WASHINGTON --- NATO is stronger than ever and new initiatives will increase the alliance's readiness capacity, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said today in Brussels.
"High readiness is essential in a more unpredictable world," Stoltenberg said.
Stoltenberg previewed the Defense Ministerial that will begin at NATO headquarters in Brussels tomorrow. Defense Secretary James N. Mattis is attending the gathering for the United States. The alliance defense ministers will be discussing the items that will be discussed by NATO heads of state at the NATO Summit in Brussels in July.
New NATO Joint Commands, Readiness Initiative
The secretary general expects the defense ministers to approve establishing two new NATO joint force commands: one in Norfolk, Virginia, for access across the Atlantic; and one in Ulm, Germany, for logistics inside Europe. This will increase the alliance's command structure by about 1,200 personnel, he said.
"I expect we will also agree on the NATO Readiness Initiative -- the Four 30s," Stoltenberg said. This means, he said, that by 2020, NATO allies would have 30 mechanized battalions, 30 air squadrons and 30 combat vessels ready for deployment in 30 days or less.
"This is not about setting up or deploying new forces," Stoltenberg said. "It is about boosting readiness of existing forces across each and every ally."
The NATO allies will discuss defense spending and burden-sharing, Stoltenberg said, noting that defense spending in Europe is up.
"Burden-sharing is not just about cash, but capabilities and contributions," he added. "Here, too, the trend is up. Allies are investing more in major equipment and increasing their contributions to NATO missions and operations."
The ministers will also discuss NATO's roles in war against violent extremism, the secretary general said. The alliance already has deployed Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft, he said, and the ministers are expected to approve the recommendation to launch a new NATO Training Mission in Iraq.
The mission will "help Iraq better fight terrorism" and prevent the return of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, the secretary general said.
Stoltenberg said the NATO ministers will also discuss alliance capacity building support for Jordan and Tunisia.
The alliance ministers will discuss growing NATO-European Union cooperation with EU Vice President for defense cooperation Frederica Mogherini, the secretary general said. Defense ministers from Sweden and Finland will also participate.
"We will take stock of progress in our joint work, including on hybrid and cyber defense, maritime operations and exercises," Stoltenberg said. "Going forward, military mobility could become a flagship for our cooperation, and we are working together to eliminate obstacles -- whether legal, customs or infrastructure -- to ensure our forces can move across Europe when necessary."
The ministerial will close after a discussion with partners on the NATO effort in Afghanistan, the secretary general said.
"Allies and partners are stepping up with both forces and funding," he said. "We have added about 3,000 more trainers to our mission, and we are discussing how to extend funding for the Afghan forces beyond 2020. The Afghan forces are performing with professionalism and bravery and creating the conditions for a political settlement."