FAQ – What Will Come from This Year’s NATO Summit?

On 29 June, NATO leaders will gather in Madrid. Experts answer our survey

22 June 2022

The Madrid NATO summit will set NATO’s strategic direction for the next decade and beyond, while responding specifically to the new security crisis facing the region with the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

With President Zelensky set to speak during the inaugural event, along with the question of Finland and Sweden’s membership in NATO, this year’s NATO summit is expected to have some major announcements. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has signalled NATO will boost military forces and equipment on its Eastern flank.

As allies rethink strategies after the Russian invasion, the question now turns to forward defence and the changing nature of security architecture in the region. Here is what our experts say will come from the NATO summit.

 Michal Baranowski – Senior Fellow and Director, Warsaw Office of the German Marshall Fund.

It’s the key opportunity for the Alliance to announce how it will adapt to the new disorder in European security caused by Russia’s war in Ukraine. Two key decisions to look out for.

First – how the Alliance decides to strengthen its Eastern flank. Russia has shown its willingness to disregard all rules and norms that govern the European security order. NATO must understand Russian escalation could include its own territory. NATO should advocate for the strategy of forward defence in Madrid. 

A minimum force that would allow the Alliance to plan for forward defence is upgrading the battalion size forces to a brigade size. Political leaders have received advice from the Alliance’s military leadership on the size of the force necessary to deter Russia in a forward defence posture. We’ll see whether they will follow that advice. 

Second – whether to start the accession process for Sweden and Finland. The importance of these two Nordic countries joining NATO cannot be overstated. With their geographic position, well equipped militaries, and a history of long cooperation with NATO, they are key assets for the Alliance. 

Unfortunately, it’s far from likely that the Alliance will be able to start the accession process because of Turkey’s objections. Barring some last minute developments, even as late as at the summit itself, we are not going to see this news coming from Madrid. 

That will be a lost opportunity to present a united, strategic front to aggressive Russia. But NATO’s enlargement at this point is a question not of whether – but of when – they will be joining sooner or later.

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Andrew Michta – Dean of the College of International and Security Studies at the George C. Marshall European Centre for Security Studies

The focus of the discussion will be forward defence. I expect that forward defence will be at the centre of the discussion. I don’t know at what timetable, but installations along the flank, in my view, will come. I also expect not only the conversation of the United States putting assets forward but other NATO allies pushing assets forward towards the flank. That has to happen, it’s truly preposterous that 70% of NATO funding comes from the US. 

What I also expect is a clear sense that the Europeans will commit to the reconstruction of Ukraine going forward. We’re looking at a potentially transformative landscape in Europe, with Swedes and Fins joining the alliance. There’s one piece that NATO has to address: infrastructure.

We’re finally waking up from the period when all the fancy academic theory of end of history, globalisation, expert-driven modernisation and all that is being exposed for what it’s always been – it’s a traditional nation-statist calculation of adapting your policy to maximise your benefit and doing security on the cheap. Greed masquerading as policy, and we’re looking at the results of this. 

What’s a better deal than having Americans provide your security, Russia provide you with cheap energy, and have the Chinese provide you with a market and labour when you start manufacturing there? 

Europe has to step up and do what’s necessary – defence is not provided by institutions drawn on pieces of papers – it’s provided by real exercised military capabilities that can demonstrate to any potential adversary that in the event you cross the line you will be clobbered and that’s what has been neglected.

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Radu Albu-Comănescu – Visegrad Insight Fellow. Lecturer in European Integration at the “Babeş-Bolyai” University of Cluj-Napoca, Romania

On the line with the adoption of a new Strategic concept, Romania will expect to see it expressed in results deriving from the upgrade of its partnership with France, as well as from the joint statement of the latest Bucharest-9 summit. 

In the first case, the French decision to become the framework nation of the NATO battlegroup and install a state-of-the-art air defence system at the Black Sea was unique on the Eastern Flank and comes with the (at least temporary) reassessment of France as a more responsible member of the Atlantic Alliance, next to putting substance into the strategic partnership with Romania. 

If long-term agreements are bilaterally reached, it could be a credible step towards a Europe-centred system of collective defence. Romania foresees the Madrid summit to approve the increase of the number of NATO soldiers stationed in the country under French command, while Paris stated it is willing to contribute to improve Romania’s Navy.

Secondly, resulting from the B9 summit, Romania has a positive prospect of seeing approved its request for the upgrade of NATO’s security and defence posture at the Black Sea to the level of Enhanced Forward Presence (eFP), similar to the Baltic Sea. But this will imply massive investment in a fleet neglected for decades and reduced to a minimum, on a par with the expenses dedicated to the modernisation of the air forces.

Matej Kandrík – Executive Director at the Adapt Institute in Slovakia

The NATO Summit in Madrid will be historical – so we should expect historical decisions. 

The most pressing issues are weapons supplies and other military help to Ukraine. Western military and humanitarian support is a strategic lifeline we must not allow to dry out. 

Another pressing issue is how to strengthen and cement Allied military presence in the Eastern Flank in a strategic shift from enhanced Forward Presence as a tripwire force to forward deterrence posture. This would also mean that growing defence expenditure could hold a promise of some burden-sharing rebalancing. This should ease a long-term rift in transatlantic relations.

For the first time, the summit would be attended by NATO partners from the Pacific – Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and South Korea. This is a clear message that the idea of “Global NATO” will be built on partnerships and cooperation. Additionally, there is a question of Swedish and Finnish membership on the table. There will be great pressure on Turkey to unblock “Nordic enlargement,” while Ankara’s growing assertiveness will not be satisfied easily. 

I expect the new NATO strategic concept will be more like a set of guiding principles rather than a detailed blueprint. COVID-19 pandemic, the invasion, and the ongoing war in Ukraine are all proof of how quickly, unexpectedly, and dramatically the world can change in a short time. Guiding principles are way more helpful for uncertain times than elaborate planning.

Sigita Struberga – Secretary General, Latvian Transatlantic Organisation.

The Madrid Summit is expected to set up the strategic direction of the Alliance for the following decade. The key instrument, the NATO Strategic Concept, will redefine contemporary security challenges and set tasks for the Alliance. The ways and means of how decision-makers will describe the current situation and define the existing threats will be critically important in risk analysis and following steps to diminish these risks. The top priority here is how clearly and sharp NATO members define the Russian threat.

NATO leadership needs to find a new language to bridge the gap between differently thinking member states and unite societies to avoid polarisation within the Alliance. The critical activity still should be arms deliveries and sanctions. The Baltic states are looking at the Summit with the hope of strengthening NATO presence there. It would mean the placement of a permanent NATO brigade on the ground. 

No less important is the fact that there is consensus about this type of strengthening of the NATO Eastern Flank. Baltic States, Poland, and Romania should focus on facilitating the change of Western European partners’ thinking and initiating political will to maintain the strengthening of the Eastern Flank as one of NATO’s top priorities.

NATO presence in the Eastern Flank is critical. Deterrence by denial is the only way to deal with it. States must establish sufficient infrastructure to build the strategic plans and organise other related activities to be ready to host NATO military units in a new, extended manner. At the moment, for example, the infrastructure can’t be described as sufficient for fulfilling these needs.

Velina Tchakarova – Director for the Austrian Institute for European and Security Policy.

The NATO summit will take place amid a full-blown war between Europe’s two largest countries. Russia will, thus, remain the largest security threat to NATO, but China could be designated as a systemic rival at the insistence of the US. 

Instead of viewing both countries as separate security threats, NATO should focus on the Dragon Bear as a threat multiplier in the future. The most significant breakthroughs may be achieved on NATO’s eastern flank, whose security urgently needs to be strengthened. 

The NATO summit will result in an adapted approach to the current challenges and risks, but also opportunities in the areas of technology, supply chains, mobility, defence spending and interoperability, climate change and crisis management. 

Greater cooperation between the EU and NATO, as well as transatlantic partnerships with other like-minded partners, may be among the key outcomes too. Finland and Sweden may announce that they have overcome the major obstacles regarding Turkey’s opposition to membership.

Marcin Zaborowski – Editor-in-Chief at Res Publica Nowa. Policy Director Future of Security Programme at Globsec.

The Madrid summit is happening in the shadow of war in Ukraine and in the condition of direct threat to the Alliance. NATO was set up to protect the west against the Soviet threat. However, as dangerous as the Cold War was, it never actually led to a direct confrontation between the West and the Soviet Block. Today, the possibility of such a confrontation is more likely and more imminent than ever before. Success comes only if the summit provides a clear and meaningful response to the new, highly dangerous, strategic context confronting the Alliance. 

The response that worked during the Cold War and discouraged the Soviet Union from launching a military assault against NATO territory was a credible deterrence. The 350,000 American troops stationed in Europe and ready to confront the Soviets were the most essential element of this deterrence.

Today, NATO does not possess a similar deterrence at the Alliance’s Eastern flank. All together prior to the Russian assault on Ukraine in late February, there were close to 10,000 allied troops on NATO’s Eastern flank. Since the war started, this number has quadrupled and reached around 40,000 troops. This is already a meaningful number but the question remains if it’s sufficient enough to persuade the Russians to stay away from NATO territory. 

There is a strong possibility that in Madrid the Allies will agree measures to boost up deterrence of the Eastern flank and expand the flank’s definition to new members: Finland and Sweden.

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