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Julia Melnikova

Program Coordinator at the Russian International Affairs Council, Graduate Student at the MGIMO University

Developments in Europe in 2022 have transformed the Madrid summit from a celebratory event into a solemn but nevertheless working meeting. It was necessary to formalise several decisions taken in the preparation process. At the local level—to determine the modality of strengthening the eastern borders of the alliance, to consider the applications of Finland and Sweden, as well as the prospects and format for providing military assistance to Ukraine. On the strategic level, how to correlate the global and the regional perspectives in the alliance’s foreign policy.

The picture of the alliance’s world formulated for the Madrid summit is fundamentally different from the one presented in 2010, when, amid conditions of peace and stability in the Euro-Atlantic, NATO could afford the luxury of formulating threats in a general matter. However, it differs both from the communiqué and from the report of the 2021 expert group in which the main mega-trend in the development of the external environment of thealliance is the revival of great power competition as a challenge to the “rules-based order”.

The new document more sharply and frankly captures the features of the present, which should determine the policy of the alliance in the future. According to the text, Russia's actions have destroyed the stable and predictable order of the region, and authoritarian states around the world (obviously, Russia and China) use the democratic principles of the structure of NATO countries (including digital openness) to undermine their security. Accordingly, Russia appears as the main direct threat to the security of the alliance, which excludes the possibility of developing partnerships and conducting a dialogue with it in the foreseeable future. In second place in the hierarchy of threats is terrorism in all forms and manifestations, which, in the context of calls to recognise Russia as a sponsor of international terrorism, potentially acquires a new meaning.

Nevertheless, the containment of Russia in itself is neither a new feature for the alliance nor a surprise. More notably, the rhetoric about China, which first appeared on the alliance’s agenda in 2019, has ceased to be ambivalent. Whereas the 2010 concept did not mention China at all, and remained “both an opportunity and a challenge” in the Brussels summit communiqué, in 2022 the parties came to a unified view of the danger of China’s policy for the “rules-based order”. Accordingly, it is the “systemic rivalry” with the PRC that is the strategic vector of NATO in the medium-term, supported by the provision on the principled development of the situation in the Indo-Pacific for the security of the Euro-Atlantic.

While strategically NATO is still looking ahead and probing a model of confrontation with China, tactically, in the near future, the alliance will focus on the regional agenda.

In 2021, the NATO summit in Brussels was remembered for being the first face-to-face meeting of the allies following the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as for issuing a comprehensive 80-point communiqué and the NATO2030 program—the basis of the future Strategic Concept. The wording was quite broad, reflecting the interim nature of the provisions and leaving room for further discussion; it gave the impression that a format for NATO would be found that absorbs external challenges and is ready to respond flexibly.

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Plans for the future included work to strengthen internal unity, build a wide network of partnerships using a variety of tools, counter threats comprehensively (including those from Russia and China), and improve the military-technical base of the alliance, but the emerging strategy appeared quite reactive. A final document in this spirit would be significantly different from the proactive concept of 2010 prepared against the backdrop of the “dizzy with success” attitudes of the post-bipolar era.

Developments in Europe in 2022 have transformed the Madrid summit from a celebratory event into a solemn but nevertheless working meeting. It was necessary to formalise several decisions taken in the preparation process. At the local level—to determine the modality of strengthening the eastern borders of the alliance, to consider the applications of Finland and Sweden, as well as the prospects and format for providing military assistance to Ukraine. On the strategic level, how to correlate the global and the regional perspectives in the alliance’s foreign policy.

The unity of the alliance as the basis for moving forward

The difference between the final statement of the summit in Madrid and the adopted Strategic Concept for 2022 is the unambiguity of the wording, indicating a real or situationally secured commonality of key stakeholders: the United States, the large EU countries (primarily France and Germany), and the countries of Eastern Europe.

The unconditional image victory of the alliance has been the resolution of the dispute between Turkey and Finland and Sweden as a result of intensive open and behind-the-scenes bargaining talks [1]. Apart from the signing of the NATO accession protocols in itself as an absolute victory for Helsinki and Stockholm, Ankara remains the main beneficiary of the plot. It retained the image of a “responsible ally”, while managing to solve some of Turkey’s internal problems at the expense of international players and leaving control over the implementation of those enshrined in the Memorandum of Understanding arrangements up to Ankara. Finland and Sweden have received a formal invitation to join NATO, but ratification by the member states’ national authorities will now be required, leaving significant room for manipulation by Turkey [2].

Another indication of the mitigation of the problem of internal divisions is the text of the new Strategic Concept itself. In its preliminary versions, the lack of internal solidarity, primarily between the US and the EU, was cited as one of the key reasons why the external context poses a danger to NATO. As a result, already in the first section of the document, wording about the uniqueness, primacy and inalienability of the alliance to ensure not only the collective, but also the individual defence of the participating countries is used. It ends with plans for the development of strategic cooperation between NATO and the EU, including states which are only members of one of the unions. In addition to this, the EU Strategic Compass, adopted in the context of the events in Ukraine, has turned out to be more Atlanticist in spirit than a Eurocentric document. We can talk about reducing the prospects for the development of Europe proper and strengthening the NATO-centric security system on the continent.

The picture of the world and the hierarchy of threats: before and after

The picture of the alliance’s world formulated for the Madrid summit is fundamentally different from the one presented in 2010, when, amid conditions of peace and stability in the Euro-Atlantic, NATO could afford the luxury of formulating threats in a general matter. However, it differs both from the communiqué and from the report of the 2021 expert group in which the main mega-trend in the development of the external environment of thealliance is the revival of great power competition as a challenge to the “rules-based order”.

The new document more sharply and frankly captures the features of the present, which should determine the policy of the alliance in the future. According to the text, Russia's actions have destroyed the stable and predictable order of the region, and authoritarian states around the world (obviously, Russia and China) use the democratic principles of the structure of NATO countries (including digital openness) to undermine their security. Accordingly, Russia appears as the main direct threat to the security of the alliance, which excludes the possibility of developing partnerships and conducting a dialogue with it in the foreseeable future [3]. In second place in the hierarchy of threats is terrorism in all forms and manifestations, which, in the context of calls to recognise Russia as a sponsor of international terrorism, potentially acquires a new meaning.

Nevertheless, the containment of Russia in itself is neither a new feature for the alliance nor a surprise. More notably, the rhetoric about China, which first appeared on the alliance’s agenda in 2019, has ceased to be ambivalent. Whereas the 2010 concept did not mention China at all, and remained “both an opportunity and a challenge” in the Brussels summit communiqué, in 2022 the parties came to a unified view of the danger of China’s policy for the “rules-based order”. Accordingly, it is the “systemic rivalry” with the PRC that is the strategic vector of NATO in the medium-term, supported by the provision on the principled development of the situation in the Indo-Pacific for the security of the Euro-Atlantic. The NATO summit was also attended for the first time by representatives of regional partners—Australia, Japan, New Zealand, and the Republic of Korea, and the final statement of the meeting with their participation was explicitly anti-Chinese. Thus, space was left only for a direct dialogue on security with the PRC, checking the hours, and not for involvement and cooperation, which naturally led to a negative reaction from the PRC Foreign Ministry. This is a dangerous signal for the European NATO countries and an almost irreversible course for them to curtail common projects with China, which again reduces the organisational resource of the EU.

What does this mean in practice?

The new reality creates and convincingly justifies the space for the emergence of additional common practices of varying degrees, which are fundamental for organisations like NATO, primarily because they create institutional inertia and a safety mechanism against new disagreements in the future. Once a decision has been agreed upon and something has been put into practice, it is difficult to abandon it,in terms of motivation.

The concept of 2022 retained deterrence and defence, crisis management and ensuring cooperative security as the main tasks of the bloc, but deterrence became an unconditional priority. The means of its implementation is, if we sum up all the statements of the summit, a comprehensive stress resistance increase: this is both the development of technological capabilities and the build-up of the material base [4], and even closer coordination among the military complexes of the member states.

The unambiguity of the task also increases the decisiveness in applying the method. The framework, in principle,remains the preservation of the “all-round defence” of the alliance, with an emphasis on forward defence strengthening. Directly related to this area are the intention to increase the composition of the contingents on the eastern borders of the alliance to 300,000 people, to increase the level of multinational units in Eastern Europe to brigades levels, to increase the intensity of exercises aimed to increase the deployment of contingents in a crisis, as well as the development by member states of individual plans to build stress resistance.

According to the Secretary General, a new model is also being considered, which would allow the modernising the power structure of the alliance and for it to be optimized to new realities. In the 2000s the positional command structure gave way to a more mobile one. Perhaps today the allies will be ready to return to the previous configuration in some way. Fundamental decisions have to be finalised and implemented by the next summit, which will be hosted by Lithuania, which cannot but affect its agenda and determine its implementation.

The direction of intra-regional deterrence also includes new measures to support partners. First of all, thisentailsa comprehensive assistance package for Ukraine, agreed in Madrid, involving the establishment of secure communications, medical assistance, fuel, uniforms, equipment for demining and countering chemical and biological attacks, as well as drone destruction systems. Second, this is an increase in support for Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Republic of Moldova and Georgia and, indirectly, a demonstrative confirmation of the principle of “open doors” and the decisions of the 2008 summit in Bucharest, when it was announced that the allies were ready to accept Ukraine and Georgia into the alliance.

***

Thus, while strategically NATO is still looking ahead and probing a model of confrontation with China, tactically, in the near future, the alliance will focus on the regional agenda. The purpose and methods of its implementation at the summit in Madrid, in general, confirmed the well-known hypothesis that the unambiguous definition of common threats, if not guaranteeing the success of military alliances, then significantly increases the chancethat they may exist in harmony. The decisiveness of the allies and the texts of official documents and statements, at first glance, make NATO look like a locomotive going towards its goal.

At the same time, no new fundamental operational decisions were made regarding Russia. The Russia-NATO Founding Act remained de jure untouched, the formulas for Sweden and Finland to join the alliance remain open, the prospects and models of interaction with partners in the post-Soviet space are even more open. This means that at the regional level, the Euro-Atlantic train moves “only where the track has been laid” and the “new reality” in Europe is gradually becoming part of its structure, and not a dynamic component.

First published in the Valdai Discussion Club.

1. The role of the telephone conversation between US President Joseph Biden and Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan, despite claims from both sides, can hardly be underestimated.

2. Already now, Ankara has provided lists of persons whose extradition it demands from Stockholm and Helsinki, and made it clear that in case of a refusal to cooperate, Turkey’s consent to their entry into the alliance may be disavowed.

3. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that, in accordance with the text of the document, although Russia cannot be a NATO partner, as it was announced in 2010, channels of communication with Moscow remain open. In practice, of course, the prospects for restoring an institutionalised or even ad hoc dialogue between the parties seem illusory, but such a formulation still leaves room for manoeuvre.

4. In one of the statements, Stoltenberg expressed the hope that 2% of GDP for defence would soon become not a goal, but a minimum for allies.

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Poll conducted

  1. In your opinion, what are the US long-term goals for Russia?
    U.S. wants to establish partnership relations with Russia on condition that it meets the U.S. requirements  
     33 (31%)
    U.S. wants to deter Russia’s military and political activity  
     30 (28%)
    U.S. wants to dissolve Russia  
     24 (22%)
    U.S. wants to establish alliance relations with Russia under the US conditions to rival China  
     21 (19%)
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