While we debate the need and means to expand the US Military, there has been a sea change in the role of Nato. Once formed as a static defence force to ward off Soviet agression, it has slowly evolved to become the combined tool for an entirely new mission. Currently Nato is taking the lead role in Afghanistan. NATO agreed Thursday to take command of military operations across all of insurgency-hit Afghanistan next month after the United States pledged to transfer 12,000 American troops in the country to the NATO force. The question is will the politics keep up with the force capabilities?
Pentagon officials said the transfer of troops currently in Afghanistan's eastern region would result in the biggest deployment of U.S. forces under foreign command since World War II. Nato describes the NRF as:
"The NATO Response Force (NRF) will be a coherent, high readiness, joint, multinational force package, technologically advanced, flexible, deployable, interoperable and sustainable. It will be tailored as required to the needs of a specific operation and able to move quickly to wherever needed. It will not be a permanent or standing force. The NRF will be able to carry out certain missions on its own, or serve as part of a larger force to contribute to the full range of Alliance military operations. The NRF can sustain itself for duration of up to one month or longer if re-supplied. Its precise size and composition is under study and will be the subject of further definition and refinement, up to its full operational capability."
The NATO Response Force will be operational as promised in time for its October 1 launch. Germany is contributing the majority of the soldiers for the alliance's new rapid deployment force.
The United States, NATO's leading member, had pushed for a thorough rebuilding of the Alliance after the terror attacks on New York and Washington in 2001 and the deployment of international troops to Afghanistan. Washington set out to convince its fellow alliance members that NATO should be remodelled in order to face new challenges.
US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had developed the idea of using NATO as some sort of "tool kit" for the protection against global threats. In 2002, heads of states and governments decided to develop a quick response force, scheduled to be fully operational by October 1st of this year. The military dress rehearsal for the force took place this summer on the Capverdian Islands. NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer was quite satisfied with the test run. "I am convinced that we will be fully operational by October 1st, just as scheduled," he said at the time.
NRF’s 26,000 soldiers are now ready for action. The troops -- lead by Supreme Allied Commander of NATO in Europe, General James Jones -- are to be able to react to crises within a lead time of 5 days.
NATO member states will provide troops for the NRF on a rotational basis. The soldiers will stay in their home barracks until required for an emergency. They will be on duty for at least half a year, and 6 months prior to their deployment, will get trained on how to interact with other nations' armies.
Germany taking lead in NRF
Currently, the German Armed Forces are providing the largest amount of soldiers. German commander, General Gerhard Back, explained that not all of the 26,000 NRF soldiers are to be deployed at once. Rather, units with different abilities such as air transport, mine clearance or ground fighting, are to be available on request.
"I need all of those skills at my disposal so I can chose whichever unit I need when going on a specific mission," General back said. "I don’t know yet what my next mission, or the next crisis situation will look like. When the political decision is made, I can assemble my forces with what I need."
NATO will assess potential missions on a case by case basis. The response force is not designed to take part in permanent missions like United Nations peace keeping operations. Instead, its job is to clear the way for peacekeepers, so that they can take over afterwards.