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Politics NATO members vow to reinvent the alliance to deal with crises

Faced with a pivotal moment for world security, NATO members are vowing to reinvent the military alliance in a bid to end a bloody struggle with Russia over Ukraine's future and to halt the spread of brutal Islamist terror across Iraq and Syria.

In a joint editorial, British Prime Minister David Cameron and U.S. President Barack Obama vowed to stand together on both fronts, by supporting "the partners who are taking the fight to ISIS on the ground, as we have done by stepping up support for Kurdish and Iraqi security forces."

They added: "We meet at a time when the world faces many dangerous and evolving challenges. To the east, Russia has ripped up the rulebook with its illegal, self-declared annexation of Crimea and its troops on Ukrainian soil threatening and undermining a sovereign nation state."

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Still, with no plans to intervene military in Ukraine, it remains to be seen whether NATO's ongoing reinvention is up to the task of pushing back against Russia's challenges.

Reaction force

One of the major reforms emerging from the NATO summit will be the creation of a spearhead reaction force of 4,000 to 5,000 troops, marking a historic shift to the defence of Europe as the alliance's central concern once again.

This new rapid-reaction force could be deployed within 48 hours to hotspots, giving the 28-member military alliance a significant presence in whatever region is the target of destabilization.

The speed with which Russian forces infiltrated Ukraine's Crimea region in March has focused minds at NATO on speeding up its ability to respond if a similar crisis occurred on NATO territory. NATO's existing response force takes five days for the first units to arrive.

NATO appears to have shelved a proposal to permanently station alliance troops in new bases along its eastern flank, a measure sought by members such as Poland as a means of providing a deterrent to further Russian aggression. Member countries such as Germany rejected the idea because such a move could provoke Moscow.

Canada was also wary of the proposal to permanently station NATO troops in new bases because there was insufficient detail on which allies might pay the bills or contribute troops, and what the rules of engagement would be.

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Staging bases

NATO is still hammering out the details but is hoping to set up as many as five staging bases, or forward operating locations, to supply a new rapid-reaction force the alliance is establishing to rush troops to hot spots.

Locations being considered for prepositioning equipment range from Poland to the Baltic States as well as Romania. NATO also wants to set up a supply base in Turkey, but as of Thursday night it was not certain the Turks would agree.

These supply hubs would not be regular military bases with permanently stationed troops, but places to store military equipment that the rapid reaction force could draw upon in a time of need.

NATO officials said the force would also visit these supply hubs to train out of them when possible, so troops could familiarize themselves with the locales.

Poland and the Baltic states had proposed permanently stationing NATO troops at a new base along the alliance's eastern flank, but countries such as Germany had rejected the plan as an unnecessary provocation of Moscow.

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Naval operations

A Canadian frigate with 250 sailors is joining a U.S.-Ukraine training exercise in the Black Sea, as NATO builds up its presence in the region while tensions remain high in the conflict between Moscow and Kiev.

The operation, while planned some time ago, is certain to escalate tensions with Russia.

HMCS Toronto, which is part of NATO's standing maritime group, will enter the Black Sea on Sept. 6 for the Operation Sea Breeze exercise that runs Sept. 8 to 10.

HMCS Toronto has been deployed to the Mediterranean for months as part of Canada's contribution to the NATO reassurance mission. It will join American and Ukrainian vessels as well as ships from France, Spain, Romania and Turkey.

A U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer, the USS Ross, and a French frigate, the Commandant Birot, entered the Black Sea waters Wednesday, according to reports.

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A total of four NATO warships is expected in the area before Sept. 7. The USS Ross, Commandant Birot and HMCS Toronto will be joined by a Spanish frigate, the Almirante Juan de Borbon.

Under the Montreux Convention of 1936, warships of non-Black Sea states can stay in the Black Sea for no more than 21 days. The alliance has managed to secure its presence in the area by constantly rotating warships there.

Aid to Ukraine

Canada announced $4-million to help Ukraine and NATO allies counter a newly bellicose Russia. The money is part of four NATO Trust Funds aimed at helping to modernize Ukraine's armed forces.

"We are establishing four trust funds to finance concrete initiatives within four areas: logistics, command and control, cyber defence, and help to military personnel, including wounded personnel," NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Friday.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper unveiled the aid after a bilateral meeting with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko at the NATO leaders' summit near Cardiff, Wales.

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Support of $1-million will be provided through the NATO Trust Funds to help Ukraine beef up its command and control capabilities, including communications and computer systems as well as logistical controls within its armed forces.

In addition, the three NATO Centres of Excellence in the Baltic region – cybersecurity, energy security and strategic communications – will each receive support valued at up to $1-million to help Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania strengthen their ability to respond to Russian aggression.

Both initiatives will be funded through Canada's Global Peace and Security Fund, which supports stabilization and reconstruction initiatives in fragile and conflict-affected countries.

With a report from Reuters

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