A shift in Nato

Dr Imran Khalid
Wednesday, Jul 06, 2022

For the obvious reason of a smoldering war on the eastern fringe of Europe, the just-concluded Nato summit in Madrid, which took place within a few days after the EU and G7 summits, had assumed extraordinary importance.

However, contrary to general expectations, the main highlight of the summit was the personal involvement of US President Joe Biden, who, unlike his predecessor Donald Trump’s excessively loud-mouthed diplomacy style, likes to maintain a low profile even at international forums. At the Madrid summit, President Biden displayed his diplomatic skills to avert a massive embarrassment to Nato by using his personal influence to facilitate the smooth induction of Finland and Sweden in the alliance – perhaps the biggest diplomatic win for President Biden in recent times.

Three key decisions were expected to be taken: enhanced support package for Ukraine, inclusion of Finland and Sweden in the alliance and the endorsement of the new policy document ‘Strategic Concept’. All these strategic decisions were approved rather smoothly. The Ukraine war was indubitably the nucleus of the Madrid summit and most of the deliberations and proceedings revolved around this subject. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was also especially invited to attend the summit and given the status of ‘guest of honour’ there.

But the fact is that, ever since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in the last week of February, the trans-Atlantic alliance has been fast losing its credibility as a guarantor of peace and stability in the region. The prima facie justification for the creation and existence of this alliance is to ensure security and peace in the Euro-Atlantic region. But the speed with which the Russian forces captured 20 per cent of Ukrainian territory, despite Nato’s massive financial and material package to Kyiv, has actually raised many questions about Nato’s much-hyped image as a highly reliable deterrence against any ambitious plan of Moscow in this region. So, Nato itself is passing through a credibility crisis due to the Ukraine war.

It was, therefore, expected that the Nato leadership would do everything possible to bolster its image and show muscle power at the Madrid gathering. The leadership did everything possible to give a strong message that the alliance was completely united against the Russian intervention, and would strictly adhere to their ‘open-door policy’ to embrace new members. Against the backdrop of fierce opposition from Turkey which had serious reservations about Finland and Sweden due to their open support for Kurdish militant groups, even Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg was unsure about the fate of the two applicants till the last day before the summit.

The situation was quite tense and it was expected that Turkey would use its veto to block their membership. But US President Biden played the lead role in resolving this snag through his personal involvement. President Biden directly spoke to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. A lot was at stake at the summit; in case of Turkey’s veto to Finland and Sweden, it would have inversely motivated Vladimir Putin who has launched the Ukraine war with the main objective of discouraging the expansion of Nato.

President Biden convinced Erdogan to have trilateral discussions with Swedish and Finnish leaders on the sidelines of the summit. This was followed by Erdogan’s lengthy negotiations with the Finnish president and Swedish prime minister as well as Nato Chief Stoltenberg – leading to eventual signing of the trilateral memorandum. In a way, it was one of the most prominent diplomatic victories of President Biden in recent times. Turkey’s turnaround after a month of inflexible opposition to Finland and Sweden drew more limelight at the summit, which was expected to focus on the Ukraine war. Though it is still unclear what kind of details were agreed upon in these discussions, President Biden has emerged as a more assertive leader after this episode.

On the Ukraine matter, as per expectations, the Madrid summit took two major steps. One, they have generously enhanced the support package to fulfil Kyiv’s urgent need for more advanced weapons and hardware. And two, in an indirect way to threaten Moscow, Stoltenberg announced a massive increase in the number of high-readiness alliance forces to more than 300,000 troops from 40,000. The expansion is part of what he called the “biggest overhaul of our collective defence and deterrence since the cold war.” At the same time, there is a plan to enhance many of its forward-deployed battlegroups currently stationed in the eastern part of Europe up to a brigade level.

One of the key features of this year’s summit was the endorsement of the new Strategic Concept, a key policy document that lays down the alliance’s defence and security vision. This document is revised every ten years to keep it at par with the changing global security needs.

The new Strategic Concept embodies a paradigm shift in Nato’s deterrence and defence policy, with a special focus on the evolving new threats and challenges, particularly terrorism, cyber-attacks and hybrid warfare. However, there is a totally new element in this Strategic Concept – related to China, which is being mentioned in the official documents of Nato as a “challenge” to the alliance’s interest, security and values. This is heralding a new chapter of q new kind of cold war between the West and Beijing in the coming days.

This one paragraph about China in the final declaration of the Madrid summit is going to have a drastic impact on the geo-political and geo-economic fabric of the globe. Obviously, the Nato leadership has drafted and approved this policy document with a clear intention to tell the Xi regime in clear terms that the West is now officially keeping China on the ‘watch list’. At this time, when Nato’s credibility as the custodian of stability in the Euro-Atlantic region is at stake due to the Ukraine war, the China chapter will definitely put more stress on the financial and military inventory of the alliance. Things are going to be very complicated in the global arena.

The writer is a freelance contributor.