June 8, 2015 / 4:27 PM / 2 years ago

Britain to contribute more to new NATO rapid response force

A soldier fires his weapon during the "Wind Spring 15" military exercises at Smardan shooting range April 21, 2015.Radu Sigheti

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain raised its commitment to NATO's new rapid response force on Monday, a day after U.S. President Barack Obama pressed Prime Minister David Cameron over defence spending.

Surprised by the speed of Russia's military intervention in Crimea last year, NATO leaders have approved wide-ranging plans to boost the alliance's defences in eastern Europe and create a new "spearhead" rapid reaction force with 5,000 soldiers.

British Defence Minister Michael Fallon said Britain would contribute an extra 500 troops to the very high-readiness joint task force from 2016, taking its total to 3,000, before it takes on leadership of the force the following year.

"We're putting our most experienced and capable troops at the heart of NATO’s collective defence," Fallon said on Monday.

Cameron, re-elected for a second term last month, has repeatedly come under pressure from lawmakers both in his own and opposition parties to commit Britain to maintaining military spending at 2 percent of gross domestic product.

During a meeting with Cameron on the sidelines of a summit of the Group of Seven industrial nations in Germany on Sunday, Obama said he hoped Britain would stick to the target despite a need to cut the country's budget deficit.

Cameron has declined to commit beyond the current financial year, saying it will depend on the outcome of a defence spending review being carried out this year, and on Monday said it was "nonsense" that Britain was shrinking its role in the world.

Reporting by Kylie MacLellan; editing by Stephen Addison

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