BRUSSELS - Russia poses a threat not only in NATO's eastern flank, so it would be wrong to concentrate the Alliance's capabilities in one region, according to Admiral Rob Bauer, chairman of the NATO Military Committee.
"We are now very much focusing on the Eastern flank as a result of the attack of Russia in Ukraine, but Russia is basically all around us – in space, in cyber, in the Arctic, on the Atlantic Ocean, in the Mediterranean or in Africa. Not only on the Eastern flank," he told Lithuanian journalists in Brussels.
As an example, the admiral pointed to bloody clashes in Sudan between the forces of two generals who seized power in the 2021 coup.
The Russian mercenary group Wagner is probably also involved in the unrest, even though it denies it, according to Bauer.
"I would say (NATO's) ambitions for the Baltics are the same as for any other nation," he said. "If we put everything on the Eastern flank, we wouldn't be able to respond to other regions."
The Alliance has worked out new defense plans covering the Baltic countries and Poland, and has presented them to member states' representatives.
In a reflection of NATO's changing strategy, the plans basically provide for defense from the first days of a potential conflict. Previously, the approach was that the Baltic countries should try to hold off a Russian offensive until allied reinforcements can arrive to help them.
Bauer said that NATO forces have to more flexible and able to respond faster to emerging threats.
This flexibility is reflected in the possibility, foreseen at the Madrid Summit last year, to transform battalion-sized units in eastern-flank countries into brigades, the NATO MC chairman said, noting that mobilizing hostile forces also takes time.
"As we have seen around Ukraine, basically for four and a half months we saw it coming," he said. "It is not a realistic scenario that you will open your curtains and (...) see two Army Corps opposite your country; that's not realistic."
According to the admiral, intelligence would immediately detect such a force movement. Missile strikes could be an exception, but without ground forces to back them up, this is not a likely scenario for an attack either.
Bauer compared NATO's old and new visions to footballs.
"One of the outcomes why the (new) football most likely will be bigger than the football that we have is that we have to recognize, for example, that air defense is something that needs our attention and needs more investment," he said.
This is linked to a proposal that NATO's member states make a commitment at the Vilnius summit in July to spend at least two percent of their GDP on defense.
"I'm not married to a percentage, but I would say that if you know how big the football is, then you can basically calculate how much money that costs and then you can basically find out what the percentage is," the admiral said.
"As far as I know, we are working towards something – and you have heard this before, and this is not a decision and more a proposal – that two percent would become a floor and not a ceiling," he added.
The NATO MC chairman said that the drafting of the Vilnius summit declaration is a political process and he could not comment in detail on this and other related issues.
According to the admiral, the declaration should also reflect a decision on new regional defense plans, although these are expected to be agreed before the summit.
"After Vilnius, a difficult period starts where the execution, doing what the nations have promised and leaders have decided, is the most important bit," Bauer said.
"It will not be a light switch. (...) it will be a process of a number of years," he added.
According to Bauer, it will involve the formation of new forces, exercises, the building of infrastructure, and the acquisition of ammunition and weapons and training in their use.
The admiral also said that the military industry and its capacity to meet nations' needs and expand will also play a key role.
The NATO MC is the Alliance's highest military authority and provides direction and advice on military policy and strategy to the North Atlantic Council, the principal political decision-making body within NATO.