NATO defense ministers have wrapped up two days of talks in Brussels during which they approved plans to create two command centers in response to what the military alliance called a "changing" security environment.
Speaking at the end of the meeting on Feb. 15, 2018, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the allies also planned to "scale up" the alliance's presence in Iraq.
On the first day of their talks, the ministers approved the establishment of two new command centers aimed at supporting rapid troop movements across Europe and protecting sea channels between the continent and North America.
The new command center for logistics, reinforcement, and military mobility will allow NATO to respond to crises "with the right forces, in the right place, at the right time," Stoltenberg said on Feb. 14, 2018.
The NATO ministers also agreed to set up a new cyberoperations center to help counter military hacker attacks, among other things.
"The security environment in Europe has changed, and so NATO is responding," he also said.
Since the Cold War, the alliance has shrunk from 22,000 staff working in 33 command centers to fewer than 7,000 staff in seven centers, the secretary-general said.
The ministers are expected to decide on the required timelines, locations, and increased staff levels at their next meeting in June 2018.
The moves come as relations between Moscow and NATO have been severely strained over issues including Russia's seizure of Ukraine's Crimea region in March 2014 and its support for separatists who control parts of eastern Ukraine. The war between Kyiv's forces and the Russia-backed separatists has killed more than 10,300 people since April 2014.
(USMC Photo by Cpl. Janessa K. Pon.)
Allegations of malicious Russian cyberactivity and a series of potentially dangerous close encounters between Russian and NATO warplanes and navy ships in recent months has added to the tension.
Stoltenberg said on Feb. 15, 2018 he was looking forward to meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on the sidelines of the Feb. 16-18 Munich Security Conference in Germany, saying "dialogue is particularly important when tensions are high."
On Iraq, the secretary-general announced that the defense ministers agreed to start planning for a NATO training mission that he said would "make our current training efforts more sustainable."
"We will also plan to help the Iraqi forces become increasingly professional" by "establishing specialized military academies and schools," he added.
"We are planning to scale up NATO's presence. But we are not planning for a combat mission," Stoltenberg said. "We can make a big impact with our trainers and advisers — in full coordination with the Iraqi government, the global coalition, and other actors, such as the UN and the EU."
Meanwhile, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told a press conference in Brussels that NATO allies "will go to a constant mission in Iraq to build the capabilities that [the Iraqis] believe they need to sustain this effort and protect their people from the uprising of another type of terrorist organization."
More reading: US suggests NATO should train Iraqi army
NATO ministers also met with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini in the Belgian capital to discuss their concerns over duplication after members of the bloc agreed in December 2017 to develop new military equipment and improve cooperation and decision-making.
"There is a clear understanding to include in written EU documents that the common defense is a NATO mission and a NATO mission alone," Mattis said.