NATO holds summit with an eye on Russia and China

MADRID (AP) — Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has brought NATO back to its first principles.

Seven decades after its creation, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is meeting this week in Madrid with an urgent need to reaffirm its original mission: to prevent Russian aggression against Western allies.

Leaders of the world’s most powerful military alliance aim to boost support for Ukraine’s fight against Russian invasion, bolster forces on NATO’s eastern flank and set priorities for the next decade, with a new emphasis on verifying China’s growing international ambitions.


But the gathering will also show the difficulties of keeping 30 nations – from tiny Iceland and Luxembourg to huge Turkey and the United States – aligned in an organization that must make decisions by consensus.

FOCUS ON UKRAINE

NATO was formed after World War II to counter the threat from the Soviet Union and foster cooperation in a broken Europe. In the years following the collapse of the USSR, the alliance redefined Russia not as an adversary but as a “strategic partner”.

Not anymore.

Russia is the dominant issue and NATO’s main adversary, and the Madrid summit will be dominated by how to support Ukraine and strengthen defenses along the bloc’s eastern borders, where countries ranging from Romania in the Baltic states fear they may be next in the sights of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Until the end of last year, only around 5,000 NATO troops were deployed to the Baltic states and Poland on a rotational basis. Today, hundreds of thousands of troops are on heightened alert, with 100,000 US troops in Europe and 40,000 under direct NATO command, supported by air and naval power.

The summit is expected to agree to stockpile weapons and equipment in Eastern Europe and significantly increase the number of troops based in the region or on standby in their own countries as a rapid reaction force. Ukraine will also receive increased support to upgrade its army, still dependent on Soviet-era equipment, to modern equipment that meets NATO standards.

The alliance is trying to strike a delicate balance, letting its member countries arm Ukraine without triggering a direct confrontation between NATO and nuclear-armed Russia. This is one of the reasons Ukraine will not join NATO for the foreseeable future, despite being put on the path to membership, along with Georgia, in 2008.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is due to address the summit via video, but he acknowledged NATO membership is a distant prospect and is instead focused on applying for European Union membership.

Alliance expansion is on the cards, however. Both Finland and Sweden abandoned their non-aligned status and asked to join NATO to protect themselves from Russia.

TURKEY IN SPOILERS?

But Turkey, which has the second largest army in NATO after the United States, is about to spoil the aspirations of Sweden and Finland – at least for now.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has insisted he will only allow the Nordic pair into NATO if they change their stance on Kurdish rebel groups Turkey considers terrorists.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg held talks last week with Turkey, Sweden and Finland to work towards a breakthrough, and will meet with the leaders of the three countries on Tuesday, but there is no guarantee that the breakthrough will take place. place in Madrid.

“Turkey has legitimate security concerns regarding terrorism that we must address,” Stoltenberg said. “We will therefore continue our discussions on Finland’s and Sweden’s NATO membership applications, and I look forward to finding a way forward as soon as possible.”

A UNITED FRONT?

Russia’s invasion has upended European security, but NATO members are reassured by the fact that the United States has once again become the mainstay of Western defense after four years in which President Donald Trump ridiculed and undermined the alliance.

But there are differences within NATO on military spending. Currently, only nine of 30 members meet the organization’s goal of devoting 2% of gross domestic product to defense. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently urged others to commit more, saying the 2% target is “a floor, not a ceiling”.

Cracks could also emerge over strategy toward Russia and Ukraine as the war drags on and debate intensifies over what concessions, if any, Ukraine should make to end to fights.

“There remain unresolved questions about how NATO, as an alliance, should deal with Russia in the long term,” said Alice Billon-Galland, research fellow at the Chatham House think tank. “Do we consider it irrecoverable as a neighbour?” And what does that mean? Or do we think that at some point we will have to sit down and negotiate a new security architecture with Russia? Allies have been on different pages about this.

CHINA VERIFICATION

As the world is in turmoil, the alliance will attempt to craft a long-term strategy that can stand the test of time. NATO will set out its goals for the next decade in a new Strategic Concept, the document that identifies its most pressing security concerns and how it will address them.

While Russia will remain the main issue, the document will see NATO tackle for the first time the growing military reach of China, which has drawn up an ambitious plan to expand naval bases in the Pacific and Africa.

The leaders of Japan, Australia, South Korea and New Zealand have been invited to the summit for the first time. All four have backed Ukraine, and Japan has its own territorial disputes with Moscow.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida will discuss efforts to achieve a “free and open” Indo-Pacific, as security in Europe and Asia are inseparable, according to Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno.

Insecurity in the Sahel region of Africa and its threats to southern Europe might also deserve mention, as might threats caused by climate change and increasing waves of migration driven by global warming.

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Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo and David Rising in Bangkok contributed.

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