NATO rapid reaction force aims to make European deployment more fixed

There's been a lot of saber rattling in Eastern Europe lately.

NATO staged exercises with troops from all over the alliance staged deliberately in Poland, Lithuania, Estonia -- countries on the front line with Russia. Now NATO says its going to make this kind of deployment more permanent with its new rapid reaction force, about 4,000 strong. They call it a spearhead.

The spear clearly pointed at Vladimir Putin and his Eastern European ambitions which were apparently not satisfied when he annexed Crimea earlier this year. The West was caught flat-footed then.

For Ukraine, which is not in NATO, the Western response is still about sanctions, and there is a new one. France says it will not deliver a new helicopter carrier it is building for Russia because, it says, conditions now are not right and it is potentially a very expensive decision for France.

"If a situation arises where an ally comes under threat perhaps in the Baltic, that NATO is able to respond (to) very quickly at 48 hours notice and take some action which might deter further action by another country," said Alex Nicholl of the International Institute of Strategic Studies.

Vladimir Putin, visiting Mongolia today, has proposed what he calls a peace plan in Ukraine, perhaps by Friday. But one that would leave pro-Moscow rebels in control of the areas they hold. Putin has a strategic advantage in this standoff with NATO -- he doesn't have to get agreement from 28 countries before acting.

"He's absolutely able to be more nimble and that's not going to go away," said Nicholl.

NATO's new rapid reaction force is designed to be nimble, too. But it's a conventional military response to a Russian leader who has been using unconventional means, and who has had the Atlantic Alliance scrmbling fora strategy to reassure its new Eastern members.

  • Mark Phillips

    Mark Phillips returned to the CBS News London bureau as a correspondent in 1993. He has covered many major stories since then, including the war in the Balkans, the death of Princess Diana and the weapons inspection conflicts in Iraq.


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