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NATO to boost high-readiness forces in ‘biggest overhaul’ since Cold War

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks during a news conference to preview the NATO Summit in Madrid at NATO headquarters in Brussels on June 27. (Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP/Getty Images)
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BRUSSELS — NATO will sharply increase the number of forces it keeps at a high readiness level to 300,000 in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The move to beef up the alliance’s ability to respond to a crisis is part of the “biggest overhaul of our collective defense and deterrence since the Cold War,” Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Monday.

The NATO chief made the announcement one day before President Biden — who is in Germany with other members of the Group of Seven industrialized nations — joins other heads of state and government in Madrid for a NATO summit expected to focus on the war in Ukraine and the future of the alliance.

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Transforming NATO’s quick-response force, which has some 40,000 troops, is one of the ways the 30-member alliance is responding to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Leaders also will discuss plans to bolster the alliance’s eastern flank, outline a new force model, announce funding decisions and publish a strategy document that lays out NATO’s strategy for the years ahead, according to NATO diplomats.

The last time the alliance published this type of strategy document, in 2010, ties with Russia were considerably warmer. “We want to see a true strategic partnership between NATO and Russia, and we will act accordingly,” that document said.

The latest version “will make clear that allies consider Russia as the most significant and direct threat to our security,” Stoltenberg said in a news conference.

The document will also for the first time outline NATO’s view on China as a challenger, although NATO countries have yet to settle on the exact language that will be used, diplomats said. Stoltenberg said he expects the document to address “the challenges that Beijing poses to our security, interests and values.” The leaders of Korea, Japan, Australia and New Zealand will join the summit for the first time.

Stoltenberg said the NATO summit will be “transformative, with many important decisions, including on a new strategic concept for a new security reality, a fundamental shift in NATO’s deterrence and defense, and support to Ukraine now and for the future.”

The summit could also yield news of Sweden and Finland’s applications to join NATO. Turkey has so far blocked the countries’ membership bids out of opposition to their stance on Kurdish separatist groups hostile to Ankara.

NATO officials and diplomats have said they take Turkey’s concerns seriously. The summit will feature a special session on combating terrorism — an apparent nod to Ankara’s claims — Stoltenberg said at a news conference with Sweden’s prime minister Thursday.

Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson, Finnish President Sauli Niinisto and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will meet in Madrid, according to Finnish officials.

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In Germany, Biden and other leaders of the G-7, a group that includes six NATO member states, agreed in a statement to “continue to provide financial, humanitarian, military and diplomatic support and stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes.”

Timsit reported from London.

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