The summit in Madrid next week marks a turning point in the history of NATO, an Alliance called into question after the collapse of the USSR, its main objective, but which in the Spanish capital will experience a kind of refoundation to adapt to a new scenario. unprecedented war since the end of the Cold War. The 30 allies meet in a state of maximum military alert for the Russian invasion of Ukraine and ready to embark on a dazzling arms race to turn eastern Europe into a fort with thousands of soldiers and a large deployment of military material in anticipation of a possible attack by Russian President Vladimir Putin. NATO wants to send the message that it is on a war footing and ready to respond to any aggression against any of its members.
The event in the Spanish capital (June 28-30) has as its tragic and inescapable backdrop the war launched by Russia against Ukraine, an aggression by one country against another of an unprecedented magnitude in European territory since the end of the Second World War. The geostrategic tension between the great powers, as a consequence of the Russian aggression, reaches levels practically forgotten since the missile crisis in Cuba or the Suez Canal crisis. And NATO wants to take advantage of the Madrid summit to readjust its forces in a scenario of potential conflagration, redefine its strategy for the future and give a boost to national investment in defense and joint financing of the Alliance.
The negotiations on the scope of the military response that will be announced in Madrid continued this Saturday at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels, with the eastern allies bidding for a spectacular jump in the presence of troops in their territory. The result, according to allied sources, will be reflected in the update of the so-called “Defense and deterrence posture”, based, among other things, on the set of weapons and troops available so that NATO can respond to possible threats against the security of the Euro-Atlantic area.
Allied sources aware of the negotiation indicate that “some countries want to go from the current presence in the east of the Alliance, made up of combat groups, to a dimension of brigades.” The current groups are made up of between 1,000 and 1,600 soldiers and the change to a brigade could at least double that number. The new unit also implies greater autonomy of action and more sophisticated weapons.
The same sources add that the allies closest geographically to the Russian threat even want to raise the defensive posture to the category of divisions commanded by generals, a military unit that can have up to 15,000 troops.
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Jamie Shea, an analyst specializing in defense at the Friends of Europe institute and a former NATO official spokesperson, believes that “the main debate in Madrid will be between the Eastern European allies, who would like to transform the battalions into heavily armed brigades stationed permanently in their territories, and allies, such as the US or Germany, who prefer to continue with the current strategy of rotating forces, which are reinforced in the event of a crisis or conflict”.
In 2017, three years after the Russian annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea, NATO for the first time deployed troops in the Eastern countries with a combat group in Poland and another in each of the Baltic countries (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania). These units, according to Alliance figures, now total almost 5,000 troops, although they are being reinforced since the entry of the Russian army into Ukraine last February of this year.
The Alliance also doubled its presence in neighboring countries in March, with another four combat missions, one per country, to Hungary, Romania, Slovakia and Bulgaria. The organization estimates that there are currently some 40,000 allied soldiers under its command. In addition, the air forces of the allies in the east are numbered at 130 combat aircraft in a state of maximum alert. And at sea, 140 warships. The presence of US troops on European soil has also increased in a matter of months from 70,000 to 100,000.
Together with the new leap in defensive positions, the Madrid summit will rethink its entire future in view of a world in which strategic competition between antagonistic powers has returned, a situation that seemed overcome after the end of the Cold War. “The Madrid summit is decisive and transformative for NATO,” said NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg during an interview with EL PAÍS held last Friday at the Alliance’s headquarters. “It will be a historic summit for many reasons.”
In the Spanish capital, a new Strategic Concept will be approved, the document that periodically updates NATO’s priorities after such important changes in security as the one caused by Putin’s war. The “Madrid Concept”, as it is already unofficially called, buries the ties that were extended until recently to Moscow, according to sources familiar with its content.
The previous Concept assured that “Russia poses no threat” and considered NATO’s collaboration with Moscow to be of “strategic importance”. Now, Russia will be classified as a direct and imminent threat, according to the sources consulted by this newspaper. The new label reveals the concern about a possible attack by Putin against any of the allies, a blow that could trigger a global armed escalation between the world’s main nuclear powers.
The second great novelty is the reference to China, which was not even mentioned in the 2010 Concept. The Asian giant is close to being placed in the same threat category as Russia. But European allies advocate not further escalating tension with Beijing and, according to the same sources, China will be described not as a threat but as a longer-term geostrategic and systemic challenge.
Luis Simón, director of the delegation in Brussels of the Elcano Royal Institute of Studies, points out that the attention paid to the eastern flank of the Alliance could only be circumstantial. “It is true that the war in Ukraine has been a kind of rebirth for NATO, and has put Europe back in the crosshairs of US foreign and defense policy, but I do not think that the war is a setback to the US will to prioritize Asia.
The Alliance’s attention to threats from the east, whether from Russia or China, arouses suspicion in southern allies such as Spain, who fear that the southern flank will be neglected. The sources consulted indicate that a compromise will be reached in Madrid to emphasize that the concept of security is 360º and, therefore, the Alliance will also strengthen its surveillance of possible threats originating in North Africa or in sub-Saharan countries.
However, Shea has a feeling that “the southern flank will increasingly become a European Union issue”. The veteran analyst is convinced that “the Russian invasion of Ukraine has been such a wake-up call that in the coming years the Alliance will have to spend most of its time reinforcing its defenses on the eastern flank and in the western Balkans.”
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