Nato boosts readiness to meet new security threats

NEWPORT - NATO leaders agreed on Friday to boost the readiness of the alliance to meet fresh security threats highlighted by the Ukraine crisis and reaffirmed their commitment to collective defence.

A new rapid reaction force is aimed at helping the military alliance, which was set up in 1949 to protect Western Europe from the Soviet Union, meet new threats and maintain a "continuous" presence in Eastern Europe.

"First and foremost, we have reaffirmed the central mission of the alliance," United States President Barack Obama said at the close of the two-day NATO summit. "An armed attack against one shall be considered an attack against them all. This is a binding treaty obligation. It is non-negotiable," Mr Obama said.

To back up NATO's renewed purpose, the 28 allies would increase defence spending, he said, aiming to devote two percent of annual economic output to military expenditure and reverse years of decline.

Outgoing NATO head Anders Fogh Rasmussen said a new "spearhead" force, comprising several thousand troops who would be ready to deploy in a few days, so that the alliance could "deal swiftly and firmly with any threat".

"This decision sends a clear message - NATO protects all allies at all times" and any "potential aggressor" should bear that in mind, he said.

NATO has a larger Response Force but it has never been deployed in action and analysts believe it would take weeks to put in the field, way too long to be a credible deterrent in the face of fast changing threats.

Russian tactics in Ukraine - its use of social media and new technologies to sway public opinion and catch opponents off-guard, coupled with its traditional military strengths - have all surprised NATO and challenged its accepted thinking, analysts say.

The summit also adopted a broad Readiness Action Plan to strengthen overall collective defence, aiming to reassure allies spooked by the Ukraine crisis, Islamic extremist gains in the Middle East and instability in North Africa. - AFP