NATO leaders met in Madrid in June to update the alliance’s ten-year strategic concept. As a key document, this program determines NATO’s goals by assessing the current security situation and outlines future political and military decisions. Since the end of the Cold War, NATO’s strategic concept has been updated every ten years, and the date of its last update goes back to 2010. However, the new version has a very big difference; that is, a cold war has been officially declared against China and Russia.
In the 2010 plan and based on the 1997 document, NATO considered Russia as a “strategic partner”, but in the new strategic concept, Russia is explicitly defined as the biggest threat to the stability in the Euro-Atlantic. In addition, it has been strongly emphasized on the key task of strengthening collective security and defense against Russia.
In addition, while there was not a mention of China in the 2010 strategic concept, NATO now faces the challenges, raised by the rise of China, for Euro-Atlantic security. China has been referred to as a “threat” for the first time in the 2022 concept and it has been proposed that deepening relations with the democratic countries of the Asia-Pacific is one of the solutions to create a balance with the growing power of China. The presence of Heads of states of Japan, Korea, Australia, and New Zealand at the Madrid Summit, which caused the fury of Beijing, is a part of future balance-making with China. The alliance planned at its summit in Madrid to increase to “well over 300,000” from around 40,000 the number of troops in its NATO Response Force. By pursuing strategies such as establishing a new headquarters military base in Poland, dispatching more troops to Romania, stationing two more F-35 stealth jet squadrons in Britain and Sweden, and Finland’s membership in NATO, the military pact has made the necessary provisions to complete the land, sea and air blockade of Russia in order to further strengthen the security of the Baltic countries and Eastern Europe and make the conditions more difficult for Moscow.
Biden has called the summit “history-making” and Stoltenberg, secretary general of NATO, summed up it as “transformative” and predicted that the decisions will maintain the security approach of NATO, prevent war and support western people and values. The general purpose of NATO leaders at the Madrid summit was to show Moscow and Beijing that trans/inter-Atlantic relations have not been as strong as the status quo.
Beyond this satisfaction, optimism, and solidarity show, however, another truth lies. The fact is that such a sense of unity and coherence is not very important despite its pervasive appearance. It should be said that the consensus among the NATO members on the declaration of Russia as the main threat to the security, peace, and stability of the Euro-Atlantic area, or the nomination of China as a systematic challenge, is not a new issue and is more of an explanation of an obvious point. The implementation of the membership of Sweden and Finland in NATO is actually the result of political extortion rather than the output of high-level diplomacy based on a common understanding of NATO’s hopes and goals; Sweden’s possible compliance with the extradition of the requested persons can trample all the values of liberal democracy, freedom of speech and human rights of the West. Even Turkey has made the entry of these two new members conditional on the acceptance of its request to buy new F-16 fighters from the United States.
The defenseless countries of Eastern Europe have also agreed to cooperate with NATO on the condition of full support and the sending of US troops to their country’s soil. In fact, extortion and hostage-taking as well as brokering were accepted as the main principles of NATO in the Madrid Summit; now this military pact is more like a place for extortion and blackmail and violating the values of the West rather than a pact for common values.
Turkey’s behavior or Poland’s stone-throwing, at least from the point of view of the United States and a number of NATO’s Eastern flank members, have not been the only factors that weaken the pact. Before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, Trump considered NATO an outdated pact. Macron had also announced its brain death. Even, France and Germany were constantly dreaming about the idea of strategic independence and fostering the idea that Europe should be freed from dependence on the USA security guarantee and take care of its own security. A few weeks before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, some prominent German politicians, including Foreign Minister Analena Barbock, were demanding that the United States remove all of its nuclear warheads from German soil.
However, the developments of the Ukrainian war forced France and Germany to change their course. German leaders, who for many years ignored repeated requests from the United States to increase military spending and participate more in NATO’s defense programs, turned into fans and true believers of NATO funding. Macron also talked about the awakening of NATO. This change of approaches was done out of fear, and not out of faith. The fact is that the forces that bind NATO unity and cohesion do not believe in common values, but the instinct to take refuge under USA nuclear umbrella forces them to accompany the pact. It is for sure that this process is certainly not enough to maintain the cohesion and continuity of NATO.
European critics are well aware that the United States currently spends about 3.5 percent of its GDP on national defense, twice as much as the amount spent by most NATO members. Now, with the United States pledging to send as many troops and resources as possible to Europe to support Ukraine, American leaders will be under pressure to justify the spending in public opinion, especially if, as many expect, the USA enters a recession. All this said, in the long run, there will be nothing but increased pressure from the US on its European partners to accept more responsibilities to deal with Russia and China. Otherwise, the USA’s commitment to European security will decrease.
Europe should pay attention to the fact that American leaders have come to the strategic understanding that there is a significant military achievement that NATO can achieve against Moscow and Beijing, but, the USA is unable to do so on its own.
Another challenge for NATO in 2024 is the intensification of disagreements within the USA. It is possible to witness events such as Republican attempts to disrupt the election process or the will of the Supreme Court to play a role as a party, leading to a conclusion that USA democracy is not in a good condition. The situation is probably the best opportunity for the return of NATO’s worst enemy, Donald Trump.
The political impulses inside the USA contain risks for its European allies. A tired and exhausted USA will seriously begin to question its commitments to its allies in the upcoming elections. Trump shocked NATO leaders during his first term in office with aggressive calls for increased military spending. No country that considers itself an ally of the USA can ignore the dangerous situation of the American social fabric. The more the United States becomes internally divided, the more the impact and scope of its destructive actions in Europe and NATO will increase.
It can be said that NATO is drawing the boundaries of a new battle by simultaneously revising its strategic concept and expanding its focus to face Russia and China. In spite of what Europe yearns for, we are now at the beginning of a new cold war; different from the Cold War that ended three decades ago. To enter such a large self-made war in which nuclear weapons undoubtedly will be used is the same as entering a pre-lost confrontation in which the European countries will be the first victims.