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The Madrid Summit and the Challenges Facing NATO - By Omer Onhon,


Asharq Al-Awsat


An international organization is relevant and effective to the extent that it can respond to needs and requirements and adapt itself in time.
NATO, which is world’s leading political and military alliance, was founded in 1949 after the Second World War. At the time, Nazi’s were defeated and a new world order was in creation but it was not easy as there were aftereffects and the wounds of the war were fresh.
It was the Soviet Union of Joseph Stalin and the communist threat which set the stage for the new international order. Under the leadership of the United States, the 12 western countries joined forces against Soviets and communism. A bipolar international order emerged with the “free world” on the one hand and the “communist dictatorship” on the other.
After the original member countries, new members which joined the Alliance were Turkey and Greece with their everlasting disagreements, post-Nazi West Germany and post-Franco Spain.
In the aftermath of the demise of the USSR and the fall of the Iron Curtain, former communist countries and later on, successor states of former Yugoslavia joined.
As NATO expanded to 30 members, national interests varied, different and sometimes conflicting priorities emerged.
How does NATO adapt to changing circumstances?
NATO has to update itself politically and militarily. The organization has no difficulty in adjusting its military plans as needed. On the other hand, the political guidance which comes in the Strategic Concept, is updated every 10 years or so. The last strategic concept was adopted in Lisbon in 2010 and it is now outdated in the international environment of 2022.
Let us recall that, at the 2010 concept, Russia was addressed within a spirit of partnership and there was no mention of China.
Now, work is underway in Brussels to write a new strategic concept. NATO leaders plan to adopt it when they meet in Madrid on June 29-30.
All this work (Summit preparations and a new strategic concept) is being done against the background of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and in a new strategic environment where threat comes from many directions and in various forms.
The circumstances under which the new Strategic Concept is being developed:
- Russia is no longer the hoped for cooperation partner. It is an aggressive and assertive country which threatens and attacks.
- NATO is not directly involved in the war, but the Russia attacked Ukraine under the pretext of NATO’s eastward expansion and the supposed threat it posed to Russia.
- NATO member states are sending weapons to Ukraine. Despite suffering very serious losses both in terms of soldiers and weapons, as well as economic losses as a result of sanctions and fierce resistance from Ukrainians, Russia has been able to occupy and hold onto a number of regions. Almost all of Eastern Ukraine has come under Russian control and there is a very serious risk that the fate of these territories may be like Crimea’s.
- Former eastern bloc countries which became NATO members were always distrustful of Russia and followed policies to this effect. Their stance disturbed and even irritated some other members but apparently, it seems that they only knew too well the character of their former boss and beyond being vengeful, were fearful of it.
- China is now in the picture. The US is in global rivalry with China and its policy on this matter is spelled out in the Indo-Pacific Strategy where China seeks to become world’s most influential power. The US is not ready to accept this and is aiming at mobilizing its regional allies, including and NATO.
- The Heads of State and Government of NATO stated in their declaration in London in December 2019 that “China is growing in influence which presents both opportunities and challenges and that the Alliance needs to address this issue together”.
- The next strategic concept will definitely have an Indo-China angle and will include references to China, but the question is how. NATO countries may call upon China to act responsibly but I do not think they would take an openly adversarial approach. Many member countries have extensive economic ties with China and confrontational relations could cause harm far worse than the pandemic and war in Ukraine combined.
- In 2010, NATO states declared that terrorism posed a direct threat to the security of the citizens of members and to international stability. This may seem straightforward and non-problematic, but that has not been the case.
- NATO does not have its own terrorist organizations list. The UN list and individual lists of member countries are the references. Even though NATO has several documents on terrorism, not all members are on the same page on this issue. Turkey’s objection to Sweden and Finland’s applications for membership stems from issues related to terrorism.
There are other potentially problematic issues which have become topical because of the war in Ukraine.
- NATO-EU relations: The US may be willing to encourage the EU to take more responsibility for the security of Europe, but they would not allow this to be carried to the level of letting it go. French and American views may once again conflict here.
- Relations with partners: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has led many partner countries to seek security assurances from NATO. Article 5 of the Washington Treaty (an attack against one ally considered an attack against all) does not apply to non-member countries no matter how close they are as partners. There may be some thoughts to come up with a new set of rules in this regard.
In any case, even though there may be some ideas to support potential victims in a number of ways, including providing weapons and applying sanctions, NATO members would not be willing to take further steps which would increase the risk of direct confrontation with Russia.
- Applications of Finland and Sweden: Turkey has demanded that these two countries stop giving support to organizations which it considers terrorist. But in some cases Turkey’s terrorists are others’ non-terrorists and even allies against ISIS. This issue is problematic but in any case, there are no deadlines to complete the application of these two countries by the Madrid Summit and the NATO Secretary General has emphasized this point during his visit to Finland. Accession is a process which includes approval and parliamentary ratification in each member country and this takes time.
- Black Sea security: The war in Ukraine and the ensuing food crisis have brought up some fresh discussions about Black Sea security and NATO naval presence. There are differing views among member states on this issue.
In conclusion; Russia may be hoping for fresh divisions and rifts within the Alliance but I believe that NATO is well established and experienced to deal with all these challenges and will crown the Summit with messages of unity and a new strategic concept.

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