finland and Sweden applied for membership to ensure that they can join the alliance as soon as possible,” Stoltenberg said. “I will not make any promises, but I can assure you that we are working actively to ensure progress because the application of Finland and Sweden to join NATO, they are historic.”
Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen contributed to this report.
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