A NAC D Ministerial is a meeting of the Defence Ministers (SecDef in US case) of the members of NATO. If I remember correctly, the NAC D meets twice a year. While the leadup requires heaps of work by folks on the Joint Staff and OSD in the US (I took part in this fun prep in 2001-2002) to prepare talking points, these meetings (as far as I can recall) were not times for significant policy changes to be announced.
This time... wow! For folks underwhelmed by the decisions announced at the Wales Summit last fall, this NAC D might just be a bit more impressive. There is more specificity about the Very High Readiness Force (I am a skeptic on that one--see below), but more critically, there was an annoucment of six command and control units to be established along NATO's frontier with Russia: Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania.
This represents a sea change as some members resisted doing anything that might be seen as permanent deployments to those countries closest to Russia. Now, this modest effort--they are to facilitate rapid deployments but are not themselves big movements of troops--is quite significant, suggesting that Germany (an obstacle last fall) and others have realized that provoking the bear is probably a lesser issue than reassuring the allies and deterring the bear. The passage of time has made it far clearer to Merkel and to other hestitant leaders in Europe that Putin is not going away anytime too soon, that the increase in Russian planes overflying NATO countries and other provocative acts are not going to slow down. This means that NATO needs to do what was previously resisted.
The Georgia stuff? Meh. More talk, but don't expect Georgia entering NATO soon. There is still much resistance to extending Article V security guarantees to a country that few in NATO will want to defend.
Back to the Very High Readiness Force: how can such a force be able to move within 48 hours if it includes troops that require legislative approval before deploying? I am headed to Berlin in a few weeks for a conference, so I will be asking the folks there. In April, I am going to Belgium for a conference and for some research, but I will make time to go over to NATO HQ to ask this question. For now, I am just confused.
The clearest part of this NAC D is that there is now a stronger consensus that NATO has a role in reassuring the allies closest to Russia.