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Stoltenberg Says NATO To Revamp Command Structure Amid Tensions With Russia

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg at NATO headquarters in Brussels on November 7.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg at NATO headquarters in Brussels on November 7.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on November 7 that the alliance is set to create two new command centers, as it revamps its structures to better counter the threat posed by Russia.

Stoltenberg said that he expects the 29 NATO defense ministers meeting in Brussels on November 8-9 to agree on an "outline" for a revision of the alliance's command structure.

This will include a new command to "help protect sea lines of communication" across the Atlantic between North America and Europe, and another command to "improve the movement of troops and equipment within Europe," he said.

NATO had more than 20,000 personnel in 32 commands at the end of the Cold War, but cuts and restructuring have left the alliance with 7,000 personnel in seven structures.

Over the past years, Russia's military actions in Ukraine have increased concerns about Moscow's intentions in NATO nations, particularly former Soviet republics or Warsaw Pact satellites of the Soviet Union.

Russia occupied and seized the Crimean Peninsula in March 2014 and backs separatists whose war against Kyiv's forces has killed more than 10,000 people in eastern Ukraine since April of that year.

A series of potentially dangerous close encounters between Russian and NATO warplanes and navy ships in recent months has added to the tension, with the alliance accusing Moscow of aggressive maneuvers in the air and at sea.

Those actions have prompted NATO to step up its defenses in the east, deploying four multinational battlegroups in the three Baltic states and Poland -- totaling approximately 4,500 troops.

'Deterrence And Collective Defense'

Stoltenberg said that adapting NATO's command structure was necessary "when tensions are increasing again."

"We have to be able to move forces, troops, across the Atlantic, from North America to Europe," Stoltenberg said. "Our ability to move forces is essential to deterrence and collective defense."

Meanwhile, the U.S. ambassador to NATO, Kay Bailey Hutchison, told reporters that NATO allies "saw the need to have more deterrence against the Russian encroachment on the east after Crimea."

Stoltenberg said that no decisions have been taken yet on where the new command bases would be located.

He added that the next meeting of NATO defense ministers in February would be crucial for agreeing more of the details of the revised NATO command structure, which also includes developing means to respond to cyberthreats following a series of global cyberattacks that disrupted multinational firms, ports, and public services this year.

Members of the alliance last year recognized cyberspace as a domain of operations in which NATO must defend itself as effectively as it does in the air, on land, and at sea.

With reporting by AFP and dpa
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