PENTAGON - About 50,000 NATO personnel from 31 NATO and partner countries are springing to action Thursday at the start of the alliance’s Trident Juncture exercise, its largest drills since the end of the Cold War.
The massive exercise takes place in and around Norway and involves about 65 ships, 250 aircraft and 10,000 vehicles.
‘We are ready’
NATO’s Command Senior Enlisted Leader for Allied Command Operations, Command Sgt. Maj. Davor Petek, told VOA in an exclusive interview that the large-scaled defensive games send a “very simple message.”
“We are ready, and we are capable to meet any possible security threat coming to our NATO borders,” he said. “Nobody’s willing to mess with an alliance that has so much potential, so much capability.”
WATCH: Sgt. Maj. Davor Petek
NATO said the drills are not an act of aggression, and the exercise’s commander said the alliance has invited Russia to observe.
“I’m happy that we have observers because they’re going to see that we’re very good at what we do. And that will have a deterrent effect on anybody who wants to cross those borders, but one nation in particular,” U.S. Navy Adm. James Foggo, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe and NATO’s Allied Joint Force Command Naples, told reporters at the Pentagon earlier this month.
The exercise comes with Russia and the West still bitterly divided over Russia’s illegal annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula, with some NATO countries worried Moscow may try to encroach on their sovereign land.
It also comes as U.S. President Donald Trump has slammed NATO for benefiting Europe more than the United States.
NATO members have committed to spend at least 2 percent of their GDP on defense by 2024, but just nine of the military alliance’s 29 members are expected to reach or surpass that amount this year.
Petek told VOA Trident Juncture helps display NATO’s readiness and its commitment to stick together.
“It’s just an alliance that’s been there for a long, long time — over 70 years — but I’d say it was never probably as active and determined as it is right now in this point of time,” he said.
Trident Juncture is expected to run through Nov. 7.