The Passive Role of the NATO Response Force and Georgia Involvement

17 m.   |  2019-01-25

The NATO Response Forces (NRF) have been around for almost 2 decades and have only been used 4 times: during the Olympic games of 2004 in Athens, Presidential elections in Afghanistan, Catrina Storm in the U.S. in 2005 and for the humanitarian aid after the earthquake in Pakistan in 2006[1]. During the last two years the Response Forces have been transformed several times, but it is still yet to be used for military purposes. Several analysts from the West claim that the NATO Response Forces have failed because of financial and political reasons.

From the Southern Caucasian countries, Georgia actively attempts to join NATO member states. Georgia has been cooperating with the alliance in various formats without membership in NATO, its staunch participation in the NATO Response Forces is a testimony to their aspirations in joining NATO.

NRF’s history and changes

M ember States of NATO approved the format of the Response Forces during the Prague summit in 2002. The idea was initiated in the USA with the concept later spreading to the European partners.  

High ranking officials in the US did not have in mind a particular force structure but were supporting Brussels’ call on replacing the Defense Capabilities Initiative (DCI) [2] with a smaller version of similar capacities. In 2002, with a suggestion from the U.S. National Security Council experts, researchers Richard Kugler and Hans Binnendijk, from the National Defense University presented a document by which they called upon to discuss the possibility of a defense transformation and creation of a 20-25 thousand joint strike division. That force will have to move to crisis zones and closely cooperate with U.S. forces [3].

Later on, Kugler recalls in his work on «The NATO Response Force 2002-2006: innovation by the Atlantic Alliance», how their idea was embodied. As stated by the author, the troops should have been an organized military unit, comprised of command and control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. Kugler and Binnendijk named their idea as “Spearhead Response Force”. It should have been big, to have a military significance, but should have been small enough in terms of accessibility to interest NATO members.  

Kugler and Binnendijk planned that the forces should be able to relocate and deploy in the shortest possible time.  Multinational military battalion should be formed by a rotation system implemented by NATO, the aim is that one of the Response Forces subdivision must serve for 6 months, while others would be in a training period. According to the preliminary idea set out by Kugler and Binnendjik, subdivisions should be supplemented only from the European countries with the USA having active participation in the C4ISR’ troops mobilization efforts [4].  

It is important to note that many European countries have not thought about any mission deployments outside Europe. Daniel Fried ambassador and advisor to NATO and the European National Security Council in the USA, supports the idea of a Response Force creation and suggests presenting it to the Pentagon. Therefore, after approval the NATO Secretary General will present it to his European partners. The decision on implementing the NATO Response Forces was adopted during the Prague Summit, in 2002 and finally approved in spring, 2003.

European countries had reasonable grounds for supporting the creation of a new subdivision. Richard Kugler claims in his work, that by supporting the idea European countries would have the opportunity to be competent to achieve modern doctrines, informational networks, armaments and so on. Moreover, NRF being a small division was affordable and doesn’t counteract other European defense programs. For instance, it has posed no threat to the creation of the European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP) and European Rapid Reaction Force (ERRF) [6]. Kugler also mentions, that if the USA decided not to support the NRF, it would likely not be adopted. The support of two sides made the agreement possible. “NRF wouldn’t be adopted if the strong coalition of European countries opposed it”, wrote Kugler.  

The NATO Response Forces have been changed several times since 2002. The first change was in 2007, when it was noted, that European countries did not provide a corresponding number of military battalion to NATO forces. The second change of the NRF (NRF 3.0) was approved in June, 2009. After the Russian-Ukrainian conflict of 2014, NATO decided to redefine its forces again by presenting the NRF 4.0 version to the Response Forces. It should be noted, that the failures of the first remodelings of the Response Forces were mainly influenced by the fact that state members were providing insufficient number of subdivisions.

During the Wales Summit in 2014, the Immediate Response Forces (IRF) were renamed to Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF), which should engage a wider goal of deployability. VJTF was a subdivision comprising of about 13000 troops, which has the ability to be relocated within 48 hours, whereas IRF needed 1 month to be redeployed. Following this decision, NATO member states directly linked response forces with collective defense and with Article 5 [8] of the Washington Agreements. With NRF 4.0 exercises in Eastern Europe and in Baltic countries, NATO Rapid Reaction Forces have been mainly focused on the transformation of united forces and territorial defense rather than on crisis management.

Financial problems of NATO and NRF

I n 2014 NATO member states decided to allocate 2% of the GDP to the military expenses by 2024 although not a prerogative [9] nonetheless it was the new established goal. President Trump mentioned several times during his tenure that the USA is not going fill up the NATO budget to make up for the deficit of other countries. He called for all NATO countries to reach the threshold of 2%. According to the data from 2018, the USA allocates 3.57% to the NATO budget, second place is Greece with 2.36%, third is Great Britain with 2.12%, later comes Estonia with 2.08% and Poland with 1.99%. These two countries raised their contribution after the events of Crimea. The others are shy of 2%, and Iceland does not even contribute to the budget, as it does not have military forces [10].

It is worth mentioning that the NATO Response Force is not exempt from financial problems either. NRF faces problems during large-scale military exercises, in the deployment of troops and equipment in remote areas [11]. Besides, participant countries should pay for NRF maintenance and preparation. Moreover, Eastern allies of NATO forces should have appropriate infrastructures for hosting and supporting VJTF. Thus, the funding issue remains, as some countries cannot afford to contribute while others refuse to add to the budget [12].

Because of NRF financial problems, it was decided during the 2016 Warsaw Summit to launch Enhance Forward Presence (EFP) initiative and allocate 4 international battalions in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, for ensuring the security of those countries from Russia’s possible threats. This means, that the EFP became the front line of NATO’s preventive position not VJTF. If NRF was effective, there would be no need to create new subdivisions and the NATO response Forces would support Baltic States and Poland. However, European Forces role in NATO response forces and the EFP is somewhat symbolic.

Apart from this, the majority of the NATO member states don’t want to send troop deployments to countries with complex geographical locations, such as the Middle East and North Africa. In other words, the future of NRF mostly depends on the developments within the Alliance.  The latest events tell us, that not everything is smooth in the Alliance. The announcements of President Trump can force European countries to have their own military structure, which will be focused only on Europe not internationally.

Georgia and the NATO Response Forces: Steps to the Alliance.

A t the 2008 Bucharest Summit, Member States of NATO announced that Georgia would one day become member of the Alliance, and the next step was the “Membership Action Plan” (MAP).  

The promise given to Georgia at the Bucharest Summit wasn’t definite, as some of the European leading states of the Alliance had a negative attitude towards their application and a stance on giving Georgi a MAP.  

Although Georgia’s membership to NATO has been delayed, Georgia actively cooperates with the Alliance, participates and hosts maneuvers and is involved in International peacekeeping missions as well as active contribution to the NATO Rapid Reaction Force staff.

In October 2013, the official website of NATO mentioned that Sweden, also a non-member state of NATO, joined the Reaction Forces and was planning to participate in the greatest “Steadfast Jazz” maneuver. In 2014, Ukraine and Finland will join the Forces, and in 2015, Georgia [14].  

In 2014, Irakli Alasania, the former Minister of Defense of Georgia announced, that it applied for the NATO Response Force membership and that the USA was selected [15] to support Georgia’s integration. “It has already been decided, that our country will become a part of the NATO Immediate Response Force from 2015. This means, that by now our cooperation has advanced to the new level”, - mentioned Alasania [16].

A conversation with, Georgian military expert Amiran Salukvadze, unfolded issues around Georgia’s costs in the operations and exercises “The USA pays only the logistic expenses for preparation and transportation. All other expenses are covered by the Georgian military budget” [17].  

In 2015 information was spread in the Georgian Media, that Georgian servicemen undergo training to join the NATO Response Forces.  From April 1, 2015, “Alfa” Company of the 12th Battalion of the 1st Infantry Brigade attended a one-month training course, after which the representatives of NATO assessed the subdivision’s preparedness for the NRF [18]. It was mentioned in the report of the Georgian Defense Ministry, that in 2013 the servicemen underwent special training both in Georgia and in Hohenfels city in Germany (located in the center of European Command Center of the US Armed Forces).   

After the training exercises and assessment, the battalion participated in the Georgian-American “Nobel Partner 2015” military training, the purpose of which was to check the interoperability [19] between the military of Georgian and American subdivisions of the NATO Response Forces.  

It should be noted, that in June of the same year, the statement issued by the US Army Europe noted, that Noble Partner was an important component [20] of training Georgian subdivisions for the NATO Response Force. About 600 American and Georgian servicemen were attending the military trainings.

For the joint trainings, the USA sent the “Bradly” 14 armored infantry fighting vehicles with other logistic support from Varna to Batumi through the Black Sea.  Infantry fighting vehicle [21] BMP-2 were used from the Georgian part during the military exercises. As it was mentioned in the Official Website of American Army the name “Nobel Partner” was chosen for the military exercise for evaluating Georgia’s merits. “It is a name that they (Georgian servicemen) demonstrate through every contribution and every sacrifice” [22].

It is clear that this statement was instigated with an emotional sense of achievement for Georgians, trying to boost their dignity. The announcing party itself was well at understanding that Georgia was trying its best to become member of North Atlantic Alliance, even with the victims it had during international peacekeeping missions. According to the data on Georgia’s “Jumpstart Georgia” NGO until 2015, 35 servicemen of Georgia’s Armed Force were killed during international missions, 30 servicemen in Afghanistan and 5 in Iraq [23]. During the timeline between 2015-2018, another 2 soldiers have been killed, and the information has been received [24] from media publications [25].

It is noteworthy, that American servicemen stayed in Georgia for a few days after the end of military exercises and participated in Independence Day events on May 26. From photos published on Georgian Defense Ministry’s Facebook page that the servicemen of the “Alfa” Company of the 12th Battalion of the 1st Infantry Brigade were wearing NRF badges on their arms. On this occasion Armenian analytical website wrote, that the existence of “NRF badge (logo) symbolizes, that the NATO representatives considered the training to be successfully completed, though there wasn’t a report about the formal approval” [26]. About a month later, General Adrian Bradshaw, Deputy Supreme Allied Commander of Europe visits Georgia. Bradshaw announced, that just 2 months ago the Georgian unit achieved certification status [27] among the NATO Response Forces.

On June 25, Bradshaw announced during the press conference with the Major General Vakhtang Kapanadze, Chief of General Staff of Georgia’s Armed Forces: “About 2 months ago I presented the “Alfa” Company of the 12th Battalion of the 1st Infantry Brigade with the certificates corresponding the NATO Rapid Response Force. It is the first time Georgian subdivision receives such status, which is another significant achievement for Georgian Armed Forces”, - said Bradshaw [28].

General Adrian Bradshaw, Deputy Supreme Allied Commander of Europe and Major General Vakhtang Kapanadze, Chief of General Staff of Georgia’s Armed Forces

Since 2015 the Company has become a part of the NRF for 3 years. “NATO Evaluation Level 2” servicemen of Georgia’s Armed Forces passed in May, 2019՝ [29] during Noble Partner-2016 [30] military drills. Georgian Media mentioned in their publications on the 2nd military unit in 2017, the servicemen of the Armed Forces’ “Charlie” Company of the 12th Battalion of 1st Infantry Brigade completed [31] “Self-Assessment 1, 2, SEL-1, SEL-2 levels” and had to wait for the NATO experts’ assessments. On November 20, 2018, the Ministry of Defense of Georgia informed the Armed Forces’ 12th Battalion of the 1st Infantry Brigade in Mtskheta and congratulated the servicemen for being involved [32] in the NATO Response Force.

According to the report, “Charlie” Company of the 12th Battalion of 1st Infantry Brigade will replace the “Alfa” Company since January, 2019. Completing all the phases of assessments, the servicemen will become a part of the NATO Response Force until 2021. The servicemen of the “Charlie” Company are being trained within the “The Operational Capability Concept Evaluation and Feedback Programme’s” frameworks since 2016. After having passed “NATO Evaluation Level 2” the company has the right to replace [33] the “Alfa” Company.

So, as a non-member state of NATO, the 2nd battalion of Georgia’s Armed Forces has become a member of the NATO Reaction Forces. Though the Response Forces do not participate in any mission and do not have any practical role at this point in time, it is an additional platform for Georgian troops in retraining and complying with the standards of NATO.

Military expert Amiran Salukvadze

We also asked military expert Amiran Salukvadze, what he thinks about the Response Forces, as a number of western experts have stated, that the NRF does not play an important role in military field. “The Response Forces are the most prepared and technically advanced within all subdivisions of NATO. That’s why, I would not underestimate their significance”, - stated Salukvadze [34]. “Being a member of this subdivision is very important for the Georgian Army. From the one hand it gives an opportunity to raise combat preparedness and learn technical equipment. From another point of view, being part of the Response Forces, the Georgian Army gets acquainted with the experience of the leading countries of NATO and prepares its subdivisions under NATO standards, which increases the state's defensibility. Georgia in its turn can provide forces for the solution of unexpected problems, such as the fight against terrorism.”,- added the expert.

[1] Rynning, Sten; Ringsmose, Jens. / Can NATO's new Very High Readiness Joint Task Force deter? Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, 2016. 4 p. (NUPI Policy Brief, Vol. 15)

[2] In 1999 the leaders of the NATO member states in Washington began a Defense Capabilities Initiative- DCI, the aim of which was to improve defense efficiency, to ensure the effectiveness of international activities, paying special attention to the interaction of Allied forces. DCI called for the modernization of European military forces with priority to:  the strategic mobility, the long-distance logistic support, C4ISR systems and counter-air defense.

[3] Kugler Richard, The NATO Response Force 20026: innovation by the Atlantic Alliance, Washington, DC, Center for Technology and National Security Policy, National Defense University, 2007.

[4] See the same link.

[5] Pichler, Lothar. Comparison of the French and German approaches to ESDP and NATO, 2004

[6] Kugler, Richard, The NATO Response Force 20026: innovation by the Atlantic Alliance, Washington, DC: Center for Technology and National Security Policy, National Defense University, 2007

[7] See the same link.

[8] On April 4, 1949, the North Atlantic Treaty was signed in Washington. “The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defense recognized by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area”.

[9] NATO contributions country-by-country, Euronews

[10] Defence Expenditure of NATO Countries (2010-2017)

[11] Olshausen, Klaus. NATO’s Readiness Action Plan for Assurance and Deterrence – Progress & Challenges on the Road from Wales to Warsaw,ISPSW Strategy Series: Focus on Defense and International Security , Issue No 402, Jan 2016

[12] Jens Ringsmose & Sten Rynning: The NATO Response Force: A qualified failure no more?, Contemporary Security Policy, 2017

[13] See the same link.

[14] Sweden to join NATO Response Force and exercise Steadfast Jazz,

[15] Georgia to join NATO Response Force NRF in 2015 with financial support of United States

[16] Irakli Alasania: NATO will sponsor inclusion of Georgia in its Immediate Response Forces, News Agancy GHN

[17] Online interview with Georgian military expert Amiran Salukvadze. 14.12.2018

[18] Georgian Unit is Ready to Join NRF, საქართველოს თავდაცვის სამინისტრო

[19] Noble Partner, The official homepage of United States Army Europe

[20] H. Meliksetyan (2015) Georgian Armed Forces passed the certification of the NATO Rapid Response Forces/

[21] ქართულ-ამერიკული ერთობლივი სწავლება „ღირსეული პარტნიორი“ გაიხსნა, თავდაცვის სამინისტრო [Youtube chanel]

[22] U.S., Georgian forces begin two-week Exercise Noble Partner, The official homepage of United States Army

[23] 35 Georgian Soldiers Have Died In International Peacekeeping Missions, Jumpstart Georgia

[24] კაპრალი რამაზ დავითაია სამხედრო პატივით დაიკრძალა, საქართველოს თავდაცვის სამინისტრო

[25] Georgian Soldier Killed In Afghanistan, RadioLiberty

[26] K. Vrtanesyan (2015) Georgian subdivision is already involved in the NATO Response Forces/

[27] DSACEUR Visits Georgian Troops Preparing for RESOLUTE SUPPORT Cites 20 Year Partnership

[28] “Georgia is on the second place after the USA among the contingents participating in NATO missions”, - General Bradshaw, Georgia online

[29] ნატოს მრჩეველთა ჯგუფის ვიზიტი, საქართველოს თავდაცვის სამინისტრო

[30] Noble Partner-2016 international military exercise took place at Georgia’s “Vaziani” military base on May 11-24.   

[31] 100 Georgian soldiers will join NATO Response Force, 

[32] ლევან იზორიამ მცხეთაში I ქვეითი ბრიგადაში ჩატარებული ინფრასტრუქტურული სამუშაოები დაათვალიერა, საქართველოს თავდაცვის სამინისტრო

[33] მე-12 ბატალიონის „ჩარლი“ ასეული ნატოს რეაგირების ძალებს შეუერთდა, საქართველოს თავდაცვის სამინისტრო

[34] Online interview with Georgian military expert Amiran Salukvadze, 14.12.2018.