Madrid summit: a shaken NATO in the face of a new world security order, with warmongering Russia and the rise of China

Leaders attend a press conference after a meeting to prepare for the upcoming NATO summit, in The Hague, the Netherlands, June 14.EVA PLEVIER/Reuters

A dozen years ago, when the North Atlantic Treaty Organization last revised its strategic concept, the military alliance seemed to have lost its focus – because it had won.

The United States and Western Europe had triumphed over the Cold War and enjoyed military-technological supremacy on the world stage. At the beginning of the last decade, no one envisaged war on European soil. Russia didn’t seem like a threat to the West – its takeover of Crimea would take place a few years later, in 2014 – and China had yet to emerge as a superpower seemingly determined to take Taiwan by force.

Collective defense and deterrence, by NATO’s own admission, “were considered almost superfluous” because there was no great power competition. NATO and its member states were the undisputed military leaders, even though Russia and China were loaded to the teeth with nuclear bombs.

NATO’s 2010 Strategic Concept is not only dated; it seems a quaint relic of a simpler time. “China” did not even appear in the text and Russia, unlikely as it may seem today, was courted as a strategic partner. Dmitry Medvedev, then President of Russia, attended this summit, which was held in Lisbon.

NATO’s three-day Madrid summit, which begins on Tuesday, will for the first time address China’s potential role as a strategic competitor, but not a military threat; it will also mark Russia as a clear and present danger to Europe, home to the majority of NATO’s 30 member states. At a preliminary press conference on Wednesday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg called Russia “the most significant and direct threat to our security.”

The summit will also attempt to formalize the memberships of Finland and Sweden and, importantly, expand the combat-ready presence in the Baltic states and other parts of NATO’s eastern flank.

Overall, Madrid is considered one of the most important summits since NATO was founded in 1949. But one or two of the summit’s most important goals may not be achieved, or not quickly enough to declare. the event a complete success.

Strengthening NATO’s defense capabilities, particularly the fast-moving variety, will emerge as the summit’s most pressing task as the war in Ukraine continues. This will not be easy since most defense spending by NATO members, including Canada’s, is below the alliance’s 2% of GDP target.

Russia launched the invasion in February and may not stop at Ukraine’s borders if it takes the whole country, which seems unlikely but is not out of the question as the Ukrainian army is running out of ammunition and claimed an alarming number of victims.

Certainly, the small NATO countries in the former Soviet orbit – notably Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, whose borders crowd into Russia or those of its wartime ally, Belarus – are terrified at the idea of ​​being next on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s blacklist.

In an interview earlier this week, Kusti Salm, permanent secretary of the Estonian Defense Ministry, said that a Russian military helicopter had recently entered Estonian airspace. The Estonian military believed the incursion was no accident. “It’s the picture of threat,” he said. “It has never been more serious than now.”

Later in the week, Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas told reporters that her country would be “wiped off the map” under existing NATO plans to defend the country and other Baltic states against a Russian attack. . She lobbied NATO for a full division – about 20,000 troops – to be assigned each to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

His fear, and that of the leaders of the other Baltic states, is that existing national and NATO military assets will be unable to repel a Russian attack on day one, meaning the countries could be overrun before NATO cannot mount a robust counterattack. Ms Kallas, who has been dubbed ‘Europe’s new Iron Lady’, said NATO’s current plan for Estonia is to ‘lose it and then liberate it’.

Mr. Stoltenberg pledged to strengthen the deterrence and defense capabilities of NATO’s eastern flank, but did not give operational details; they could emerge in Madrid. Since 2017, the three Baltic states each host a NATO battalion of around 1,000 soldiers (Canada has almost 700 troops in Latvia). Recently, Germany offered to dedicate a “robust combat brigade” to Lithuania. But most of its soldiers would be based in Germany, with the ability to move quickly to Lithuania.

Whatever the outcome in Madrid, Ms Kallas and other Baltic leaders are likely to be disappointed. The Baltic states will almost certainly have more NATO boots on the ground, but probably brigade size (up to about 5,000 troops), not full expensive divisions.

NATO enlargement efforts could also fail in Madrid. Turkey is a crucial member of NATO: it has sold drones to Ukraine and closed access to the Black Sea to Russian warships. The bad news for NATO is that it did not impose sanctions on Russia and blocked the admission of Sweden and Finland to the alliance. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is insisting that the Nordic countries extradite several members of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party), which he has banned, and end the partial arms embargo against Turkey.

The problems seem surmountable, although Turkey has hinted that it could delay the entry of Sweden and Finland for a year. On June 20, NATO convened a meeting with representatives of the three countries to push for a breakthrough before the summit. But hopes are fading that Turkey will sign for Madrid. “Turkey has legitimate security concerns about terrorism that we need to address,” Stoltenberg said.

To the two Scandinavias countries become members, they would not be protected by Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, which considers that an attack on one Member State is an attack on all. But that would not prevent NATO countries from offering Sweden and Finland security guarantees. The United Kingdom has already offered to do so.

All of this leaves the publication and adoption of NATO’s new strategic concept as the only sure thing in Madrid.

The concept is revised approximately once per decade. It will address NATO’s intense and suddenly alarming security challenges. Russia has gone from potential partner to threat. China could pose a systemic challenge to global security. But NATO will also tackle climate change, cyberattacks, supply chain disruptions, technological innovation and adequate defense spending. He wants the 2% of GDP target to be a floor and not a ceiling.

Above all, he will recognize that competition between the great powers is back – an admission that the The Euro-Atlantic region is no longer at the center of geopolitical and geostrategic developments. This attention is shifting to Asia. “Critically, the Alliance will need to develop a more holistic approach to security,” NATO says.

In other words, NATO wants to globalize to stay relevant. His new role will not only concern Russia.

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