The stakeholders discussed a range of issues, from expanding the bloc's rapid force to reviewing the Nordic states’ NATO membership bids.
The US and its NATO partners have gathered in the Spanish capital this week to assess the alliance’s main objectives in the face of the world’s fast changing security environment following the Russian attack on Ukraine.
The Madrid meeting is an interesting milestone for NATO as it translated into the bloc identifying Russia as its main adversary and also agreeing to boost readiness numbers. Some believed that NATO as an alliance had lost its merit after the end of the Cold War, which was the main motivation for the US and its Western allies to establish it in 1949 to oppose the Soviet challenge.
But with Russia’s Ukraine offensive, a newly energised NATO has suddenly found a new cause for its existence — and even for its enlargement across Europe close to the Russian border — by readying itself to accept new members like Sweden and Finland after Türkiye gave its consent to the Nordic states’ admission into the alliance.
NATO members are discussing issues such as the alliance’s Strategic Concept, which is being reformulated to face Russian assertiveness, its new enlargement programme across Europe, increasing the size of its rapid response force and strengthening its Pacific front against rising China.
Russia: enemy number one
In Madrid, NATO will rewrite its Strategic Concept, which, in 2010, had Russia framed not as an enemy, but a strategic partner. But with the Russian onslaught raging across Ukraine, that wording will definitely change in Madrid according to experts.
“The main issue is, of course, foremost defending Europe against Russian aggression. It’s absolutely the case that NATO’s strategic concept has changed entirely because of Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine,” says Matthew Bryza, the former US ambassador to Azerbaijan, a former Soviet republic, referring to how the alliance will define Moscow as NATO’s number one enemy.
At the 2010 Lisbon summit, the alliance’s Strategic Concept defined no specific enemies, aiming to focus on certain areas like cyber threats and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The concept also aimed to find a way to work together with Russia, according to Bryza.
“Now, the NATO strategic concept identifies Russia as the major threat to the security of NATO because of the Ukrainian war. So it’s a big change in NATO’s Strategic Concept,” Bryza tells TRT World.
Huge boost on high readiness force
Another issue being discussed at the summit, which signals a big change in NATO’s global outlook, is the alliance’s decision to vastly increase the size of its rapid response force from 40,000 to 300,000. This decision is also related to NATO's changing Strategic Concept regarding its defence of the Baltic states against Russia, according to Bryza.
“In the past, NATO’s Strategic Concept was to allow Russia to invade Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and fight back and regain the independence of those NATO members within 180 days. Now with the new NATO concept, the idea is to defend and prevent Russia from being able to take over and defeat the Baltic states,” says Bryza.
“This is why NATO has dramatically increased the number of its forces that will be in high readiness status to make sure Russia understands that it can not invade, occupy and win if it attacks a NATO territory,” says Bryza, referring to the reason why the alliance has increased its rapid response force.
After his diplomatic career, Bryza led an Estonian think tank, during which time he observed that if Russia had wanted to take over Baltic territories using tactics like the deployment of soldiers in uniforms devoid of the Russian army’s insignia that were on display during Moscow’s Crimean Peninsula annexation, NATO might have done little in response.
“Putin might have calculated that under such ambiguous circumstances, NATO might not vote to go war with Russia saying that ‘Let’s not risk a nuclear war over minor territories in eastern Latvia or Estonia or Lithuania’ that have been taken over by some forces that may or may not been Russians,” says Bryza.
But now, after the Russian attack on Ukraine and recent NATO decisions on increasing the alliance’s rapid response force, the situation has changed because the alliance has put so many forces on ‘high readiness.’ “NATO is making clear to Putin that it would be reckless and fruitless to consider that sort of ambiguous military movement into the alliance's most-eastern country,” says the former diplomat.
In response to Russia's Ukraine attack, NATO brought its forces in Europe together close to Russian borders, conducting its biggest mobilisation since the end of the Cold War. NATO sent orders to its forces to stay at a war-ready alert level as more than 100 fighter jets patrolled areas from the Black Sea to the Arctic Circle.
In a clear message to the globe’s rising power, China, NATO, as a first, invited South Korea, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, the Pacific’s four pro-Western nations, to the Madrid meeting. According to experts, the invitation is related to NATO’s new strategic concept, which aims to limit China’s political and military ambitions across the resource-rich Pacific region.
The US and its NATO allies want to work with link-minded Pacific countries “to manage” China’s growing power in the region, according to Bryza.
But Gregory Simons, an associate professor at the Institute for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Uppsala University, finds the invitation of countries like Australia to the Madrid meeting neither exciting nor meaningful.
“Why are countries like Australia and New Zealand at a NATO summit at all? This seems to indicate a certain level of desperation from the West caused by the non-Western centric multipolar order's rise and they are trying to find some way to freeze this trend,” says Simons.
“They shall not do so, as the G7 and NATO are bankrupt financially and morally, and have nothing to offer the globe beyond threats and coercion,” Simons tells TRT World.
He also thinks that the invitation of pro-Western Pacific nations to the NATO meeting shows that the main threat is not only Russia, but also China. The professor fears that NATO actions might trigger a wider conflict on multiple fronts.
While the US has long believed that NATO is the world’s most powerful and successful security alliance in history, Simons thinks that the current Madrid meeting only offers “the great deal of virtue signalling and empty posturing for the public.”
“In my view the West is already in terminal decline and what they do only accelerates the pace. The West is now an exclusive club that lives in their own bubble where their weaknesses and decline can be seen clearly by all living outside the echo chamber.”