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Did the 2022 NATO Summit Live Up to the Fanfare and Promises?

Contrary to previous such meetings, the alliance showed strength and strategic competence.

Expectations abounded for the 2022 NATO Summit, and some were realized. Finland and Sweden cleared the Turkey hurdle for admittance into the alliance. NATO recognized China as more than a “pacing challenge.” At center stage was the Ukraine-Russia war, a vexing strategic problem for the European Union and NATO. Unlike last year, when the alliance missed the “gathering storm” posed by Russian forces on Ukraine’s border, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg took a firm leadership hold, opening the meeting with a sober assessment:

“We meet in the midst of the most serious security crisis we have faced since the Second World War. And we see that Allies are able to demonstrate unity. That we see an Alliance which is responding in a strong and unified way to all the threats and the challenges we face. It will be a transformative Summit, because we will make historic decisions.”

With this, the general secretary portrayed the gravity of what was to come. If Russian President Vladimir Putin had hoped his unprovoked and barbaric invasion of Ukraine would set NATO back on its heels, the results are precisely the opposite. “Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine has already seen NATO respond with strength and unity, providing military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine and boosting its forward presence to deter further Russia aggression,” the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) explained.

The outcome of the June 29-30 meetings was the Madrid Summit Declaration; though aspirational, it is encouraging. In the document, the alliance members condemned “Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine in the strongest possible terms.” Furthermore, “The Russian Federation is the most significant and direct threat to Allies’ security and to peace and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area.” Additionally, the statement asserted “full solidarity with the government and the people of Ukraine in the heroic defense of their country.”

From a broader geopolitical perspective, NATO warned about the asymmetric threats from China and others, “who challenge our interests, security, and values and seek to undermine the rules-based international order.” Based on its recognition of Russia as the principal threat to the alliance and China as a lurking menace, two major outcomes resulted from the summit: a more centered strategy and the invitation to Finland and Sweden to join NATO. First, the alliance adopted a New Strategic Concept to confront Russia and the “security environment facing” NATO. Though the words describing the organization’s “core tasks” are unchanged, “deterrence and defense; crisis prevention and management; and cooperative security,” the focus was more narrowly defined to deal with Russia.

To achieve the New Strategic Concept, NATO force structure will be strengthened. CSIS analysis outlined three basic tenets:

  1. More combat formations will be deployed forward, including growing “multinational battlegroups to brigade-sized formations (approximately 4,400 troops)” with a Brigade Combat Team in Romania.
  2. The number of response forces will be increased from 40,000 to 300,000 and readiness to deploy from 40,000 in 15 days to the first 100,000 in 10 days.
  3. Increased stockpiles of war materials and equipment will be pre-positioned in “frontline” NATO countries.

Accenting the importance of the summit’s work, Stoltenberg explained: “This is the first time since the Cold War that we have these kinds of plans with pre-assigned forces.”

GettyImages-1241714815 Jens Stoltenberg

Jens Stoltenberg (Photo by Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Inviting Finland and Sweden to join NATO was significant because it defied Russia’s warning not to take that initiative. Previously neutral, these countries will now come under the Article Five umbrella of mutual security – an attack on one is an attack on all. Furthermore, as Stoltenberg stated, “It demonstrates that President Putin did not succeed in closing NATO’s door. NATO’s door remains open. And it also demonstrates that we respect the sovereign right of every nation to choose its own path.”

Compared to previous alliance meetings, the 2022 NATO Madrid Summit was relevant to the threats faced by NATO. The unanimity of purpose is encouraging; the increase in force capability is a recognition of the peril the alliance faces. In addition, the admission of Finland and Sweden into NATO testifies to a broader understanding of the need to confront the geographic aspects of Russia’s threatening behavior.

The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.

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