Germany announced it would set up a new NATO planning and control centre, in the west of the country, as part of the alliance’s upgrade plans in Europe.
The new NATO centre would be used to keep shipping lanes safe from enemy submarines, as well as a logistics command focusing on moving troops quickly across Europe in any possible conflict. Unusually, it will not be integrated into the current NATO command structure.
US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis will join other allied defence ministers next week in Brussels to discuss plans for both commands, setting the stage for NATO leaders to make a formal decision on its use at a summit in July.
The decision is seen as a reaction to heightened tensions between NATO and Russia in the last few years — a leaked report showed last October that military leaders were concerned that the alliance was not adequately prepared against a surprise Russian attack.
Another new NATO headquarters will be set up in the US and tasked with securing air and sea routes between North America and Europe. The United States has offered to host the command in Norfolk, Virginia, where NATO already has operations. The German-hosted command could be in Ulm, in southern Germany, or possibly Cologne, two places were the country already has NATO and multinational facilities.
There are apparently no other contenders to host the senior command centre in Germany, which is expected to be officially announced at the NATO meeting next week.
The German military, or Bundeswehr, already has its armed forces headquarters in the Bonn-Cologne area.
Creating two new commands, which diplomats said would have up to 1,500 personnel in total, would be the first expansion in two decades after NATO sharply cut its numbers in Europe in 2011.
The move is seen as a major gesture NATO members in Eastern Europe, who fear a revanchist and aggressive Russia, while the German offer comes at a time when Berlin has faced pressure from Washington to spend more on defence.
While the strategy will not revive a much larger Cold War-era Atlantic Command that was disbanded in 2002, it would broaden NATO’s new deterrent against Moscow, which involves rotating forces in the Baltics, Poland, and the Black Sea region.
Many in the West were also alarmed by Moscow’s war games in September that massed tens of thousands of troops and may have tested highly advanced electronic warfare technology on NATO-member Latvia.
Retired General Ben Hodges, who until recently was commander of the US Army in Europe, had long called for Germany to take on a bigger role in managing logistics and transportation needs for the alliance.
The issue is sensitive, however. Germany wants to keep talking to Moscow and has chafed at the proposed “Rear Area Operations Command” name for the logistics base, as it could imply that NATO is preparing for war.
But the two additional bases in Germany and the US represent only a mild rearmament compared to Cold War levels when NATO had several dozen bases and active headquarters. According to the alliance’s own figures, the trans-Atlantic alliance currently has seven headquarters, and under 10,000 deployed personnel.