The deadly destruction of the Russian army in Ukraine is also burying, at least for now, the dreams of strategic autonomy that the European Union harbored in recent years. The NATO summit held in Madrid this Wednesday and Thursday has once again revalidated the Atlantic Alliance as the essential bastion for the defense of the Old Continent and has dispelled the doubts of some Union partners about the usefulness of the organization ocean liner With the future entry of Finland and Sweden, accepted by the 30 allies in Madrid, 97% of the EU population will already be covered by the military and nuclear shield offered by the Alliance. And the presence of US forces in the Old Continent will register an increase unknown since the end of the Cold War.
The turn in favor of the organization led by Jens Stoltenberg has been promoted by the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, who has shattered the current security scheme in Europe. The new scenario forces the EU to quickly seek a new security framework that only NATO and its main ally, the United States, can offer immediately. NATO has approved in Madrid its new action guide, the so-called Strategic Concept, placing Russia as the most significant threat, which once again turns the Old Continent into the territory of confrontation and contention with the old enemy from the East. And US President Joe Biden has announced the deployment of more US forces in Spain, Poland, Romania, Germany and Italy.
“For years, the European Union took security for granted and the Alliance seemed superfluous,” says a source who has closely followed the negotiations on the Madrid Strategic Concept. “It seemed that the political and economic integration of the EU was an autonomous process, which advanced on its own, but the invasion of Ukraine on February 24 put an end to that mirage,” adds the same source. And, in his opinion, “now it has become clear that Europe’s autonomy rests on a security architecture in which NATO is the fundamental pillar”.
The ongoing development of the EU’s defense policy was based precisely on the stability of a security framework in which Russia had ceased to be a threat. The diminishing presence of US troops in the Old Continent, which went from more than 400,000 soldiers during the Cold War to 60,000 in 2021 (now there are 100,000), left room, when it did not encourage it, for a historic leap in independence geostrategic of the EU.
But the Russian aggression, the largest attack by one country against another on European soil since the end of World War II, has once again reinforced the transatlantic umbilical cord. And it condemns the Union to postpone, or perhaps abandon, efforts to dispense with the immense US arsenal that guarantees the protection of the European continent through NATO.
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Significantly, the Madrid summit confirmed the future entry into NATO of Finland, the country that gave its name to the policy of neutrality between the Western and Soviet blocs during the second half of the 20th century. Along with Finland, Sweden also plans to join, so that all the countries of the Union, except Austria, Ireland, Cyprus and Malta, will form part in the short term of an Alliance that will be more than ever the armed wing of the community club.
European sources point out, however, that the overlap between the members of the EU and NATO may be positive for the community club because it will facilitate decisions on defense policy. These sources recall that “the objective of European strategic autonomy has never been territorial defense, which corresponds to NATO, but other types of operations such as interposition forces.”
The friction between the two organizations seems inevitable, as evidenced by the fact that they have spent more than six months trying to agree on a joint declaration that updates the terms of their coexistence. Last year, when this project was proposed, NATO was experiencing its lowest hours after the western stampede in Afghanistan due to the advance of the Taliban on Kabul. But the Russian invasion of Ukraine has allowed the Alliance to recover its laurels and vindicate itself before a public opinion that, according to polls, has significantly improved its assessment of the military alliance. And NATO reminds again and again that the EU partners (21, soon 23, of the 30 that make up the organization) only account for 20% of the Alliance’s defense spending. The remaining 80% is provided by non-EU allies, such as the US, the UK, Canada, Norway or Turkey.
The babblings of European defense, on the other hand, seem too weak for a continent where trenches, bombardments and tank columns have returned. In peacetime, the EU would have needed at least two or three decades, according to experts, to develop the necessary capabilities to deal independently with possible conflicts in its neighbourhood. With war raging on the continent and Putin’s threats on the table, the Union no longer has the luxury of time and needs to bolster its security in a matter of years, if not months or weeks.
The US president, Joe Biden, at 79 years of age, a direct witness to almost the entire Cold War, has summed it up clearly on the first day of the summit in Madrid: “Putin wanted the Finnishization of Europe and has achieved the natonization of Europe”.
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