VILNIUS - Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia will establish a joint NATO Response Force battalion by 2010, the three Baltic defense ministers agreed during their two-day meeting in Lithuania last week.
"We agreed to establish aÂ joint military unit that's prepared for NATO Response Force (NRF) rotation,"Â Lithuanian Defense Minister Juozas Olekas told The Baltic Times after meeting with his Latvian and Estonian counterparts, Atis Slakters and Jurgen Ligi.
"Our aim is to have a military unit of some 750 troops prepared to act as a NATO Response Force in the first half of 2010. We gave a very concrete goal, a precise action plan and we hope we achieve our goals in due time," Olekas added.
NATO describes NRF as "a highly ready and technologically advanced force made up of land, air, sea and special forces components that the Alliance can deploy quickly wherever needed."
One of the force's key features is that it combines land, air, sea and special forces into one package.
NFR should be capable of performing worldwide missions across a whole spectrum of operations, including evacuations, disaster management, counterterrorism, and acting as "an initial entry force" for larger, follow-on forces.
It will include up to 25,000 troops, and begin deployment after five days' notice. The battalion's operations will last 30 days or longer if re-supplied.
The proposal to create a NATO rapid reaction force was put forward in 2002. The first NFR rotation, numbering some 9,500 troops, was inaugurated on Oct. 15, 2003, half a year before Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia became members of NATO.
At NATO's November 2006 Riga summit - the first NATO conference in a former Soviet Union state - the force was declared to be at "full operational capability" with up to 25,000 troops.
Olekas said that all three Baltic countries would equally contribute to the Baltic rotation of NFR. But he refused to name the country which will host and lead the unit.
"These are still issues to be discussed 's both speaking about logistics and command," the defense minister said. "At first the Estonians were eager to take a lead in the unit, but now it seems it could be Lithuania, although no final decision has been made."
Olekas added that the three ministers had discussed the possibility of a joint purchase of armament.
"It would be reasonable to form a joint battalion, then it would be much easier," he said.
The minister, however, stressed that the NFR Baltic rotation would not be a permanent military unit.
"If there is no demand for the battalion, it will be formed out and every country will use the troops as it needs and decides," Olekas said.
Elements of the NRF were already tested during the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, and were deployed to support the Afghan presidential elections in September 2004.
The NRF has also been used to deliver relief supplies donated by NATO member and partner countries to the United States. The supplies, delivered in October 2005, helped assist the country in dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In February 2006, NRF was also used for the disaster relief effort in Pakistan.
All three Baltic states have troops deployed in Iraq, and since last year, Lithuania has been leading one of NATO's Reconstruction Teams in Afghanistan.