NATO and its allies have launched one of the biggest military drills in recent history in the central Mediterranean.
The drills, nicknamed Trident Juncture, involve 36,000 soldiers, sailors and airmen from over 30 countries testing their ability to respond to “new security threats”, with emphasis on dealing with an ever-increasing perceived threat from Russia.
NATO Deputy Secretary-General Alexander Vershbow told the ceremony that the exercises would show that the military alliance is capable of dealing with “everything from conventional military engagements to more subtle hybrid warfare techniques and propaganda.”
Describing the geopolitical situation far more unstable than the Cold War era, he pointed to Crimea’s 2014 decision to rejoin Russia, the ongoing crisis in eastern Ukraine and Moscow’s airstrikes against militants in Syria as well as the spread of terrorists groups into Libya and Syria.
“In this new world, NATO’s allies and partners must be able to move quickly and act decisively,” he said.
Meanwhile, NATO’s top commander General Philip Breedlove said the exercises would send “a very clear message to any potential aggressor,” adding, “Any attempt to violate the sovereignty of one NATO nation will result in the decisive military engagement of all NATO nations.”
The exercises are set to examine the efficiency of a 5,000-strong “spearhead” force containing air, maritime and special operations components that can deploy in less than a week.
The drills imagine an attack by a large country on a small alliance member, creating a crisis and threatening energy supplies and navigational freedom with risks of terrorism and cyberattacks.
The war games come as NATO’s escalating military exercises in Europe have been described as the alliance’s response to the persisting crisis in Ukraine over what Kiev’s Western backers refer to as Russian involvement in the conflict.
Moscow, however, has strongly denied playing any role in the Ukrainian situation.
The two mainly Russian-speaking regions of Donetsk and Lugansk – known collectively as the Donbass – have witnessed deadly clashes since April last year, when Kiev decided to silence pro-Russia protests there.
Moscow has also started its air campaign against Daesh Takfiri militants and other terrorists in Syria since last month, based on a request by the Syrian government.