US President Joe Biden assured that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) will continue “with Ukraine for as long as necessary. I don’t know how (the war) will end, but it will not end with the defeat of Ukraine.”
At the end of the three-day summit of the Atlantic alliance, the Biden administration announced plans to permanently reinforce the US military presence in Europe (EU); an agreement between Turkey, Finland and Sweden paving the way for Nordic nations to join NATO, and updating the strategic concept of the alliance to reflect that China’s “coercive policies” are a challenge to the bloc’s interests western.
“I think we all agree that this has been a historic NATO summit,” Biden said.
He said the last time NATO updated what is essentially its mission statement was 12 years ago, when Russia was characterized as a partner and China was not even mentioned. The new document produced at the summit changes all that.
“The world has changed, it has changed a lot since then,” Biden said. “The theme of this summit was to strengthen our alliances, face the challenges of the world and the threats that will arise in the future.”
On the final day of their summit in Madrid, NATO issued a grim warning that the world has slipped into a dangerous phase of great-power rivalry and a host of threats, from cyberattacks to climate change.
NATO leaders also formally invited Finland and Sweden to join the alliance, overcoming objections from Turkey. If all 30 member states approve the Nordic countries’ access, NATO will have a new 1,300-kilometre (800-mile) border with Russia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that he would respond proportionally if the Nordic countries allowed NATO troops and military infrastructure to be installed on their territory. Russia, he pointed out, will have to “create the same threats to the territory from which threats are created against us.”
Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said Putin’s threats were “nothing new”, although she said “I doubt he will attack Sweden or Finland directly. We will see cyberattacks without a doubt. We will see hybrid attacks, there is an open information war. But not conventional warfare.”
For its part, China accused the alliance of “maliciously defaming and attacking” its country. Her diplomatic delegation to the EU said NATO “claims that other countries pose challenges, but it is NATO that creates problems around the world.”
For its last session, the group looked at the political instability in the African region of the Sahel and the Middle East, aggravated by “climate change, fragile institutions, health emergencies and food insecurity”, which push a large number of migrants towards Europe.
“It is in our interest to continue working with our close allies in the south to combat shared challenges together,” said NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
But it was Russia that dominated the meeting. Stoltenberg said the invasion of Ukraine has prompted “the biggest overhaul of our collective defense since the end of the Cold War.”
The Russian incursion has shattered peace in Europe and prompted NATO to bring troops and weapons into Eastern Europe on a scale not seen in decades. Member states have given Ukraine billions of dollars in civilian and military aid to bolster its resistance.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who addressed the summit via videoconference, called for more. He urged NATO to send more modern artillery systems and other weapons and warned leaders that either give kyiv the help it needs, or “it will be up to you yourselves to face a long-delayed war with Russia.”
“The question is, who’s next? Moldova? Or the Baltic? Or Poland? The answer is: all of them,” she warned.
Britain on Thursday announced a 1 billion pound ($1.21 billion) allocation in military support to Ukraine, for equipment such as anti-aircraft systems, unmanned aircraft and electronic warfare equipment. Sweden also announced more military aid.
The leaders agreed at the summit to drastically increase the alliance’s military presence on its eastern flank, where countries such as Romania or the Baltic states are looking with concern at Russia’s future plans.
The organization announced plans to increase its rapid action force almost eightfold, from 40,000 to 300,000 troops, by next year. The troops will be based in their home countries but will be dedicated to specific tasks in the east, where the alliance plans to build up reserves of equipment and ammunition.
For his part, the president of the United States, Joe Biden, whose country contributes the bulk of the Alliance’s military power, said that the summit sends “an unequivocal message that NATO is strong and united.”
Still, tensions have arisen between NATO allies over the rising cost of energy and other essentials, due in part to the war and harsh Western sanctions on Russia. There are also differences over how the war will end and what concessions, if any, Ukraine should make.
Money also remains a sensitive issue, since only nine of the group’s 30 members meet the goal of devoting 2% of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to defense.
In what Stoltenberg described as a “transformational” summit, the leaders also updated their Strategic Concept, the document that lists their top security concerns for the next decade.
The previous version of the document, from 2010, described Russia as a “strategic partner.” Now, NATO accuses him of using “coercion, subversion, aggression and annexation” to expand his influence.
The 2010 text did not mention China, while the new one addresses China’s growing economic and military expansion.
“China is not our adversary, but we must be clear about the significant challenges it represents,” Stoltenberg said Wednesday.
NATO said China “aspires to undermine the rules-based international order, including in the maritime, cyber and space fields” and warned of its close ties with Moscow.
The alliance, however, noted that it remains “open to a constructive relationship” with China. China replied that NATO is a source of instability and promised to defend its interests.
“Given that NATO places China as a ‘systemic challenge’, we have to pay special attention and respond in a coordinated way. When acts that undermine China’s interests occur, we will give strong and firm responses,” the statement added.