BY DAILY SABAH WITH AGENCIES
Leaders of NATO’s member countries and key partners are set to meet in Madrid to discuss issues facing the alliance during a three-day summit beginning on Tuesday. The allies will try to convince Turkey to lift its veto over Finland and Sweden’s bid to join the military alliance when they meet, as the West strives to send Russia and China a signal of resolve.
Taking place in the shadow of Russia’s war in Ukraine, the Madrid gathering comes at a pivotal moment for the transatlantic bond after failures in Afghanistan and internal discord during the era of former U.S. President Donald Trump, who threatened to pull Washington out of the nuclear alliance.
Negotiations among an often-fractious organization are still underway, diplomats said, but leaders also hope to agree to provide more military aid to Ukraine, increase joint defense spending, cement a new resolve to tackle China’s military rise and put more troops on standby to defend the Baltics.
Spain, whose king will host a dinner for leaders, is also pushing for more NATO focus on the southern flank to address migration and militant groups in the Sahel region of Africa.
The leaders of non-NATO Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea are also expected to attend part of the summit, part of a broader U.S. strategy for a more assertive Western presence in the Indo-Pacific region to counter China.
“We will do more to ensure we can defend every inch of allied territory, at all times and against any threat,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in a speech last week.
Although British and U.S. officials have advised against a Baltic request for permanent multinational forces in the region, the summit is likely to settle on a compromise of promising rapid reinforcements.
Germany has already said it will put more troops at the ready to defend Lithuania should Russia seek to seize NATO territory and Britain is expected to do the same for Estonia, while Latvia is looking to Canada to pledge more troops there.
NATO, which was created in 1949 to counter the Soviet threat, is under no treaty obligation to defend Ukraine, as the former Soviet republic is not a NATO member.
But Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Feb. 24 invasion has sparked a geopolitical shift as once neutral countries Finland and Sweden seek to join NATO and Ukraine has formally become a candidate to join the European Union.
If accepted, Finland and Sweden’s inclusion into NATO would bring about the expansion of the alliance that the Russian leader aimed to prevent.
“I think it sends an important message to Putin. And I think it would actually significantly strengthen the alliance,” U.S. Sen. Angus King said of Finland and Sweden, following a trip to Finland, Latvia and Turkey.
But the bids have faced opposition from Turkey due to Helsinki and Stockholm’s support for terrorist groups including the PKK and its Syrian branch YPG and arms embargoes on Ankara.
It has many times underlined that the alliance should be in unity, harmony and solidarity against common security threats of security and terrorism, expressing its disappointment over some NATO allies’ and candidate countries’ actions harming this spirit of an alliance and ignoring Turkey’s legitimate security concerns.
Stoltenberg has constantly said that Turkey has “legitimate concerns related to their fight against the PKK, a terrorist group, and other organizations,” and that the PKK is considered a terror organization by NATO, the EU, Finland and Sweden.
A Turkish government official involved in the talks between the three countries and NATO’s Stoltenberg told Reuters it would be difficult to reach a deal at the summit, saying that Sweden and Finland must first address Turkish concerns.
“There were meetings, but unfortunately steps we expected are not being taken,” the official said.
Sweden has set up a process for ongoing consultations, diplomats said. But two senior NATO diplomats said the dispute was less about technical benchmarks and more about politics.
Analysts predict that there is nearly zero chance that this issue will be resolved at the Madrid summit. However, Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares recently said the host country hopes to sign with Finland and Sweden at the summit as parties could get closer in talks during the one-week window.
NATO enlargement to the Baltic region now hinges on whether these two Nordic countries can satisfy Turkey’s concerns about terrorism, Kadir Üstün, the executive director at the Washington offices of the Ankara-based Political, Economic and Social Research Foundation (SETA), told Anadolu Agency (AA) and underlined that the alliance would benefit from their membership, but it cannot come at the expense of Turkish security.
“While many analysts will be quick to portray Turkey as obstructing NATO enlargement and creating fractures within the alliance, it is essential to understand and address Turkish reservations for cohesion within NATO,” Üstün said and added: “Turkey has supported NATO’s open-door policy and membership aspirations of countries like Georgia, Bosnia and Ukraine. Despite significant outstanding issues, a stronger NATO has always been in the Turkish national security interest. Today, however, Turkey’s reservations against Finland and Sweden’s NATO membership emanate from Ankara’s long-standing frustration over Western tolerance and support for the PKK and its regional offshoots like the YPG in Syria.”
Since 2014, Western tolerance of the PKK took on an additional geopolitical dimension when the United States and European allies started openly supporting the PKK’s Syrian branch, the YPG.
“The justification was the effectiveness of the YPG in the fight against Daesh terrorism. Reassuring Turkey that this would be a temporary, tactical, and transactional relationship, the U.S. policymakers extended the policy of working “by, with, through” local partners to the Syrian offshoot of the PKK,” he added.
It is expected that U.S. President Joe Biden could hold a meeting with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the margins of the NATO summit to push for progress with Finland and Sweden, whose leaders will be in Madrid.
While the two Nordic countries said talks to resolve the dispute would continue, Erdoğan said recently that Ankara had not received any responses to its demands, including stopping support for terrorist groups, lifting arms embargoes on Ankara and extraditing terrorism suspects it seeks.
Earlier this month, Turkey has said documents it received from Sweden and NATO in response to the earlier written demands it presented the two candidates were far from meeting its expectations and any negotiations must first address Turkish concerns.
Ankara has previously said the Madrid summit is not a deadline. Any NATO membership requires the approval of all 30 members of the alliance. Turkey has been a NATO ally for more than 70 years and has the alliance’s second-biggest army.
Russia’s war against Ukraine has shattered peace in Europe as it caused far-reaching energy and food crises by shaking the rules of the international order since it began on Feb. 24.
As NATO became a more indispensable platform for transatlantic cooperation on security and defense, allies will continue to make decisions to keep the alliance ready against any threat at the summit.
Strengthening NATO’s long-term deterrence and defense, sustaining support for Ukraine, launching NATO’s 2022 Strategic Concept, reinforcing partnerships and maintaining an open door, adapting to threats and challenges from any direction, and transatlantic unity and alliance solidarity will be on the agenda for the member states to discuss.
Some “important” topics to be discussed by members and partners include how Russia’s military operation in Ukraine and the new security reality in Europe affected the alliance’s approach to deterrence and defense; what is NATO doing to address challenges like China’s growing influence, security consequences of climate change and what to include in the next strategic concept.
To protect and defend allied territory amid the current security reality, NATO has more than 40,000 troops under direct command, backed by air and naval assets.
The alliance also doubled the number of battlegroups to eight, extending from the Baltic Sea in the north to the Black Sea in the south.
NATO leaders will “significantly strengthen the alliance’s posture for the long term, with more presence, capabilities and readiness,” according to the alliance, which will require adequate resources and continued investment in defense.
Noting that allies “significantly stepped up with billions of euros’ worth” of additional lethal and nonlethal aid to help Ukraine after Russia launched its war in February, NATO said it builds on the years of NATO training and assistance since Moscow’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014.
Leaders of member countries will meet with Ukraine to agree to step up and sustain support for the “longer-term” at the summit.
2022 Strategic Concept
Serving as a blueprint for future adaption, strategic concepts give the alliance the ability to respond to current security challenges and guide political and military developments for the challenges of tomorrow.
In Madrid, leaders will endorse the 2022 Strategic Concept, which will set out NATO’s joint positions, including on Russia and emerging challenges, and will address China for the first time.
“The Madrid Strategic Concept will reflect the new security environment, recommit to our values, and reaffirm our unity, ensuring that our alliance is fit for the future,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said of the new concept.
The concept has been reviewed and updated approximately every 10 years since the end of the Cold War. The last one was adopted at the Lisbon Summit in 2010.
The determination to combat all forms of terrorism should be included in NATO’s new strategic concept, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said last month.
Adapting to threats
Member countries are set to make decisions to maintain NATO’s technological edge, “including through the new Defence Innovation Accelerator for the North Atlantic and a billion euro Innovation Fund, to support startups and develop cutting-edge solutions to security challenges,” according to the alliance.
Terrorism, cyberattacks, China’s “coercive” policies, disruptive technologies and the security impact of climate change are among the topics that the alliance will focus on under the threats and challenges title.
Regarding climate change, leaders will agree on a new methodology to map military greenhouse gas emissions and a target to help NATO contribute to the goal of net-zero emissions.
As NATO faces “the most serious security situation in decades,” the decisions leaders make in Madrid will ensure that NATO continues to preserve “peace, prevent conflict and protect our people and our values,” according to the alliance.
The summit has special importance for Spain as the country is hosting the summit on the 40th anniversary of Madrid’s accession to NATO.