Britain and six other states are to create a new joint expeditionary force of at least 10,000 personnel to bolster Nato’s power in response to Russian aggression in Ukraine.
The force will be one of the boldest steps taken by any group of Nato members in response to the crisis. The aim is to create a fully functioning, division-sized force for rapid deployment and regular, frequent exercises.
Officials involved in the planning say it will have the capacity to increase significantly in size.
The force will incorporate air and naval units as well as ground troops and will be led by British commanders, with other participating nations contributing a range of specialist troops and units.
Countries involved at present include Denmark, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Norway and the Netherlands. Canada has also expressed an interest in taking part.
The announcement of the force’s creation is expected next week by British prime minister David Cameron in his position as host of the biennial Nato summit in Wales.
The model for the new JEF will be Britain’s expeditionary force with France, which has been years in the making and is due to be fully operational by 2016. Co-ordinating a force across seven nations is likely to be an even bigger endeavour.
Russia’s invasion of Crimea and armed intervention in Ukraine has left Nato scrambling to find robust policy responses to counter further aggression from Moscow.
While the 28-state alliance has stopped short of permanently deploying troops in eastern Europe – a measure that would violate several long-standing agreements with Russia – it has committed to a programme of significant military exercises and the development of more flexible, rapid reaction forces.
Though details of the new UK-led expeditionary force have to be ironed out, it will probably involve regular significant exercises in Europe and elsewhere, according to one senior military officer involved in planning it.
Such substantial measures will be essential in sending a message to the Kremlin, analysts say. “We need to end the idea of different zones of security in Europe,” said Jonathan Eyal, international director at the London-based Royal United Services Institute.
“We need to be talking about prepositioning, regular rotation of troops and making it very clear that we do not accept that the eastern Europeans are in some different category of membership of Nato.”
While Britain will undertake much of the initial legwork in organising the structure and logistics, UK officials hope it will bring significant benefits. The British army has been intensively lobbying for more deployments abroad in order to keep it fighting fit.
For the first time in their history, almost all of Britain’s land forces will be permanently based on home soil after the withdrawal from Afghanistan is complete.
The venture will also be a powerful diplomatic tool in cementing relationships with eastern European economics, officials believe.
And the requirements for participating states to integrate into a harmonious command and control structure may produce benefits in encouraging the use of British-produced equipment.