No single summit can resolve NATO’s shortcomings and meet its lofty goals, from reaffirming shared values to enhancing resilience, especially with a conventional conflict raging on the doorstep of Eastern Europe. But the Madrid summit can, and should, lay the foundations for a more united, robust and revitalized alliance
MADRID – Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has repeatedly praised the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as the “most successful alliance in history”. But at their upcoming summit in Madrid, NATO heads of state and government will face serious challenges, from US weariness with Europe’s tendency to “negotiate” to geopolitical differences to tensions over Turkey’s efforts. to block the membership candidacies of Finland and Sweden. Will transactional politics contaminate this summit and the future of NATO?
To say that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has turned European security upside down and snapped NATO out of its stupor is stating the obvious. The relative certainty that defined the world order for the past few decades has given way to great power conflict and the specter of nuclear annihilation. Finland’s and Sweden’s applications to join NATO represent not only a break with their own traditions of neutrality, but also the end of the post-Cold War era.
NATO’s priorities for the next decade, to be embodied in its forthcoming Strategic Concept, to be adopted at this month’s meeting, are supposed to reflect this new reality. For example, he is expected to mention China for the first time. In another first, all of NATO’s Pacific partners – Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea – will attend the summit, as will Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. This is in line with calls, made for example by the UK, to create a “more global NATO” to boost security in the Indo-Pacific region.
But can NATO’s newfound ambition withstand what looks increasingly like a protracted war of attrition in Ukraine, with the energy market chaos and economic turmoil it has spawned? Russian President Vladimir Putin is betting the answer is “no,” and it may not be a bad bet. Despite bold initial announcements by NATO allies, including promises of major increases in defense spending by many European countries, political fissures along the usual fault lines have already emerged.
French diplomatic activism and German dithering have become increasingly intolerable to the United States, which is determined not to allow a repeat of the Nord Stream 2 debacle, the (now suspended) pipeline that left Germany dependent on Russian supplies. . Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan remains adamantly opposed to considering Finnish and Swedish bids for membership, due to their history of harboring members of Kurdish groups that Turkey views as terrorists, including the Kurdistan Workers’ Party ( PKK), which the United States and the European Union have also classified as a terrorist organization.
To be sure, this is far from the first controversy Turkey has generated within NATO; just last year, Turkey, in defiance of the United States, agreed to buy more S-400 missiles from Russia. But, as former NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in an unusually frank interview, Erdoğan’s obstruction of NATO expansion, motivated in large part by a desire to extract concessions from the United States, can be resolved.
Therefore, Turkey’s intransigence is unlikely to derail the summit. But a decision should soon be made on the applications from Finland and Sweden; History shows, especially in Ukraine, that ambiguity about NATO membership can be worse than outright rejection.
More broadly, alliance members must not allow political bluster and bargaining to take precedence over the real challenges facing NATO, including streamlining a tangled command structure, adjusting its defense posture and deterrence , and resolution of military deficiencies and operational challenges. Crucially, NATO must update its tools to reflect the changing nature of warfare, which is now determined as much by cyberattacks and, as the war in Ukraine clearly shows, disinformation as it is by guns and tanks.
The first steps to comply with these imperatives must be taken in Madrid. Of course, no single summit or text could resolve NATO’s shortcomings and meet its lofty goals, from reaffirming shared values to enhancing resilience, especially with a conventional conflict raging at the gates of the East. But the Madrid summit can, and should, cement NATO’s unity and lay the foundations for a stronger and revitalized alliance.
As NATO’s prime mover, the United States has a crucial role to play in achieving this outcome. But European countries must also do their part, summoning the unity, vision and will to develop their hard power capabilities. We must not do this in the name of the dream of strategic autonomy, but to enhance NATO’s capabilities and influence. While Europeans are understandably wary of another “America First” leader, be it Donald Trump or an acolyte, coming to power in the United States, the fact is that Europe has an interest in helping the United States regain its leadership role on the world stage.
NATO has been kept on artificial respiration for years, and reviving it will be no easy task. But the powers of the alliance remain intact and, with a concerted effort, it can truly be worthy of Stoltenberg’s praise. While rivals like China may still call it a remnant of the Cold War, they will still think twice, or more often, before challenging it. However, if NATO leaders fail, the West would be at a serious strategic disadvantage.
Former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Spain and former Senior Vice President and General Counsel of the World Bank Group, she is a Visiting Professor at Georgetown University.
Copyright: Project Syndicate 1995 – 2022